Charlie Morris went from having no circuit experience to becoming a double champion in two very competitive classes simultaneously in just three years and yet, despite this, he begins an uphill battle in 2017 with very little support.
Why does a man with such obvious talent and pace go under the radar? What are sponsors looking for when they choose a rider to support? In a world of shameless self-promotion everywhere, it seems that sometimes the quiet man gets left behind. One place Charlie won’t get left behind is on track and if a sponsor is looking for results and to be seen on the podium, then Charlie seems like one of the best bets out there in the UK.
At Superbike Freaks, we’re always on the lookout for future potential national and international champions and, in Charlie, we think we see both. Here is a bit of insight into the man and his rapid rise to becoming a champion.
Hi Charlie, thank you for taking the time to speak to SBF. Tell us a bit about your early years with bikes, what started it all?
I got my first bike aged 3 and loved riding ever since. My first bike was a Yamaha PW50, I had a lot of bikes when I was a kid, mostly riding on fields, I went to a few motocross tracks when I had a Kawasaki KX65 about age 8 and I did a race or two but nothing much, although I really wanted to, I never had the opportunity to do more.
I didn’t have many bikes after the KX65, a BMX and a C90 field bike I used to piss around on with my mates across the local fields when I was younger. I got my first moped at 17, a Gilera Runner 50, and there was no going back after that. I was hooked on riding again, I soon got a 125 and then eventually passed my full bike test and got a Suzuki Bandit. I’ve been a GSXR freak ever since.
Where did the bike bug come from?
My dad. He competed in the World Wheelie competition with Straightliners and always had fast Suzukis, a supercharged B-King and a turbo K2 GSXR1000 being the most interesting. He took me to do a season of drag racing with Straightliners in 2013 on a rough and ready GSXR750Y.
How did the drag racing go?
I ended up being alright at it although I just saw it as fun at the time. With some track records and race wins, I won the Ultimate Streetbike 750cc Class, my best time being a 10.14 second quarter mile at 137mph – not bad for an old high mileage GSXR that wasn’t much more than standard.
You must have had a natural talent. Did you always want to go racing?
I’ve always been seriously competitive and I thought I was Rossi when I was out on my road bike, so after doing the drag racing, I wanted to go circuit racing and prove that I was good.
I read an MCN article at the time talking about how to go club racing and in it they talked a bit about all the different clubs. I saw Thundersport GB had TV coverage so I picked that one and signed up.
What bike did you start circuit racing on?
Being a Suzuki nut, I bought a 2008 GSXR600, got my race licence and turned up at Brands Hatch to race in early 2014. I never bothered with track days, I only had my road bike experience on a Bandit and knew how to go fairly quick in a straight line.
So you had no track experience but decided to just have a go at racing, I like your bravery. How did it go?
My first race weekend, we melted my tyre warmers after the first race, I missed the call for the second race, the third race I crashed into and took out 2 other guys at the second corner on lap one, and the fourth race went okay after taking it steady. I was completely clueless and quickly learned that i was NOT Rossi on two wheels.
Were there any positives to take away from your rocky start into racing?
With my previous experience of drag racing, I seemed to be one of the best at race starts. I was always passing at least 2 rows of riders in front of me but they generally all re-passed me during the races. That happened less and less as I worked out how to ride in my first season.
What sort of results were you achieving?
I was racing in the Pre-National 600 at Thundersport GB which was their novice class of 40 riders and ended up getting very close to podiums towards the end of the year – just 0.1s away at one point, finishing 4th.
A 4th place finish in your first season, that’s pretty respectable! Did you go back the next year?
Yes, for my second season I had big plans to go out and win the championship. I turned up at Brands Hatch again and I think I finished 20th in my first race of the weekend, totally gutted as I think I finished 18th in my first ever race the previous year. I had a lot of things holding me back and causing me problems this year, mostly a battered race bike which I had no time or money to fix. I was working for £3.30/hr delivering pizzas at Dominos and being an apprentice welder and fabricator, but with no sponsors or financial help from anyone else I ended up quitting just over halfway through because I had no way of getting to the tracks and no-one to help me while I was there.
That’s pretty tough; how did you continue after that?
During that season I messaged MSG Racing for some assistance with a fault I had with my bike. Gavin Reed, the owner, replied and saw me at the 3rd round at Snetterton. MSG Racing (Make Suzukis Go Racing) specialise in GSXRs and Gavin must have laughed when he saw my gaffa-taped bike, battered old transit and a twisted, flimsy awning strapped to the side of the van, but I was out there racing and that’s all I really cared about!
I saw Gavin again at Cadwell Park when I turned up to race for one day from the back of the grid as I couldn’t get there for all 3 days, and he walked passed and laughed in shock at my almost bald rear wet tyre. I highsided shortly after at Charlie’s, my worst crash so far.
Gavin gave me some help with getting new race fairings for the next round at Oulton Park, and some more help at the track after turning up for one day to race from the back of the grid again. My radiator was leaking where I had crashed at the previous round and I didnt have the tools to fix it at the track. He sorted that out, laughed at my suspension settings and changed those for me from an ‘ultra soft wet setting’ to something that helped me go around corners, I’d never changed those the whole time I had been racing. I did okay from the back of the grid and I had beaten his riders at a few previous rounds in the Wet, so then when one of his guys (Sam Osborne) couldn’t race at one of the following rounds, he offered me a ride on his 2013 Supersport bike.
Having MSG on board must have helped you massively – did the relationship continue?
Yes, Gavin built me a new bike to ride for Anglesey. The bike was little more than a standard bike at the time, a K6 frame with a 2013 road bike engine and forks, K8 bodywork, the Ohlins shock from my bike and some clip-ons and rearsets. It was 106bhp at the time (not that I knew that, he told me it was 1bhp less than the supersport bike) and I got some solid top 10 results at my first round on it. I managed a 1:34.7 around Cadwell Park and was battling for wins at the last round, winning the last 2 of the year by a good margin.
So from no track experience to race winner in 2 years? That shows real talent, you must have started to take it seriously after that…
For 2016 Gavin and Dan at MSG Racing built me a 2015 GSXR 600 to ride alongside their other supported riders. We did a wet trackday at Brands Hatch and whether they were trying or not, the Halsall Suzuki team were there on their British Superbikes and I went quicker on the little 600 than they did on the Superbikes! I had to step up to the big boy class for 2016, the Thundersport GB Elite 600. This is always hotly contested by national riders, many from the British Superbikes classes. They were running a Sportsman 600 class for less experienced riders stepping up from the Pre-National class.
I qualified on pole position after getting out to qualifying late and using a wet tyre most people wouldn’t use for a trackday. I was expecting to be around 15th as it felt really slow, so I was pretty amazed to come in and find myself P1 on the grid for my first ever Elite race. My team mate, Sam Osborne, was next to me in P2 and after some problems Sam Mcfarlane was further back down the grid. These two goons ended up crashing at the 4th corner at the same time in race 1, and I had to watch the marshalls struggling to recover their bikes for about 4 laps! Seriously not wanting to crash as well I took it steady and, with a bit of a battle, I went on to win the race outright.
Great start, how did the rest of the season go?
I ended up dominating the Sportsman 600 class from the start and won the title at the 7th round with 6 races to go and nearly a double points lead. I stayed consistent through the year and didn’t have any crashes until the race after I won the title when I fitted the number 1 plate! Fairly gutted, not about crashing but the fact there’s no pictures or videos of it!
Amazing to win a title in such dominant fashion, especially on a bike many would say is old and dated compared to the competition.
MSG Racing built the bike the right way for me and it stayed 100% reliable all through the year, no breakdowns or issues, we even ran the standard forks and internals the bike came with for 7 of 9 rounds. Gavin got them dialled in nicely and I only noticed a slight improvement in smoothness and less chatter on the front when we fitted the big K-Tech fork internals, not something I’d spend the £1600 on personally if I had the choice.
So that was the Sportsman 600 class, but weren’t you racing in another one as well?
Yes, we won the Elite 600 championship as well with 1 race to go at the end of the year which was great! It’s the biggest UK 600 championship below the two British Superbike 600 classes and it’s what Thundersport claim to be possibly the fastest international 600cc club championship. Everyone wants to win this one!
Incredible to win two championships simultaneously, especially with such little experience! What’s the plan for 2017?
For 2017, MSG Racing have sold all the GSXR600s and have bought two new 2017 GSXR1000s for me and Sam Mcfarlane to race in the Thundersport GP1 Elite and Sportsman classes. I would have loved to stay on a 600 but the next step up is British Superbikes and I simply can’t afford to race there and be competitive against the track-time the other riders can afford.
We are both aiming to win our respective championships, of course, but I’ve got a huge job on if I want to win the GP1 title. You only have to look at the entry lists to see it’s a class with big names and massive talent. The new GSXRs won’t be arriving until the end of March so we will miss the first 2 rounds on them. We have some other bikes lined up that we can ride but it’s not ideal.
Any areas you feel you need to improve for 2017 and the 1000s?
After round 3, I noticed I was struggling with fitness so I started cycling every single day until the end of the year to make sure that wasn’t going to hold me back and it worked. The other boys laugh when I’m at the track, as I’m always eating burgers or some chocolate, but who needs a fancy diet?! I need to continue working on the fitness as the bigger bikes are harder to wrestle round.
Seems like hard work…
Racing is what I want to do so working hard for it isn’t a problem for me. I spent almost everything I earned last year to go racing, saving as much as I could and not wasting money on anything unnecessary that wasn’t going to help me race. Barely going out other than to work, I spent every Saturday going up to the MSG Racing shop and keeping my bike tidy and clean ready for the next round. It was one of the best condition bikes in the paddock, if not the best, better than most road bikes!
Double champion, are you attracting some bigger sponsors now?
I was hoping to have a bit more attention and sponsorship interest but I’ve had almost none to be honest, sponsorship seems to be mainly who you know not how you ride. I’ve picked up a few small sponsors so far, enough to cover buying my leathers, helmet and boots for this season. The main sponsor I’m happy to announce is Michelin. They are supporting me and Sam Mcfarlane this year on our new bikes, it’s certainly not all free tyres but their help is going to be invaluable. If the tyres are as good as they looked last year when they were being developed, then its going to be very, very good.
I’m surprised that sponsors don’t seem overly interested in your results.
I couldn’t even get a free set of knee sliders as sponsorship this year so the double championship titles don’t seem to carry much weight and hasn’t helped me gain any sponsorship other than the Michelin deal. It’s been a bit disappointing trying to find help for the new season and I’m by no means looking to race for free, I’d just like some assistance with it so I can race more and prove myself even further.
If anyone is interested in helping out me or the team then please get in touch, we aren’t looking for a lot.
Well, we hope you find some suitable sponsorship and wish you the very best for the 2017 season, we shall be rooting for you all the way!
Interview by Ben Wiskin.
If you are able to offer any financial support to Charlie for 2017, he can be reached using the below details. Any support gratefully received!
Colin Port Images for allowing us to reproduce some of his great photos.