The MotoGP circus kicks off this week in Qatar, and there’s some strong British interest in the premier class. But what about the future? Well, this guy might well be a big part of it. Meet the 13-year-old kid from Perth in Scotland who’s going to be in the same paddock as Marquez and Rossi this year.
We all spent a top year watching Marc Marquez doing the business last season. If only Britain had a young kid like that, eh? Brought up on Mini-moto tracks since he could walk, come through the race ranks winning as he goes. If only…
Of course, the last thing we’d want to do is heap unreasonable expectations on too-young shoulders. But to be honest, Rory Skinner seems well up for it. We met the 13-year-old on the Bennetts stand at the NEC, where he was celebrating two non-circuit-based victories: Bennetts’ ‘Search for a Star’ competition, and grabbing a place on the legendary Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup for 2015 – which will see him racing at selected Euro rounds of MotoGP, kicking off in Jerez in May.
So how did a slight, crazy-haired schoolboy from Perth in Scotland get here? The hard way it turns out: racing Mini-moto round Britain – and winning – from the age of six, with the help of his bike shop owner dad, Mike.
“I started racing bikes when I was six, but I got my first bike when I was three, it was a little Yamaha PW50, I’ve still got it. I used to go over to my friend’s place where they had a bit of land, and we used to go over there every Sunday. I’ve been brought up around racing, as soon as I was born, I was really around bikes all the time.”
Rory’s dad fills in the gaps. “He first got a wee wooden balance bike, very similar to the Kiddimoto. And he soon worked out if he went faster and faster, he could lift his feet and off he went. And I think that kickstarted his passion. Obviously he was round the paddock a lot with me and his mum when I did a bit of club racing. His balance was just so good, when he got his first pedal bike at four, he was straight on it, no stabilisers at all.
“By the time he was cycling on his pushbike, he was asking ‘when can I start racing dad?’ So we got him the PW50, and I made up some stabilisers for it. They lasted about four sessions before he hit a post and knocked one off, so I just left it. And after another couple of sessions, I took the other one off…
“Seven was the age limit for racing, but because he had good experience, he got a tryout at the Mini-moto track at six, and they said he was good to go, so he was riding Mini-moto from aged six.”
So quite a different route from most UK racers, who tend to spend their pre-teen riding careers off-road?
“He never did any offroad really, his PW50 was just used on bits of flat grass at Perth horse race track. No jumps or anything. I mean offroad is great, but it is awfully easy to get injured there. Once he got on the Mini-moto there was no looking back he just went from strength to strength.”
And what strength. In 2010, aged eight, he was the Scottish Junior Mini-Moto Champion, British Junior Mini-Moto Champion and British Junior Production Mini-Moto Champion. The following year he retained the British titles, and added the British GP50 Metrakit title.
Those early years were hard on the whole family though. ” The first few years, we were trailing down south a lot, keeping three bikes going.” Said Mike. “We’d end up pulling up outside the circuits about 5:30am, the gates were still locked, so they’d open the gates, we’d get in and have an hours’ kip and be up for 9am for practice… Then after the racing on Sunday, we’d get packed up and drive all the way back up to Perth! Lots of work and lots of hours, but worth everything. If the kids are doing good at something, you just do everything in your power to make it happen. And we’re lucky we have good friends who’ve helped out too.”
The gruelling weekend schedule actually helped Rory find a novel sponsor though – the local chippie, Perth’s Fish and Chip Co. “I’d have full shifts all week at the bike shop,” said Mike. “Then finish on Friday, load up the van and head south. There wasn’t much time for food, so we’d quite often pop in for a chippy tea.” The folk at the chip shop became interested and eventually chipped(!) in with some sponsorship…
By 2012, Rory was clearly flying, and he won the British GP70 Metrakit title – a title which normally gets the winner straight onto either a Formula 125 bike, or a GP80. The only problem for Rory was that he was too young! “I was only 10 when I won the Metrakit 70 title, but you have to be 12 to run a 125 or 80 anywhere in Britain. We thought we had nothing to lose, so we put in an application to the Scottish ACU and they passed it! I think they all agreed on it quite quickly in the end. I was really happy, and so we had to sit down to decide whether to go for the 125 like Aprilia or the 80 that my dad built. We called it the Herbie – it was a Honda chassis with a Derbi engine in it.”
Rory dealt with his 80cc Herbie in much the same way as before, winning three F125 championships in 2013 on it, still just aged 11. That took him into 2014, for a 125cc ride at last, and another title – the 2014 Dunlop Aprilia Superteen championship. That’s a title with a load of big names on it, from Casey Stoner and Cal Crutchlow to Scott Redding, Sam Lowes and Tom Sykes. He also managed his first ride on a four-stroke in the Moriwaki Cup rounds at Brands Hatch and Assen BSB meets. “Brands was his first time on a four-stroke, and his first time at Brands,” said Mike. “He was running in second all the way round, then on the last lap he lost the front at Paddock Hill, saved it, but ended up fifth. Then at Assen he got a podium, which was pretty awesome.”
But perhaps the biggest event of 2014 was passing selection for the Red Bull Rookies MotoGP support series. Mike again: ” He was lucky he got through selection for the Rookies. You have to send in your results from whatever racing you’ve been at each month. And in September they emailed to say you’ve been picked out of over 1000 entries. There were 109 riders at Donington, and they were looking to pick 12. Each day they whittled the numbers down, and Rory was one of them…”
So can Rory believe he’s going to be riding in the MotoGP paddock next year? “No! I’m only 13, and so it’s so hard to believe that I’m going to be round the worlds greatest riders, the pinnacle of two-wheeled motorsport. It’s quite amazing to think I’ll be there next year.”
We think it’s pretty amazing too. Get behind Rory for 2015 at www.roryskinnerracing.com