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Rocket Ron's school for young riders; on two wheels.

Byline: HARRIET RIDLEY

THE UK is a nation of motorcycle lovers and the British Superbikes is one of the toughest and most popular national championships in the world.

But when it comes to developing young champions from an early age, the UK is lagging behind Spain and Italy where government-backed training programmes help turn their youngsters into international motorcycle racing stars.

And it shows in the breadth of their GP racing talent, from Valentino Rossi to Jorge Lorenzo.

But racing's legendary Haslam family is doing its best to encourage kids into the sport. Their Honda Ron Haslam Race School lets children as young as 12 have a go on a racetrack.

It's run at the Silverstone circuit by GP legend "Rocket" Ron Haslam and his wife, Ann. If you're too young to remember Rocket Ron, then you'll have heard of his son Leon who races in World Superbikes. So when James Cobby, a 12-year-old who races in schoolboy motocross, decides to have a go on a road bike, I convinced his dad to book him on the school's On Track level, and I went along to see how the day unfolds.

Signing on is at 8.15am and James is kitted out in the school's leathers, boots, gloves, back protector and helmet. The kids are then briefed in a classroom about the rules of the racetrack and the morning ahead. They're then paired up two-to-one with another pupil of similar experience and an instructor for several sessions on an open pit lane Stowe Circuit section of Silverstone - the younger students riding Honda's CBR125R, a learner-legal sports motorcycle so competent and popular it regularly tops the UK sales charts.

I watch James out on track following closely behind his instructor, looking tiny on the bike yet so smooth and competent - the result of several years racing motocross. There's also a young girl out there who'd only ever ridden her dad's moped round a field; her lack of experience means she needs more attention so she has a dedicated instructor coaching her.

As James comes in from his session, the instructor chats to him about how he's doing, and gives him advice on improving his racing lines and body position, showing him how to hang off so the bike doesn't have to lean so far over into the corner.

The track sessions and debriefs continue until it's time for a break and a classroom recap. Then comes what is probably the best part of the day - the great Rocket Ron takes the kids to a large area marked out with cones and teaches them the essential skills that make a great motorcyclist.

These include cornering while hanging off until the knee scrapes the tarmac; using the front brake so hard the rear wheel lifts off the ground while staying in control; and weaving in and out of cones displaying perfect throttle and clutch control, with the day ending at 1pm.

By the end of it all James is so elated his dad books him on to another session with the Honda Ron Haslam Race School later in the summer. If he wants to take it further, kids from12 years onwards can get an ACU licence and race in the Formula 125 club championships. Once they've earned a national licence and are 13, they can progress to single-cylinder 125cc two-stroke or 250cc four-stroke GP bikes at national level.

The On Track level training costs pounds 189 and is a great way for youngsters to get on a bike from 12 years onwards, whether they fancy their chances at racing stardom or to merely sample the thrills of riding a motorcycle.

CAPTION(S):

MASTER CLASS: Ron Haslam guides 12-year-old James Cobby round the course
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jul 20, 2012
Words:620
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