Schoolboy Clifford is really one to watch
THERE are very few 14-year-old lads who go to school on a Monday morning and have the distinction of holding lap records at four race tracks in two different countries!
Well, that's the case for Duleek teenager Aaron Clifford, as his short but very productive racing CV really begins to take great shape.
Aaron's records stand at Mondello Park, Bishopscourt, Kirkistown and Anglesey. The second-year pupil from St Mary's in Drogheda has only been racing for three seasons, and yet he has laid down more rubber on race tracks both here and in the UK than most adult racers have done in the past five or six years.
Dedication is a virtue that the teenager has in abundance, and with the great backing of his family, and excellent sponsors, the easy-going lad is on course for serious progress.
Three years ago I was advised to keep a good eye on 'the young fellow from Duleek' and watching this progress has been easy. Apart from Aaron's constant free use of social media, keeping everyone up to speed, he is also getting valuable TV coverage in the tough Thundersport series.
Travelling to the UK almost every week is tough going, with dad Kenneth acting as team manager and chauffeur. Yet this dedication saw Aaron take sixth place in last year's championship, despite missing eight races owing to a broken wrist at Donington Park.
Aaron competed in the Aprillia 125 production challenge, but he was being watched by one of the top teams in the 125GP class in the BSB, Creswell racing. Aaron was in-vited to race in a one-off round, and while he got on very well with the different characteristics of the screaming 125 KTM, he was taken out of the race - by his own teammate!
'Thundersport is totally different to BSB as you get far more track time. For example, we leave Dublin on the Wednesday and travel through the night to our course. We set up camp, and on Friday we have a full track day, and we get more time on that day than BSB riders get for the whole weekend,' said Aaron.
Dave and Bernadette Sherwood run this series and are very helpful when it comes to supporting Irish riders. 'We get a 30% discount with entries,' quips dad Kenneth.
Since he started racing, Aaron has competed in the 125 Aprillia class, but this year he has moved to a 450 Aprillia RRV, which was originally designed for Super Moto.
All the bikes are the same, and while most of Aaron's competitors are known as 'Superteens' who are older and more experienced, this hasn't fazed the youngster. For example, at Brands Hatch a few weeks ago Aaron qualified 28th on the grid, yet managed to finish both races in 15th.'
Travelling to Donington Park, Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Rockingham, Cadwell and Oulton Park may be hard work, but the experience is vital for Aaron, as track knowledge is a vital part of a rider's armoury.
'The new bike is great, and I am loving it. We hope to have a good season, and obviously the aim is to try and win a race or two, but it's a very competitive class,' said Aaron.
Racing at the level in the UK at such a young age is a real eye-opener, and at that level you have to be on the ball 100% of the time. He won't be able to move to the Supersport 600 class until he is 16, but by then this valuable exercise will have borne fruit.
Next year will see Aaron reach another milestone, this time in his education, when he will sit his Junior Cert, but his comments on that are best left between the few of us that were present when we chatted!
Watching Aaron at the recent Mondello Irish Championship, the turnout of both rider and machine was impeccable, and it was also a joy to watch him race against top riders in the Supertwin class, who were on machinery that has 200 more cc. Yet in the two races he finished sixth and fourth.
I could write as many superlatives about this young man as I can think of, but there is no need. He is well capable of doing it himself on the track.
Like every rider, sponsors are vital to the cause, and I watched one of his main sponsors, Simon Noone from Noone Transport in Slane, keep a good eye on his investment at the Mondello meeting, and apart from Noone the team are also grateful to Sean Murray, Dixon International Transport in Swords, AKB Distribution in Swords (distributors for Schuberth Helmets), Vulcanet, Michael Clifford for his sponsorship and help with machine preparation, and especially mammy of the house Michelle Clifford for all her work in the background and his grandparents for their support.