Sport has always had a fascination with the youth of its participants. Whether it was 15 year-old Nadia Comaneci bending, flexing and somersaulting her way to a perfect gold in the 1976 Olympics, Theo Walcott earning England's youngest World Cup football cap at 17 or Jennifer Capriati powering her way to countless tennis accolades having barely turned teen, the bigger the prize at the tenderest of age has the power to capture the imagination, inspire a generation and leave us bemoaning our own menial achievements when at the same age.

But are there different degrees with which we should be most impressed when inexperienced teenagers - or even pre-teens - flourish in a particular discipline? After all, everyone knows more supple youths excel better at gymnastics, football is a team effort and you only have a single other opponent to beat on the tennis court.

What if you give a teenager a powerful bike, pit them against another 25 or so rivals in front of tens of thousands of people and set them off to compete in a sport that, by its very nature, can be both physically demanding and unforgiving?

Then again, you only have to take a glance at the pinnacle of the sport to spot an overwhelming theme where the 'start 'em young' method has proven remarkably successful. Unfortunately for UK fans, that theme has a distinctly Latin flavour...

Indeed, there is little ignoring the predominant flag that flies over the rostrum in all three GP classes at the moment, but it is far from a coincidence. Every country has the ability to produce one standout, but where Spain excels is its remarkable depth in quality, which by a rule of percentage alone is almost certain to breed one, two or more superstars

This trend hasn't been lost on those in the know, however, and though the UK has produced its fair share of quality riders over the years, it's been almost four decades since we celebrated a title win at the very highest level.

Enter young Rory Skinner and Josh Owens: The fresh-faces of a fresh approach supported by Bennetts and several leading industry figures to adopt a grassroots approach to motorsport and tackle the Europeans at their own game.

Stood in their branded shirts and exerting youthful exuberance, it's tricky to spot in that moment exactly where these innocent-looking children - sportsman or not, they remain children - could possibly summon the vigour and determination they will need to excel in such a no-holds barred arena.

However, watching both kitted up, plunging into Paddock Hill Bend, there is little mistaking their commitment around a bend that has punished some of the very best in the sport over the years. It's impressive in isolation even before you consider they clock in at just 12 and 14 years-old respectively, an age that even when combined makes them younger than the vast majority of British Superbike riders.

For Bennetts, who this year undertook a nationwide search to discover the unmistakable glimmer of talent required to go far in this challenging discipline, Owens and Skinner have what it takes to reach the top of their game.

Not that talent alone is simply (and for many, sadly) enough to forge a successful career. Finance and mentoring is almost as - if not more - important in this day and (especially) age, an area Bennetts is hoping will give these two young, yet remarkably mature youngsters the best opportunity to make the most of their racing nous.

Bennetts have form with this having identified and helped support current MotoGP standout Scott Redding from a young age, but this time they are going further, enlisting the wisdom and tutorship of former World Superbike champion Neil Hodgson to give both Skinner and Ownes - who have been placed in the Aprilia Superteen and British Motostar series' respectively for 2014 - the best possible foundation.

"It's been great working with them as both of them and kids in general are so receptive to anything you can help them with," Neil says. "I really enjoy doing this and they are both really talented lads but for both of them it's so early in their career, that if you can set them on the right path now with certain things like mental and discipline tips it will be so much more beneficial later. The actual riding side of things is pretty much there bar a few tweaks here and there. But a lot of it's about how you go about things, how you deal with crashing for instance.

"The way Rory rides a bike and the way be learns really quickly, he's so impressive. A year ago, Josh was riding on a knackered 125 and this year with the help of my Dad's team that he rides for and sponsors like Bennetts, he's five seconds a lap faster, he's a contender. He's such a talented lad too!"

At just 12 years old, Rory's age belies his experience having already spent six years in competition and is already dominating the Aprilia Superteen series, a championship that was an early rung on the ladder for the likes of Casey Stoner and Chaz Davies. Not even a teenager, yet Rory's credits speak for themselves.

"I've had a good season in the Aprilia Superteen Championship and I've managed to win a few races so far," says Rory, who credits Valentino Rossi and his Dad as his racing heroes. "When we got a wild-card last year I won my first ever race, and at the same time became the youngest ever person to win an Aprilia Superteen race at Donington Park. This year I was hoping I'd be up the front, so yes I'm really happy with how it's going."

Josh, meanwhile, has experienced a more bruising side to the sport in 2014, but both he and his team manager accepts this remains a fundamental part of the sport to come to terms with.

"I've just slowly chipped away at everything and now we've started getting a bit closer to the front runners. We've never been at a race meeting where we've always stayed the same, we've always improved and been quicker, we're never standing still. Before when I crashed, I didn't want to have to pay the damage but once I'd had my first one, Mark Hodgson (RCD Motorsport Team Boss) never really kicked off because I was pushing the bike as expected."

Having a former world champion overlooking their careers has also had a marked effect of both riders at a time in their careers where such advice has the greater power to influence.

"Neil's mentoring is a big help, he has improved my riding and also helped with things looking forward to my career," said Josh. "The tips he's giving me can go all the way throughout my career because he's been and done it, so he knows where it can go wrong and he can point me in the right direction."

Not that Neil feels he needs to limit his influence to just the riders, adding that he has been working with the boys' parents as well to better prepare them for what lies ahead.

"What Rory's doing at 12-years-old, I've never seen any other riders do, that's why he impresses me. When you talk to him, I can't even imagine what I was like at twelve but he seems very mature, very level, calm and intelligent 12-year-old lad. Rory understands when I explain something, he's not nervous, lots of talking, he absorbs it and when he does say something it's right.

"Josh is a different character. A little14-year-old scouser, he's got a little bit more chat about him, when you get to know him. But again he's just like a sponge

"The progress I've seen has been unbelievable. Rory's a bit different because he's so young and so naturally talented that I'm leaving him to his own devices. At the moment I'm working more with his Dad, to give advice about Rory's career and who to speak to, what to do next and it's so important that side of it because he can waste two or three years going down the wrong road."

Evident talent aside, Neil is aware that the best chance Josh and Rory have of succeeding on the world stage means they will need to progress sooner rather than later.

"For me, Rory has to go down the Red Bull Rookie route, because I think he's a special talent and what Rory needs is a ?200,000 a year backing if he wants to go to the next level, that's the sort of financial backing that it will cost him, which the family don't have. So if you can get in the Red Bull rookies you may suddenly get a chance to race in world championships for free.

"With Josh, he's made a massive step and what he needs to do is consolidate that and next year do exactly the same to have a chance at winning the championship. He'll be 15 next year and if he wins a championship at 15, it will give him the opportunity to go to the next step."

Indeed, Neil has full faith in this burgeoning youth programme, but admits the size and strength of the Spanish infrastructure is testament to the dominance the nation is exerting now, both at junior level and at the very top.

"What's it going to take for us to start beating the Spaniards? It starts at absolute grassroots, 10, 11, 12-year-olds racing and I think we're making in-roads into it and I think Rory's an example of that. It's hard to compete against the Spanish, I mean they've got a big infrastructure for the young kids.

"A little bit like what Bennetts is doing but they do it on a bigger scale so they'd have like 20 young riders that they back and just go in and percentage wise if you have 20 youngsters it means you have a much better chance of one of them making it."

It's an interesting point. Have we missed a British rider better than the likes of Marc Marquez or Valentino Rossi because they didn't have the money, opportunity or infrastructure for their talent to flourish? We'll never know, but there is seemingly an evident desire to ensure the UK is better placed to spot, support and nurture than ever before.

Indeed, Josh and Rory may still be at school, be several years away from legally riding a motorcycle on the road or even enjoying the champagne they dream of spraying on the podium, but apparently you are never too young to learn old tricks if you want to be the best...



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