IN Scottish motorsport, no year has ever quite proved the adage that if you’re good enough you’re old enough like this one.
Back in April, after winning 44 of 49 British junior championship races, 11-year-old Perth schoolboy Rory Skinner became the youngest ever biker to compete at Knockhill when he raced in the Formula 125 series. And now, today at Knockhill, 16-year-old Dalkeith driver Aiden Moffat will become the youngest competitor in British Touring Car Championship history.
It’s less than five years since Moffat’s mum sparked his love-affair when she organised an arrive-and-drive go-karting day for her birthday at Raceland near Tranent. The 12-year-old, a talented sportsman then playing in defence for Falkirk’s youth section, was fast – very fast indeed – and smitten. He took up karting and was so successful that he followed his dad into stock car racing, and was pretty handy at that too.
“My dad does car transporters, moving cars up and down the country,” says Moffat, “so for his job he has to have the grounds for cars being moved, which allowed me to drive from a young age, so I’d go out there in the summers and tear around. It was a dusty, shaley-type yard so my first car was a bashed-up old rear-wheel drive Nissan 200 SX from a friend at the scrapyard. The first time I went around it, it was bumpy and rough, but the second time I was trying to drift it and doing doughnuts. It was just something I picked up really fast and ever since then I’ve just always enjoyed it.”
The Dalkeith youngster has succeeded at every new level. “I went from go-karts to stock car racing, which I enjoyed watching as a kid because that’s what my dad did. When I said that I’d like a shot of that, dad got a car built. Then I went out and won my first race and won the championship in my first year, so he thought we’d better move up to track racing.”
Last year he didn’t race in Scotland, heading south to England every weekend and revising in the car on the motorway. This year, with his Highers pending, he has stayed north of the border, racing in the Celtic Speed Mini Cooper Cup and the Scottish Ford Fiesta Championship, which are both for adult drivers with all the races run at Knockhill.
In the Minis, reliability issues mean he has yet to record a podium. But, in the Fiestas, he has won the last four races in a row after a lacklustre start. The reason for that only became clear when he came a cropper at Knockhill on the first bend in a race earlier this season when his Fiesta ST lost power and he was unable to brake, so another car clipped his wheel, ripping the rubber off.
“That was the best of all my smashes,” he says. “I had no steering, no brakes and was going at 90mph so I really had to grin and bear it and just wait for the wall. It was a hard impact that completely wrote off the car. I wasn’t really fazed by the crash, though, and, although I had a stiff back the next day, we went straight back out racing because I knew it wouldn’t hurt forever. We got a new car that same day and realised immediately that our old car was underpowered. We’ve won four of the next six races with the new car.”
As ever in motorsport, raw talent is not enough, and it’s no slip of the tongue that Moffat constantly refers to his success as “we” won, or “we” did this. It’s a reference to his dad Bob’s incredible success at raising the sponsorship that allows his son to keep climbing the sport’s rungs.
Yet Bob Moffat is no pushy dad. Moffat junior says his father has always made it clear that his schoolwork is his first priority – the racing is just for fun.
“When we came into this we didn’t look at it in the sense that ‘we’re going to make a career out of this’, but neither did we look at it that we weren’t,” says the ridiculously level-headed youngster. “My dad will try his hardest to give me every opportunity, and we’ll just try our best on the track and see how far we can get. That’s why I’m really focusing on school and keeping up my Saturday job as a mechanic in Dalkeith. I don’t have benchmarks, I don’t say: ‘I want to be like Lewis Hamilton so I need to reach the same stage at the same age he did’. We go racing because we like racing, but we’ll take it as it comes, just going out there to enjoy it.”
Standing at the trackside on Friday afternoon in his school uniform after hotfooting it to Fife from Edinburgh, Moffat says that his drive was arranged at such short notice that he had yet to sit in the car he will race today. Touring car champion Gordon Shedden has been over to wish him luck, and Moffat’s former driver coach Tom Onslow-Cole will also be on the grid, but Moffat remains formidably grounded and retains very sensible and limited ambitions for today.
“I’ve been amazed at the amount of attention I’ve had and it definitely makes it a lot more exciting knowing that you’re the youngest and that people are watching you,” he says. “I always get nervous beforehand because if you don’t have that then you’re not on the edge enough, you’re not going for it enough, but the second the lights go out is when the nerves are eliminated, when you just completely focus.
“Our aim is just to finish because there are some great racers here and I’ve never even driven the car. If we come last and the pack disappears, that’s not going to get us down.”
Unfortunately for Moffat, he was forced to sit out qualifying yesterday after the engine of his Chevrolet blew up in free practice. If his team manages to rebuild the engine overnight, he will start the race today from 26th and last place.
Fife’s British Touring Cars champion Gordon Shedden will be fourth on the grid for the opening race with Audi’s Rob Austin on pole.