WORSTHORNE teenager Harry Hartley hopes to follow in the footsteps of mentor Neil Hodgson when he becomes the youngest rider in British Superbike Championship history this weekend.

Hartley will make his debut in the prestigious championship at Brands Hatch at the age of just 17, after Hodgson’s father Mark helped him to secure a ride with the Halsall Racing Kawasaki team for 2014.

The year will see Hartley compete against experienced riders such as Michael Rutter, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Shane Byrne, John Hopkins and Chris Walker – in a championship that Hodgson won in 2000 before going on to claim the World Superbike Championship in 2003.

Hartley’s first aim is to secure a future as a full-time professional racer.

“It’s exciting stuff to be part of this championship,” he said.

“I didn’t expect the opportunity to come so soon, I thought it would be in a few more years.

“Mark Hodgson has been looking after me and he knows Martin Halsall, who offered me the chance in the British Superbike Championship, and we decided it was a good idea to go for it. Martin said he had been impressed by what he had seen of me.

“In the next few years I’d love to do what Neil Hodgson did and hopefully be able to do this full time. I want to make the most of this opportunity and try to make a living from the sport.

“Neil is busy with his BT Sport work (for MotoGP) but he does come to some of the races and he has really helped me.

“The advice everyone has given me has been invaluable and through knowing them it has opened doors too.”

Nicknamed ‘the Hartley Hare’, after the character from the 1970s children’s television programme Pipkins, he is still a pupil at Clitheroe Grammar School and has a busy few weeks ahead of him.

“I’ve got exams in the next months,” he said.

“It’s difficult balancing the racing and the studying, and I’m not the best at sitting down and revising anyway.

“I think the priority might shift a bit towards the racing now I’ve got this opportunity.”

Last year Hartley was competing for MWR Kawasaki in the National Superstock 600 Championship – a feeder series for the British Superbike Championship – and impressed by moving from 25th on the grid to second place in the final race of the season. He finished 14th overall in the standings for the year.

“Last season it took a bit of time but by the end of the year we were getting points,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ll be any more nervous for this race than for any other race, because we’ve done a lot of testing at Oulton, Donington and Snetterton and it’s gone quite well, better than expected.

“Mark Hodgson introduced me to a instructor at the Ron Haslam Race School and they have given me a lot of good advice about how to deal with the heavier bikes, because they are different to the 125s.

“I want to gain experience this year and hopefully start to get into the top 10 and get a few points.”

Qualifying will be screened live on British Eurosport 2 at 4pm on Sunday, with raceday coverage from 12.30pm on Monday.