Karting: Hines digs deep to build his grand prix foundations

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The Independent Online
Last weekend, the streets of Monte Carlo's waterfront were again filled with the sound of screaming engines and the smell of burning rubber as Formula One hopefuls lined up for one of the season's biggest karting events.

Some of the future stars of Formula One were on show over the past weekend in Monte Carlo, when one of the year's biggest karting championships took place amid the splendour and obvious wealth of the Principality.

Monte Carlo, of course, is synonymous with motor racing. The home of the glamourous grand prix, and of the equally famous rally, it now also boasts the Monaco Cup, a keenly contested series of karting races staged on the waterfront in full view of a surprisingly large turnout of locals, some of whom watched from the comfort of their luxury yachts.

Martin Hines, the former world and European karting champion, and boss of Zap Kart, the leading manufacturer of karts and accessories, was also there to see his son, Luke, finish a creditable ninth place in the Formula A final, after beginning the two finals on Sunday afternoon in 33rd and last place on the grid following engine problems during qualifying.

When one considers that 15-year-old Luke from Harlow was the youngest driver in the race, competing against experienced adults, the Hines family were justified in returning home satisfied with a good weekend's work, and with the dreams of one day being involved in F1 still alive.

"I don't just want to be a F1 driver, I want to be the world champion, and there's no reason, providing I get the right sponsors, why I can't do it," is how Luke sees his future. Certainly his display in Monaco suggested that there might just be a long and distinguished racing career ahead of him.

They may look like toys, but karts are far from it. Speeding around the Monte Carlo harbour at 70mph, and making a fearful noise, they provide the perfect foundation for future F1 drivers, which is why the likes of McLaren's managing director Ron Dennis helped, together with Martin Hines, to launch the "Champions of the Future" series last year.

The likes of Ayrton Senna, David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher, who entered the Monaco Cup last year and won, all developed their talent through karting, as did Italy's exciting new talent, Jarno Trulli, who was watching the racing on Sunday, hoping that he will be driving for Prost next year.

"I owe everything to karting," Trulli said. "It has taught me everything I have needed to know about motor racing, and I still do it when I can to keep myself sharp. These kids are very, very good, and some of them, undoubtedly, will become top drivers in the future."

Another onlooker was Colin McRae, the former world rally champion who lives in Monte Carlo. "If I entered that race I can tell you I'd come close to last," he admitted. "I'd be OK in practice, but not in race conditions. That's what karting does for you.

"As a rally driver, I'm able to drive cars very fast, but I'm not a racing driver. If anyone dreams of becoming one, as opposed to a rally driver, then they must get into karting."

Hines, his son's biggest critic, remains optimistic about Luke's chances. "I'm the last person to delude him, but right now he's looking very good, especially from the back of the grid. He needs more experience, of course, but he's a cool customer.

"When I tell you that not even David Coulthard, when he was with me as a youngster, was winning races like Luke, it puts things into perspective. Nothing's guaranteed, of course, but it's going to plan so far."

With 16-year-old Tom Sisley, from Kent, finishing an equally impressive seventh in the final won by France's Martine Salignon, the future looks bright for British motor racing.

And while the semi-naked onlookers from the nearby outdoor piscine looked on with interest, it is just possible that they, along with the rest of us, were watching the 2005 F1 world champion in action.

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