Dropped by at the ZipKart factory in Hoddesdon last week where the boss, multiple kart championship winner Martin Hines reminded me just how his sport has developed from a self-contained pastime in its own right into the most crucial lower rung on the motorsporting ladder.
"When I started competing as a boy in 1962 it was all pretty unsophisticated compared with how things have developed today,” he reckons, “the karts we were racing were, I suppose, little more than bedsteads fitted with lawnmower engines. And we had no great plans to make it into Formula One.”
Yet Hines's close friendship with McLaren boss Ron Dennis also brought him a handful of rare test outings in a McLaren-Mercedes F1 car back in the mid-1990s. He was invited to try one of the '96 MP4-11s at the Idi-Ada test facility in Spain. Unfortunately this outing went rather less well than expected with Martin rolling it into a hidden ditch.
The car was very badly damaged indeed and Martin recalls the ensuing telephone to Ron as “the worst day on my racing career.”
It said much for the relationship between the two men that once Hines acknowledged that his was the error, the matter was forgotten. This was about the time that Hines's ZipKart company was developing the McLaren-Mercedes champion of the future karting series which would help accelerate the emergence of Lewis Hamilton as the most exciting rising star of his F1 generation.
Martin had first noticed eight-year old Hamilton racing his own cadet kart at the Rye House circuit close to the ZipKart headquarters. He was clearly carrying a novice plate, but the expert manner in which he handled himself belied the fact that he was actually competing in his very first race.
Martin added; "This was around the time that McLaren were going through their short-lived relationship with Nigel Mansell and was trying to persuade Ron (Dennis) that he really ought to give some consideration into putting all McLaren's resources into backing a young kartist, even if it was a ten year programme.
"So he asked me for my advice as to whom I might think was the best youngster and I told him Lewis. He thought it all through and eventually took my advice. And the rest, as they say, is history."
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