It was far from the flash, cash and speed of topflight racing at the Rosso go-kart track in Taichung, but there was a competitive thrill when the Taipei Times challenged the country’s fastest driver to a race.
Born and raised in Taichung County (台中縣), you could tell Formula V6 driver Hanss Lin (林帛亨) was feeling at home by the permanent smile beneath the sunglasses. He was among friends and fans, who all wanted camera-phone snaps with their hero. There were just wisps of cloud in a clear, light blue sky. Perfect driving conditions.
The 26-year-old earned his spurs driving for the world's most powerful car manufacturers on top international racetracks, and is now a tantalizing step away from Formula 1 (F1). His fellow drivers are the elite.
Your reporter, on the other hand, is middle-aged, doesn't get tickets any more unless it's for illegal parking and was last seen racing go-karts as a kid. He remembered his mother's advice: Go fast as you can, break before the curve, accelerate out of it. How hard could it be?
Local wannabe racers had been jostling for the right to challenge Lin by competing in qualification races all morning. They were locals who knew the cars and track, or go-kart enthusiasts from around the country. They were raring to go.
And then we were off!
I started at the back of the grid with Lin and was already trailing after the warm-up. A couple of circuits later, after managing to find a few racing lines, the pack unexpectedly roared past and I was lapped once more before the checkered flag went down.
On a more optimistic note I had unwittingly slowed the lead drivers enough for Lin to take the advantage with his superior passing skills and win the race. Congratulations all round. There was a podium-and-fizzy-drink celebration.
Born: Jan. 11, 1980, in Taichung, Taiwan
Schooling: Simon Fraser University (2000), Bridgestone Racing Academy (2001), La Filiere FFSA Racing School (2002)
Driving experience: First go-kart at five, first race at seven
2003: Meritus Racing Team driver, Formula BMW Asia
2004: Belgravia Racing Team driver, in Formula BMW Asia
2005: Champion of Asian Formula Renault Challenge Championship, as driver for Champ Motorsports
2006: Joins E-Rain racing team in Formula V6 Asia
Achievements: First approved racing degree from Ministry of Education; first Taiwan driver on BMW scholarship, best driver of the year award in 2004 and 2005 from Chinese Taipei Motor Sports association; interview and commentary for Microsoft X-box racing game; was granted an audience with the president for his outstanding contribution in sport
“Everyone here wants to do what I do,” Lin said, waving a hand at the racetrack, “It really is a dream job.” He was accompanied at our interview last weekend by his friend and racing manager Barry Chen (陳璞申). Both men spoke good English, Lin with a Canadian accent.
His father Lin Chen-ting (林振廷) owns an art auction house and has strong connections in business and politics. He has indisputably been the driving force behind his son up to now. He bought the five-year-old his first go-kart and entered him in his first race at seven.
Lin's father also bankrolled him with a reported US$1 million so he could pursue his dream, aged 15, of being champion in “the most popular sport in the world after soccer.”
Lin was sent to study in Vancouver, Canada, and graduated from Simon Fraser University and Bridgestone Racing Academy. He attended the prestigious La Filiere Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile Racing School, in France, and won a scholarship of US$128,000. In 2003 he invested this money by joining Emeritus Racing Team, as a driver in Formula BMW Asia.
Since then his career has taken off and he convincingly won the Formula Renault 2000 Asia championship last year, winning 10 of 13 races. He's now starting to find his feet in the more challenging Formula V6 Asia.
According to ex-F1 driver Alex Yoong, quoted in a recent on-line Asian MotorsSports article, “The make-up of the [V6] car is quite similar to the ones in F1 with the semi-auto gear boxes and digital display ... . This is certainly the missing link [in Asia] for drivers who are looking to step up to F1.”