Starting early the way to go

Vinayak Pande

Greater Noida, Oct. 29 -- By this point, we've all heard the 'one billion' line to death. India's population is cited to be everything, from its biggest problem to its biggest asset. The latter applies for the country's motorsport aspirations. Bringing Formula 1 to India with the construction of a state-of-the-art racing facility is believed to be the best way to galvanise sections of the country's massive populations and help produce an F1 winner.

There is, however, a North European country with a land area and population that is 10.29% and 0.45% of India's, doesn't have an F1-grade circuit, but has produced three F1 champions and is synonymous with the sport of rallying.

The secret, according to Mika Salo, who had to give up victory in the 1999 Germ-an Grand Prix due to Ferrari team orders, lies in starting early and laying down a solid foundation. "We have a really solid go-karting system in Finland," Salo told HT.

Even the guys who do rallying mostly start in go-karts and they start really young."

Salo himself started driving a go-kart when he was five and competing when he was six. "Most of the countryside guys go for rallying after that," Salo continued. "Guys like me, (Mika) Hakkinen and (Kimi) Raikkonen are from the two largest cities so we do racing because it's not so easy to do rallying."

It's not just the system, according to Salo that makes a difference but also the extent of it. "There's at least one go-karting circuit in every city," he said. "Driving a go-kart just helps you develop the car control that you will need to drive bigger and more powerful cars."

There are over 100 cities and towns in Finland. Even if Salo is exaggerating -- although he sounded sincere -- it puts to shame the number of karting circuits in Ind-ia (three) that can be used for racing and are underutilised by the admission of the president of India's motorsport governing body.

Those 'Flying Finns' definitely seem to be on to something. Maybe, it's time that Indian motorsport stop looking at the top to bottom model and focus a lot more on the bare basics.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.