One of the sport’s forgotten stars is making a comeback, 15 years after winning the British F3 title. By Alex Harmer
He was once regarded as a young driver of exceptional promise, part of Britain’s new wave alongside Jenson Button and others. But while Williams swooped to sign Button for its 2000 Formula 1 campaign, Hynes – who had beaten his rival to the 1999 British F3 title – slipped from the radar. He returns to the track this year in the British Touring Car Championship, his first full season since he contested the Porsche Supercup in 2007.
For the past five years he has worked on driver development with Marussia in F1. Hynes won two single-seater titles with Marussia boss John Booth’s Manor Motorsport and past credits also include working as a fledgling Lewis Hamilton’s driver coach. “Once you’re a Manor lad, you’re always a Manor lad,” Hynes says. “We had a good plan for F1 and I felt I could add something useful to the project. I’ve had five years of discovering a whole new side of motor sport, setting up a business and learning. But it’s definitely time to stick a helmet back on and go racing. For a while I hadn’t even thought about getting a licence again, let alone sitting in a racing car.”
Putting together sponsorship for his rookie BTCC season reminded Hynes of his career’s derailment – triggered by a lack of finance – in 2000. “The effort it took to get this up and running was so much less,” he says. “It literally took three minutes to put it in motion. Trying to do a UK-based series is a no-brainer commercially – not many companies are geared up for a worldwide sponsorship campaign. But in the late ’90s I never felt that I lost any momentum, because it wasn’t particularly normal to go from F3 to F1. It was a surprise to everybody when Jenson did it.”
Hynes had been monitoring the BTCC and the series got his competitive juices flowing. “I don’t watch a lot of racing on TV,” he says. “I have lots of F1 races recorded, but never get around to seeing them. But I’ll switch the touring cars on and stay glued all day, which is a good enough indicator for me. You’re only minutes away from something exciting.
“It’s accessible to everyone with the colossal amount of airtime it gets on ITV4. The production is the first thing that drew me in and made me think, ‘Bloody hell, this is a proper series’.
“The BTCC looks like a commercially viable formula and there aren’t many around any more. The F1 world is tiring and the pressures are different from what most people are used to, so this is a good opportunity to rekindle my enthusiasm for competition.”
Hynes has put himself in a position to succeed by signing for two years with MG factory team Triple Eight, for whom he previously drove in Australia’s V8 Supercar series. And with Jason Plato and 2013 rookie charger Sam Tordoff as team-mates, he has solid yardsticks.
“If there’s anything I learned from the F1 experience,” he says, “it’s that the only way to go racing is with the best kit. It isn’t the car that’s going to be slow, so I’ll just have to keep pushing until I’m quick enough.
“The door-bashing tin-top style is new to me, but it looks like fun. I think any racer would love to get stuck in. In single-seaters you tend to race three or four top people all year – with the occasional flying lap from someone farther down the grid – but here you’re racing everybody.”
Hynes finds the nostalgic value of national racing hard to ignore, but this is far from a farewell tour. “I’ve been having a ball,” he says, “so we might be here for a fair bit yet after the first two years. It’s so cool to be back at British venues again, proper circuits. Coming up through the junior formulae, you don’t realise how lucky you are.”
Career in brief
Born: 26/02/1978, Guildford, Surrey
1995: Formula Vauxhall Junior champion, MDR
1996: Formula Vauxhall, MDR
1997: UK Formula Renault, Manor
1998: British F3
1999: British F3 champion, Manor
2000-08: Appearances in F3000, ALMS, V8 Supercars
2007: Porsche Supercup