EVER WATCHED an action movie? Then at some point you will have marvelled at the glory of a car chase. The main protagonist performs all manner of outrageous manoeuvres and manages to scythe through traffic and escape the bad guys, regardless of how impossible the odds. Better yet these sequences generally can’t be accurately reproduced using computers: most of the time everything you see is performed by a highly-skilled driver.
A driver like Alastair Moffatt for example. Alastair is a twice British Autotest Champion, and if you’re not familiar with the sport a quick search on YouTube will tell you all you need to know: autotesting is the art of getting a car around a very tight course in the quickest time possible with a fiendish mix of delicacy and brutality. Alastair is offering the general public the chance to learn these black arts through his company Stunt Drive UK, and has recently taught David Coulthard and Carol Vorderman exactly how it’s done – I managed to wangle some instruction of my own.
Joining a group for a half day experience, Alastair and his co-instructor Andy Jarvis calmly explain the format of the day and the stunts to be performed: the classic handbrake turn, the J-turn, parallel park, doughnuts and then a routine combining a sequence of these elements. But that wasn’t all, because Stunt Drive UK is the only experience that offers you to chance to drive on two wheels – a genuine piece of stunt work you can’t practice in a car park.
Handbrake turn first. Approach a (thankfully forgiving) bollard at about 20mph, dip the clutch, yank the handbrake on, turn the wheel a half turn to the right and the car spins in its own length. Naturally Alastair makes it look as natural as changing lanes; getting the hang of it yourself takes a few attempts. But the satisfaction when you pivot neatly around the bollard is huge.
The parallel park comes next: a handbrake turn into a parking space, a classic movie trick that looks hugely impressive – if you pull it off. The method is the same as the handbrake turn, but lining the car up and the point of initiation is crucial. Get it wrong, you smack the barrels and look like a prat, but get it right (which I managed on the second attempt) and it’s hard not to feel exceptionally smug.
The J-turn is a bit more serious. It’s a move used on TV all the time but is also a proper avoidance manoeuvre taught to security experts who may need to get their famous clients rapidly out of trouble. You reverse at high speed in a straight line before dipping the clutch and turning the wheel hard over: the nose of the cars loses grip and spins through 180 degrees, and as it does so you select first gear and roar away, quick as a flash.
It looks hard but as long as you follow the instructor’s excellent guidance, you’ll be fine. After several runs perfecting it becomes about getting the transition to forward motion as slick as possible: there’s no point executing a perfect spin if you spend five minutes trying to find first gear.
Then comes the routine. It starts with a handbrake turn, a turn around another bollard and then a handbrake back into the parking space. For a little extra spice, this was against the clock. With the competitive element introduced, all the participants suddenly found themselves attacking the course with more vigour: cones were munched and turns were over-egged.
Up next was the doughnut. This requires even more brutality, as you need to sit in the two-seater, rear-wheel drive special, turn the wheel almost completely to the right and hold the engine at a raucous 5,000rpm before dumping the clutch. Do so and the rear wheels spin up and the car pivots around its nose with smoke and tyre screeching to accompany it. This is the easiest move in principle but even the ham-fisted find it a challenge to be so tough on a car. It’s worth the perseverance though as this is showboating in the extreme.
Until you get to the two-wheeling Mini of course. Despite the specially-prepared Mini fitted with the equivalent of a child’s stabiliser on one side it’s hard not to feel a little nervous: normally being in a car at this angle means pain is only seconds away. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a go at autotest-type stunts before but driving on two wheels is a whole new experience.
Of course, Alastair does a demo run and makes it look as easy as riding a bike – which of course was a challenge when you were five-years old – even managing to negotiate the bend at the end of the runway. The instructions are equally simple: keep the speed constant, aim for the middle of the scarily-steep ramp and steer sensitively, but it’s all about getting a feel for what the car is doing.
My first run sees me flop onto the stabiliser almost immediately. A hefty tweak of the steering gets it back on two wheels momentarily, but then it lands on all four wheels with a thump. Attempts two and three follow similar lines, with just a fleeting glance of sweet spot of balance on two wheels before overbalancing one way or the other. Instructor Andy provides exactly what you need at this point with encouraging words and advice which clearly pay off because on attempt six, I manage a good 15 meters on two wheels.
That doesn’t sound like much but it feels like a mile from inside the car, and you’re guaranteed a huge grin of pleasure and pride. Of course I was totally hooked and wanted to spend all day practising – Andy admits it took him several solid weeks of practice to get it totally nailed. Better still, if you really want to learn Stunt Drive UK will tailor a package to your needs.
It’s a shame that the two-wheeled escape or J-turn won’t come in handy in the supermarket car park unless you happen to be secret agent, but for very modest price a few hours of thrilling stunt driving is a real escapist treat.
Contact: http://www.stuntdriveuk.com firstname.lastname@example.org 01531 822954