Stig ‘fes­s­esup

The masked man has spo­ken out, writes Mark Hinch­liffe

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News - The Man in the White Suit, Ben Collins, HarperCollins, $35.

THERE has been no big­ger mys­tery in the worlds of TV and mo­tor­ing than the iden­tity of the Stig, the stunt driver in the Top Gear show.

Rac­ing driver Ben Collins avoided Bri­tish press scru­tiny and kept his iden­tity se­cret for eight years un­til he ac­ci­den­tally outed him­self and was sacked just like the Stig from the first Top Gear sea­son.

A new book writ­ten by Collins, The Man in the White Suit, an­swers a lot of the ques­tions that fans of the show would have liked to have asked the Stig but couldn’t.

Are the fa­mous race chal­lenges real? Yes, ac­cord­ing to Collins, even those episodes where the re­sult was very close.

Did he re­veal his iden­tity to the celebri­ties he in­structed? No. He kept his vi­sor shut at all times.

How much of the show is scripted? Al­most all of it. Collins says Clark­son writes com­pre­hen­sive scripts and of­ten changes them on the run.

Do the pre­sen­ters re­ally do all the driv­ing? No. Collins says he did a lot of the stunt driv­ing, but the pre­sen­ters also did a fair bit.

What does he re­ally think of the pre­sen­ters? He ad­mires the brav­ery and en­thu­si­asm of Richard Ham­mond and the en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of James May. And though he spars with the talk­a­tive Jeremy Clark­son, he still ad­mires and re­spects him.

But the book also leaves a lot of cru­cial ques­tions unan­swered: Did he get the sack or leave of his own vo­li­tion as in­sin­u­ated in the epi­logue; if he was sacked, who did it; who pays for all the dam­age caused dur­ing film­ing; and does he know the iden­tity of the new Stig?

My guess for the new Stig is rally driver Andy Har­ris, who drove a Fi­esta through a shop­ping mall as Clark­son in a Top Gear episode.

In­ter­est­ingly, Collins says Aus­tralian F1 driver Mark Web­ber was the first to recog­nise him. He iden­ti­fied Collins by his walk. The two had raced to­gether in For­mula 3.

Collins may be a rac­ing driver, but he’s also an ac­com­plished writer, hav­ing penned for Au­tosport mag­a­zine. He has a fluid and con­ver­sa­tional writ­ing style that gets a lit­tle florid in some places.

Though he delves into his child­hood, rac­ing ca­reer, movie stunt driv­ing and Top Gear pur­suits, the most in­ter­est is in his ap­praisal of the char­ac­ter and driv­ing abil­i­ties of the celebri­ties who race around the Top Gear track at Dunsford, a for­mer Har­rier air base.

The book, which in­cludes sev­eral pages of pho­tos from through­out his ca­reer, was de­layed for sev­eral months in a le­gal wran­gle with the BBC.

Per­haps those unan­swered ques­tions were edited out.

It’s me: Ben Collins has re­vealed him­self as the Stig (inset).

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