En­ter the Stig league

Be­hind the wheel with the how-to guru

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Front Page - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER [email protected]

“If you look ahead, you’re less likely to crash. If you drive smoothly you use less fuel and they are more likely to lower your in­surance pre­mium”

WHEN Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz took driv­ing lessons from The Stig, it was Ben Collins inside the hel­met. When The Stig cut a quicker lap than F1 legend Nigel Mansell at the Top Gear test track in Bri­tain, that was also Collins at work.

Now the re­tired Stig, a 39-yearold fam­ily man with an hon­est in­ter­est in help­ing any­one drive bet­ter, has turned his top tips into a book.

Collins has writ­ten more than 70,000 words on ev­ery­thing from sit­ting cor­rectly to pre­vent­ing a loss of con­trol on a slip­pery road. How­ever, he says it mostly boils down to two sim­ple things.

“It’s smooth­ness and look­ing ahead,” Collins tells Cars­guide. “If you look ahead, you’re less likely to crash.

“If you drive smoothly you use less fuel and (the in­surance company) is more likely to lower your pre­mium.”

Collins ad­mits that his time as The Stig was mostly about driv­ing fast on a test track in some of the world’s most ex­otic cars but he says even that is not how it looks on Top Gear tele­vi­sion.

“Peo­ple think a lap time is about screech­ing the tyres and mash­ing the brake pedal, but it’s about be­ing smooth and look­ing ahead,” he says.

His book, How to Drive — The ul­ti­mate guide, is his sec­ond out­ing in print. His first was about his un­mask­ing as The Stig, about his ca­reer as a race car driver (in­clud­ing a start in a V8 Su­per­car in the Bathurst 1000) and his time with the mil­i­tary in­clud­ing com­mando train­ing.

This time around it’s more about mak­ing a dif­fer­ence than mak­ing money or mak­ing an im­pact.

“I started to see a big­ger pic­ture,” Collins says. “The book, re­ally, is fo­cused on ev­ery­thing you don’t get taught to pass the driv­ing test.

“Yes, I do have ex­per­tise. But I had to do a ton of re­search, be­cause my ex­per­tise is in a nar­row win­dow at the ex­treme end of driv­ing.”

The re­sult is a book that is big and heavy, but log­i­cally ar­ranged.

The first chap­ter, “How not to drive”, sets the tone be­fore he moves through top­ics in­clud­ing chang­ing gear, avoid­ing ac­ci­dents, mo­tor­ways, night driv­ing and, ul­ti­mately, stunt driv­ing.

If you’re ex­pect­ing sto­ries of crazi­ness in character as The Stig, there are some. But this is not the heart of the book, just a means of get­ting young­sters in­ter­ested and fol­low­ing his line.

Collins also has a lively writ­ing style that’s pep­pered with good ideas and smart one­lin­ers, as he says — “It’s time for big boy’s pants” — when

mov­ing on to cor­rect cor­ner­ing.

He might have won fame for his dis­ci­pline and per­fec­tion as The Stig, but Collins pep­pers his story with ex­am­ples of his own mis­takes. In­clud­ing some youth­ful crashes and ex­pe­ri­ences at Top Gear.

His book rat­tles along, although there is a ma­jor short­com­ing — non-metric mea­sure­ments — for Aus­tralian read­ers.

He has tapped some sur­pris­ing sources, not just for the me­chan­ics of driv­ing but also the men­tal­ity of driv­ing.

“So many times I get asked what I think are very ob­vi­ous ques­tions,” he says. “I’ve writ­ten it with my best un­der­stand­ing, but I’ve lib­er­ally stolen the good ad­vice I got from the po­lice and army. I freely ad­mit I don’t know ev­ery­thing, and no one does.”

But he was also con­scious that peo­ple ex­pect The Stig to come through in his words.

“Every­body can and does want to learn. And you can make a huge dif­fer­ence with a rel­a­tively small ef­fort. It was one of the coolest parts of the job as The Stig, tak­ing a short time and see­ing a huge dif­fer­ence.”

Now he hopes to make a dif­fer­ence with a man­ual that’s far more than a how-to book.

“I wanted to write some­thing that was en­ter­tain­ing, but also taught peo­ple. I hope peo­ple will en­joy driv­ing more,” Collins says.

“I didn’t want to write a man­ual that would put peo­ple to sleep. You might dip in and out of this book. There are sto­ries from Bathurst and Top Gear and movies like James Bond. I wanted to make it some­thing that prop­erly ex­plains how to drive, but that it was fun to drive.”

How to Drive — The Ul­ti­mate Guide from the man who was The Stig Pan Macmil­lan $29.99

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