Enter the Stig league
Behind the wheel with the how-to guru
“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