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Burning rubber at Darlington rugby club
The team behind the memorable ‘car rugby’ feature on a recent edition of Top Gear is offering a stunt driving experience to petrolheads in the region. Andy Walker reports.
WITH a clean driving licence and not so much as a scratch or scrape on the roads for nearly ten years, what could possibly go wrong?
It is this misplaced air of nonchalance that has led me to this point – powering round a car park in a souped-up Ford Focus with one of Britain’s best drivers in the passenger seat and two rugby players in the back.
Darlington-based Paul Swift, of Paul Swift Precision Driving, is our instructor for the day and is patiently talking us through the finer points of handbrake turns and other manoeuvres driving schools omit to pass on to learners.
The rugby players – tighthead prop Ben Simpson and flanker Luke Wishnowsky – are representing their club, Darlington Mowden Park, which is hosting the stunt driving experience at its ground on Saturday (March 9).
Ben is eager to try some of the moves Paul is showing us, but New Zealander Luke is reduced to the role of frustrated passenger after breaking his thumb playing for Mowden last weekend.
After a few practice swings each by way of a warm-up – with varying degrees of success, it has to be said – it’s time for the end-game, a competitive circuit of obstacles incorporating the skills we’re supposed to have picked up.
Time penalties are imposed for a range of misdemeanours, including bumping into traffic cones and not crossing the finish line with the front wheels. A time of sub-40 seconds is decent, Paul tells us.
Ben’s best time of a shade over 40 seconds comfortably bests anything The Northern Echo can manage, meaning bragging rights are maintained for the rugby lads.
Which left photographer Tom Banks and to duke it out for newsroom supremacy.
My error-free time of 42 seconds was slower than his 37-second effort, but a five-second time penalty for not finishing properly meant it was a dead-heat. Tom may offer a slightly different version of events, but he’s not writing this article.
The car is still just about in one piece after our collective efforts, but a couple of cool-down laps from Paul soon have it purring again.
Stunt driving events are set to become a regular feature at the arena once more, with Paul having previously run similar events in the days of Darlington FC’s tenancy.
His work as part of the travelling Top Gear Live display team takes him around the world, but trim Paul insists he is “too fat” to be the show’s mysterious resident test driver, The Stig.
He added: “What we are trying to do is give people the opportunity to explore their ability in a car and develop their technique.
“With us, people can learn what to if they are in a skid, for example. The first thing is not to panic.”
The recent rugby stunt saw presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May lead opposing teams of Kia cars in a crash-tastic game of rugby at Twickenham.
Stunt experiences at Mowden will be confined to the car park, club officials insist.
For more details visit www.paulswift.com or call 01325 -247554.