With the upcoming release of Supercar Challenge and the involvement of tame racing driver Tiff Needell, we took the opportunity to meet the man and find out a little bit more about what makes him tick.
Of course I've been a long term fan of Tiff since the early 1990's, seeing him on Top Gear thrashing the life out of top quality motors he was the show's Stig for some 10 years before moving to 5th Gear. I remember always loving the aggressive body language to his driving style, fearless and completely confident; it wowed the audience and couldn't help but make you smile.
For me as a journalist there are some special occasions that really make everything worthwhile, meeting old racing hero's like this is just one of those. Preparing the night before having completed my research, I felt the excitement building and it didn't help with a restless nights sleep. So with little sleep my enthusiasm shot me out of bed ready to meet Chandra Nair – Brand Manager for System 3, keen get our train and meet Tiff at Thruxton race track. On route from the station we had a chit chat with the cab driver, she mentioned how she heard he'd been braking wheels on his car, a typical trademark, so its time to neck down that Redbull to kick off the day.
Wondering how hard Tiff would be to find and as a stroke of luck he was right in the car park, a mechanic taking the wheels off his car for an inspection, "looks like he's done it again" mentions the cab driver. Stepping out or the car we walked over to say hello, the mechanic didn't look best pleased, "I don't know how that happened" says Tiff "seems like a few chunks have come out, must be the tyre profile". The mechanic looks at Tiff knowing full well he had been drifting again while nodding his head, time to say hello then.
"So how'd you get here?" says Tiff, "Train", "living in Central London cars aren't always practical at the moment" I said, "oh that's no good, I bet you're one of these people pushing for speeding limits" mutters Tiff. Always welcoming, Tiff was now standing for a range of fan photos, so I mentioned that I'd love a drive, "right well we've got new tyres on so you'd better get signed up then, come on, sign your life away". Signing the form and we walk outside "right you don't need a helmet, just jump in". I sit in the front with Chandra sitting in the back, you'll see some of his filming in the upcoming video, all massively exciting though the video doesn't really capture the speed or feeling quite like the experience.
Accelerating out of the pits and you feel that racing burst, this may not have been a race trim car but the feeling of a racing driver on a race track simply has no equal. Wow we are racing; taking turn 1 and 2, feeling the G's and Tiff springs to life, the man is electric when pushing a car like this! "Thruxton is a high speed track, and this is the main straight, in an F1 car we'd take this bend at 170mph though we'll only take it in 120mph" mentions Tiff. I have a smile from ear to ear, its a wonderful feeling. I've seen Thruxton on TV so many times but its different being there, its an old course and the age shows but a defining aspect is the all important final chicane, its a signature trademark of the course and always creates action, controversy or drama. Tiff really enjoyed attacking this aspect of the course taking it at great speed, handling well with the direction change considering the additional weight of 3 guys in the car. Shortly after we're forced to slow down due to back-markers having their track day.
A moment to take a breath and I realise how slow most people are on a track day, they probably go faster down the motorway? Quickly dispatching them its up to speed again, great grip from the track and with the tyres gaining some temperature its time for an even harder lap, my smile simply can't get any bigger, I'm trying to listen to Tiff but at the same time there's too much to take in, he's really beginning to push. Its funny but to remain focused and really enjoy it I imagine I'm driving, going through the high speed corners, looking at that apex, the thread of a needle, the focus, it's not completely alien to a gamer but the real experience is so much more profound, so much more visceral.
Coming to that final chicane and we enter a full on powerslide, wow really going for it now, I begin regret drinking that Redbull before I jumped into the car, down the straight at full speed we hit the brakes again to avoid another back-runner, quickly past Tiff steps on the power and sends the car sliding through turn 3, wow what an experience, snapping back into turn 4 then into turn 5. We're all laughing now and having great fun, the experience is getting better and better, I'm sitting next to an old racing hero and loving every minute. Round that high speed bend, really hanging the car out, perfect through the apex, Tiff preparing for that final chicane and I can tell he's going for something big but alas and rather frustratingly a few back runners block it, its time to let off the power and head for the pits.
Great cars on display though my favourite had to be the Lamborghini Murciélago
Stepping out of the car, I can't hide my enthusiasm or enjoyment, utterly elated at the drive Tiff mentions he'll meet me for an interview but has around 17 more runs today, no rest for the wicked it seems, he then races off to a petrol pump and refuels his car. It almost seems odd to see a TV personality do that, his keenness to get out again as quickly as possible. So its time for a cup of tea in the marvelous Thruxton restaurant that represents a broken down WWII style/era makeshift building and enjoy some of the cars also on display, though curiously no burger van to be seen, very unusual for race tracks.
Following the drive we take some photo's of the range of car on display at the track day besides reflection on the experience. A wide range of motors were being used and you'll see that in our photo's of the day, all looking great but not being pushed in quite the way we'd like to see, would love to have a go myself though.
Finally sitting down with Tiff, we took to the picnic area, lovely and warm but somewhat blustery; it seems to be a trademark of every track that they should be windy and colder than any other place on earth. Keen to discuss his career, from his entry to the world of motor sport, through the classes to F1 and from there to presenting Top Gear and his current show 5th Gear. It was informative but also for me as a fan an enthusiast’s discussion, we only had a short time but there was so much I wanted to squeeze in, I could have chatted all day and I think he probably could too.
As ever Tiff was always welcoming and happy to discuss any aspect of his career, an unwavering love for all things automotive and you can see all of that in our upcoming exclusive video interview.
You'll see Tiff back on 5th Gear late in the year and catch him in the tutorial aspects of Supercar Challenge released on the 4th September..
Some say he dreams racing?
All we know is that he's called Tiff Needell…