From donuts to drive-bys, nothing’s off limits at Drift Limits, the school that teaches stunt driving
Matt Prior
16 October 2015

Makes you feel good, doesn’t it? That he – you know, the “I expect you to die” fella – drives one of these. Which is why you’ll find a mention of him in almost every single piece of motoring magazine copy about an Aston Martin that you’ll ever read. Buy one of these, it implies, and you, too, can be a bit like 007.

Only you can’t, can you? Not really. Not unless you first drive an Aston Martin, and then add a little… something. Given that Gemma Arterton still isn’t returning my calls, in my case it’s going to have to be something else. It’s going to have to be driving an Aston like he does in the films.

I don’t remember seeing Bond train for the driving he does: performing a barrel roll while leaping a river, drifting on ice, driving half a Renault 11 in Paris. It’s all so easy, why would he? 

However, to find out how Bond – or the stunt double pretending to be the man who is pretending to be him – does it, I am going to need some practice. That’s why I’m at Drift Limits in Hertfordshire, where owner Jonny Barden and his team train stunt drivers and the public alike. Today they have me. They’ll tell me how Bond does it, and I’ll tell you. A not so secret service.

Stunt 1 - The J-turn

The J-turn isn’t just a cool piece of stunt driving; it’s a vital part of defensive driving for licensed troubleshooters. The object is simple: you’re facing in one direction but want to be travelling in the other, as soon as is humanly possible. A J-turn is what you need to do.

I’ve tried these before at test tracks and ballsed them up at test tracks, too, so I’m glad Barden is instructing, making what seems to be a very complicated manoeuvre sound relatively straightforward, or straightbackward. The steps are simple but happen in very quick succession.

First, you accelerate quickly backwards in a straight line – gently at first, because it’s easy to light up the rear tyres – until you reach, say, 40mph, or around 6000rpm in the Aston V8 Vantage I’m driving.

Aston Martin DB10 driven - from Gaydon with love

Barden says to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel, steady and locked at a quarter-to-three position.

Then you dip the clutch and quickly apply a half turn of lock, in whatever direction you want the car’s nose to spin. Don’t slip your hand around the wheel rim, though. Instead, hold it there or you won’t know where straight is again.

As soon as the lock has been applied and you feel the car swinging, hit the brakes hard, just for a second. The ABS on our Aston is disabled so the wheels lock, which helps to keep the manoeuvre tight and precise, but it works with ABS or with no brakes at all, although then it takes up more room. Now, wait while the car continues its 180deg turn and, when it’s near straight again, bring your hand back to its start position – so you know the steering is straight – and the car will roll out of the spin in the direction you wanted.

When you’re learning, only when the car is straight again should you move the gearlever from reverse to second, lift the clutch and drive out of the turn. As you get the hang of it, you can do the change from reverse to second while the car is spinning. That makes the manoeuvre faster and more effective, and just requires practice. Training is useful, but there is no substitute for experience.

Stunt 2 - the drift

I’ll be honest: drifting during a car chase is pointless. I know: shocking, positively shocking. Drifting is slow, which is not what you want to be when escaping a villain. I suppose you could argue that a smokescreen from the rear tyres could be handy, but the short of it is that drifting in car chases is standard operating procedure – boys with toys, pure and simple.

It’s also the most straightforward of today’s stunts and the one you’ll see on the pages of this magazine every week. In a car such as a V8 Vantage, on the right tyres and a surface with lowish grip, there isn’t a lot to it. You turn in at the ‘right’ speed, trailing the brakes into the bend to settle the nose. Too fast and most cars will understeer. Too slow and there isn’t enough lateral load on the tyres to bring them near the limit of adhesion, unless there’s lots of grunt.

The V8 Vantage has lots of grunt. A bootful of gas brings the rear around, which is crucial  point number one. Too little throttle here and the rears will grip again; too much throttle and the car will spin, especially if you don’t wind on opposite lock quickly enough

Behind the stunts of Spectre, any why nobody does it better than Bond

What’s helpful is that, at this point, the front wheels want to point in the direction of the car’s travel. If you let go of the steering wheel as the back end swings around, usually it will wind on its own opposite lock as the car pivots around the front wheels. You just catch the wheel again when you’re at the right attitude, and then probably only wind on a few degrees yourself. 

From that point, it’s a case of staying confident on the throttle, playing it off against the steering to keep the car’s attitude right. Quite straight and it’ll speed up but might drive out of the slide; very sideways and it’ll slow down but could spin.

Then comes crucial part number two: exiting  the slide. As you straighten up, if you come off the throttle too much, or fail to wind off lock quickly enough, you’ll be sent into a tankslapper. Applying more throttle as the car straightens, and accelerating out while gradually winding off the lock, is the most effective way. Barden thinks I’m okay at this. Flattery will get you nowhere, Barden – but don’t stop trying.

Stunt 3 - the drive-by shooting

Drift Limits doesn’t teach this. I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that it’s incredibly hard to fire a gun while driving, yet film stars apparently manage to blow out tyres with ease when they do it, so I’m keen to try it anyway.

There’s always something a little bit serious about the end of a pistol. Unless that pistol is your 12-year old’s Nerf gun. It seems safer to use foam darts (what did you expect, an exploding pen?). Barden has propped up a tyre in the middle of the skid pad to shoot through, the idea being I drift around it, and take aim and shoot when we’re in line with it. Donut one-handed, look out of the window and take a deep breath. You only need one shot – make it count.

To be honest, it’s a disaster. It’s hard enough to donut two-handed and in any case, the breeze wafting across the track is blowing my Nerf darts way off target. A straight shoot-while-you-drive might – just might – prove easier, but these are controlled conditions, there are no external distractions, the tyre’s really close and still I’m scoring a bull’s eye only once in every 10 attempts. Of course, I might just be an incredibly bad shot. Perhaps I need more practice at this. Or maybe – just maybe – I’d be better off in a car fitted with machine guns.

You too, can be Matt Prior 003

Drift Limits, located at Bovingdon Airfield, near Hemel Hempstead, helps train stunt drivers, whether they’re individuals or teams setting up specific stunts to practise. It runs customer driving experience days with a difference, too.

You can have a supercar experience - there’s a Ferrari F430 Challenge and the Aston V8 Vantage we used, for example - but Drift Limits offers more than that. They want you to push yourself, so they provide drift experiences - starting with Mazda MX-5s and rising to BMW M3s - with the intention of you being able to leave at the end having held 60mph, third-gear drifts.

For more information, go to driftlimits.co.uk

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