What’s your favourite movie car chase? Steve McQueen screeching through San Francisco in Bullitt? Gene Hackman racing a New York High Line train in The French Connection? Or perhaps – for younger readers – Vin Diesel blasting through the desert in The Fast and the Furious?
Modern movies are increasingly filmed in front of green screens, with computers filling in the gaps, yet the art of the stunt driver is alive and well. Which is how I ended up in a dreary car park in Dagenham, being shouted at by an actor with a clipboard and a fake upper-class accent. Welcome to stunt school.
Learning to Go Faster
I was among the guinea pigs for Ford’s Go Faster experience, which takes place in East London from 13-22 October. For a very reasonable £99, you spend half a day torturing tyres in a Focus RS and Mustang V8, being taught manoeuvres such as drifting and J-turns by stunt professionals.
As an added twist, your finest moments are filmed, then spliced together into a heist movie trailer that you can download to show your friends. You play the part of ‘Wheels’, a cool-as-ice getaway driver with nothing to lose. And the Go Faster staff stay in character as your accomplices and film crew throughout the day, which makes for some hilarious off-camera conversations.
The first move I learned was the J-turn, where the car is reversed at speed then spun around to face forwards. Useful for escaping unexpected roadblocks or dead-end alleyways – or so my henchmen told me.
Starting with your right arm across the steering wheel in the nine ‘o’ clock position, you hit the gas hard in reverse – not something that feels natural, even in an empty car park. Then, you dip the clutch to disengage the engine and hook the wheel around 180 degrees so your right hand is back at three ‘o’ clock. As the car rotates, use your left hand to select second gear, then lift the clutch and go, go, go!
I found getting the Focus RS to rotate on its axis quite straightforward, but stalled several times trying to grab second for the getaway. After my fifth attempt, however, I had this one nailed.
For the next stunt – the getaway – I jumped into the brawny Mustang V8. This was a tricky, technical slalom against the clock, including two smoky 360-degree donuts. And it would scatter my early confidence in a trail of plastic cones.
After a brief run-through, my instructor jumped into the passenger seat, grabbed the remote engine cut-off switch (just to be sure) and started the stopwatch. The Mustang lunged back and forth through the slalom as I juggled the steering from lock to lock. It felt big, but not unwieldy, with ample grip on the dry tarmac.
So far, so good: the problem came when I had to overwhelm said grip for the donuts. I stabbed at the throttle to dislodge the Mustang’s back end and felt it slide gracefully sideways. But I failed to counter-steer quickly enough, resulting in a stalled engine and multi-cone carnage. Great fun, but with five seconds added to my time for each toppled cone, I ended up near the bottom of the lap-time leaderboard.
What Ford calls a powerslide, the rest of us would probably call a handbrake turn. But hey, we’re making movies, so a little artistic licence is allowed.
This manoeuvre takes place at slower speed than the J-turn. Again, you position your right hand at nine ‘o’ clock, then accelerate to around 25mph before dipping the clutch, swinging the wheel through 180 degrees (so your right hand is back at three ‘o’ clock) and pulling on the handbrake. The Focus RS stunt cars have beefed-up hydraulic handbrakes to make the process easier, but you still need to yank the lever with all the force your left bicep can muster.
I find getting the car to powerslide is relatively easy, but positioning it in the ‘box’ of cones is much harder. Only on my final attempt do I get the RS lined up correctly. Shame they weren’t filming that one…
Unless you only get your car reviews from Sensible Driver magazine, you’ll be aware the Focus RS has a Drift Mode. Intended for track use only (it says here), this sends 70 percent of the Ford’s 350 horses to those poor, unsuspecting rear tyres. Goodbye 4WD hot hatch; hello RWD hooligan.
Steering slowly around a cone, I bury my right foot to kick off the drift. It’s incredibly easy to make this car go sideways, but holding the slide – via a delicate balance of steering and throttle inputs – takes plenty of practice. Too little power and you’ll understeer (run wide), too much and you’ll spin.
Eventually, I manage a full drift-lap of the cone. I step out of the RS in a cloud of tyre smoke, grinning ear-to-ear and feeling like a hero.
Finally, it was time to prove my skills (or otherwise) as a getaway driver by filming the trailer. This combined all of the above, with a few moody looks to camera and a ‘safe cracking’ shot thrown in. Watch the end result below and let us know what you think.
I also sat inside a mock-up car for the movie poster – another great memento of the day, and perfect for sharing on social media.
Overall, I had a fantastic morning, learned some new skills and gained a real insight into the life of a stunt driver. All from the very people who powerslide, drift and crash cars for a living. If you ever find yourself trapped down a dead-end alleyway, you’ll be glad you heeded their advice.
Watch Tim’s Go Faster movie trailer