Stunt driving the Ridge Racer way
We've all been there at that moment when you need to pull off a handbrake turn. You put your foot down for a little speed, drop the clutch and yank the handbrake while steering hard to the right. The tyres scream as the back of the car spins 180 degrees, you dab the foot brake and lift the clutch again, back on the throttle to speed off in the opposite direction.
Pocket-lint spent the day at the Santa Pod Raceway under the tutelage of Terry Grant, professional stunt driver and holder of various crazy records, at his Stunt Academy. We were there with a team from Namco, celebrating today's launch of Ridge Racer Unbounded, in line to learn some of the tricks we take from granted in video games.
"This is a Peugeot 206 GTI 16v, so it's pretty nippy," explains John Moore, Terry's co-instructor at the Academy during our session, and it's to be the car we start sliding around the place in.
Surprisingly, the cars we're using at the academy are road cars. They bear the scars of being driven hard, by amateurs like ourselves, but the only real modification is internally, changing the handbrake to a hydraulic system.
"You can do it with a normal handbrake," John tells us, "but once you've done it a couple of times the cable will stretch, so we've fitted hydraulics instead." It seems like a wise move, given that these cars are sliding around the tarmac all day.
The other vehicle of choice is the BMW M3 E36. "It's amazing what you can do with 300 horsepower and a limited slip differential," John grins, as he explains with some precision how to pull off the perfect doughnut.
The BWM M3 is the car of choice for Terry and John's opening thrill ride. Like a chase seen from any action movie, the pair - with us in the passenger seat - danced the cars around the playground with frightening precision.
The roaring of the engine, the squealing of the tyres and heady smell of burning rubber and brakepads distract you from the fact that you're not actually moving all that fast. But glance out of the side window and you'll seen the bonnet of the other car, less than a metre away. The precision with which they can drive is astonishing, as is the frequency with which they need to change the tyres - hence the mis-matched wheels.
Back in the Peugeot 206 GTI, it's time for us to prove our worth and see if we can perform the classic handbrake-parking manoeuvre. It seems unnatural to be heading at speed towards a parking space, but again, dropping the clutch and yanking that hydraulic handbrake, sees us sliding into the box.
A slight nudge of the cone in front would have been the end of our no claims bonus in the real world, but we'll never struggle to park again. John agrees, declaring Pocket-lint the winner in this fiercely fought parking competition. It's joint-first admittedly, but we'll still lap up the glory.
Stunt driving, rather than being about risk-taking, is obviously all about control. As we're talked through the process of performing those doughnuts that plague supermarket car parks across the country, we're impressed with the precision. It's given to us like a formula with exacting measures.
And lo and behold, once you follow those precise instructions, the car performs for you. It's incredibly easy, almost as easy, dare we say it, as it is to drift in Ridge Racer. So we pop the question - are we going to learn to drift?
"We like people to have been here for a few sessions before we get into drifting,",John tells us, but we're not disheartened, because we're about to try driving on two wheels.
A modified Peugeot 206 is the car for two wheeling and once in the driving seat, it's obvious that this car has taken more abuse than we'd like. It doesn't sound healthy, but John reassures us that it's just the bent exhaust vibrating against the chassis. Such is the life of a stunt car in training.
We slowly head towards the ramp, John calmly telling us that the car will try and steer away. "Left a bit, left a bit, left a bit" and boom! We hit the deck off the end of the ramp because we didn't manage to get the car to run on the two wheels.
The second attempt is more successful, running a good 30 metres before we steer out and back down on to four wheels with a jolt. It's a good job that there's a giant stabiliser on the side of the car, or we'd have been eating pavement through the window.
With the day drawing in, it's time for Terry to show us what he gets paid for. Having driven through stacked boxes, that classic Seventies film stunt, it's time for a bigger target: the caravan.
Terry has a special car for the job: an old Nissan that he has saved from a dreary existence as an unlicensed mini cab, purchased solely for this stunt finale. With that, Terry launches this miserable old Japanese car through the aging caravan, hits a ramp and rolls on to the roof, sliding to a halt trailing caravan parts and broken glass.
It's the stuff of greatness, the real deal. As Terry Grant emerges unscathed to stand jubilant before his trashed Nissan, we can't help feeling that normal driving is going to seem a little flat.
So we head inside and play a little more Ridge Racer Unbounded, secretly dreaming of being stuntmen when we grow up.