Best of the Best
Ironically, Top Gear’s Stig is actually a very eloquent bloke. Ben Collins is no longer The Stig, though – that title now falls at the race-booted feet of another driver (rumour has it that it’s now a number of different people), but he was, for seven years, the man behind the white helmet.
Nowadays he whiles away his time at a more leisurely pace writing books, doing corporate events (which is why I found out he was such a good talker), racing in the WEC aboard a Ferrari 458 GT LM and being a Hollywood stunt driver. The opening chase in Quantum of Solace? That’s Collins behind the wheel of the Aston Martin racing Alfa Romeo 159s along the shoreline of Lake Garda amid explosions, crashes and general mayhem.
It’s also him in Skyfall aboard (he’s actually sat in a pod on the roof) a Land Rover Defender on the streets of Istanbul. Again, amid explosions, crashes and general mayhem.
The corporate event – driving Caterhams around Silverstone’s GP circuit – where I meet Collins has been organised by Best of the Best. It’s a name that will have many of you questioning ‘where do I know that from?’ If you are, it’s probably because you’ve been using one of the UK’s airports recently. Either that or you were a fan of Tae Kwon Do films in the late 1980s.
Best of the Best is the company that gives away supercars to competition winners – the one you’ll spot at Heathrow, Birmingham, Edinburgh, London City, Gatwick, Manchester, Dublin and Copenhagen airports as well as Westfield Stratford and Westfield London.
Collins is here to give a short talk on his career on track, behind the white helmet and as a stunt driver. It’s fascinating, and despite the amount of computer-generated imagery available to movie-makers, almost all of the driving stunts you see in a film like Skyfall were done for real.
I am eventually persuaded to get into the passenger seat of Collins’ Caterham for a flying lap of the Grand Prix circuit and once I’m strapped in we cruise off down the pitlane. About five metres after the white line designating the end of the pitlane we are sideways – it’s a position we’ll stay in for the remainder of the three-mile lap. He knows his way round a Caterham pretty well having driven one up to Knockhill in a Top Gear stunt to see if the three presenters could build one in the same time. I don’t doubt that drifting one around Silverstone is more fun than pounding up the M6 with every child, and some grownups, pointing and staring at you mouthing ‘It’s The Stig!’ from the warmth of their proper cars.
Having emerged from the passenger ride unscathed I met William Hindmarch, the founder and CEO of Best of the Best. Considering we were driving Caterhams round Silverstone I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’s a car fanatic. “I’ve always been into them,” he admits, “I was slightly led by my father who had a huge collection of Motor Sport magazines… He’s got shelves and shelves of them.
“He used to take me to races at Brands Hatch and he was always into both road cars and the racing. In fact, when he built his first house – it was a fairly modest affair, but he wanted to build it for some reason – he ran out of money halfway through and there was a ladder in place of a staircase. Not long after that he came home having bought an E-type and my mother collapsed in tears. He’d managed to find the money for a Jaguar, but not to finish the house.”
After a stint in the city Hindmarch spotted a competition like Best of the Best in Dubai and decided that there was a market for it in the UK. He contacted Heathrow airport and they said yes to his plan. He took a space there and put a Porsche 911 on the stand. “We had that Sahara-type rain where you get all that red dust the night before. The thing arrived and was covered in it. I had a bucket and sponge, but I couldn’t get the bucket under the tap in the gents so I ended up spending about £30 on Evian to wash the car. It was quite an expensive car wash.”
Fifteen years later Best of the Best has given away over 230 cars and interestingly, because of Hindmarch’s love of racing, he’s keen on trying to sort an entry into the Caterham Academy for next year as a competition prize. You might even be racing against Hindmarch himself as he’s just built his own Caterham. Despite failing the IVA approval four times and then being crashed during the test, it’s apparently “very nearly ready to go”. Just in time for winter then…
It’s interesting who you meet on corporate days – whether that’s a chatty Stig or a car-mad businessman – and it was pleasing to hear that there’s another well-known company out there which is indirectly feeding British motor sport with new competitors.
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