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DC breaks golfing record. In an SLS

  1. Top Gear doesn’t like golf. At all. Should any member of the TG fraternity catch but the daintiest susurration of a golf bat anywhere within our confines, an instant and cataclysmic apnea will occur. So the sight of rising professional Jake Shepherd smiling with the joyful bliss of youth and competence, practicing his swing on our deserted test track caused us to have minor palpitations.

    But then we heard it. We heard noise. From a far, far corner of the track came the venomous rasp of something biblical. Something angry. Could it be that heaven itself had sent down Lei Gong, the mythological Chinese god of thunder, to prevent a man with a silly bat from hitting a ball for no apparent reason?

    No. Because it wasn’t Lei Gong. It was a Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster. And ex-Formula One driver and DTM racer and BBC pundit David Coulthard was driving it. Just as David roared past in the SLS, Jake swung for the rafters. What on earth were they trying to do, hit a golf ball into a ruddy moving SLS Roadster at over 100mph?

    Words: Vijay Pattni

  2. Well, yes, actually. And there’s something about the stunt’s accuracy that sits well with the affable DC’s analytical mindset. A stunt we need to ignore for the moment should the aforementioned apnea strike as thunderously as the Merc’s engine note. Did we mention we don’t like golf? Once he’d calmed the Big Bad Merc down - having fallen in love with the SLS “from the moment I saw it at the AMG factory” - we asked David about his other AMG company car. The AMG C-Class Coupe he’ll be racing in DTM this weekend.

    “I enjoy the challenge of driving the DTM car, but it’s very, very different to a single seater”, he casually notes. Still, at least the racing is interesting now the Big Three have to fit standardised parts as per 2012 regulations, right? DC stares at me. “There is no such thing as an ‘exact’ part in mass production.

    “With the best will in the world, part machining is to a tolerance: carbon fibre lay ups are hand made, injected with glue, put in the oven and then you cross your fingers and hope it comes out the same.”

  3. Erm, quite. But exactly how does it feel to race what looks like a steroidal saloon hungry for tarmac? “They’ve got loads of torque - those great 4.0-litre V8 engines - which is fantastic to have. You have to be very careful with the brakes. You’d only brake about 50 bar, which would be a lot in comparison to a road car, but in comparison to F1 where you’re braking at 120 bar, you have to downsize your expectations.

    “And because of the mass of the car, the momentum carries you for a lot longer. So a grand prix car can have a moment like [snaps out an oversteer gesture] that, but a moment in a DTM car is like [holds his hands in an oversteer gesture] ‘I’m in a moment, I’m in a moment, it’s still happening, it’s still happening…’”

  4. Not that DC has that many moments on track, despite what he thinks about his own driving prowess. Because as Jenson Button attested to when we caught up with him, Coulthard is awfully hard on himself. “Clearly, I’m not the fastest DTM driver. I’m there or thereabouts, but I’m racing against fully professional DTM drivers. For me - obviously I take it seriously - it’s like an extension to my career.

    “For example, I did two or three laps in a Formula Ford, filming for the BBC, at Brands Hatch, and because it was a single seater it felt completely my domain. I jumped back in my DTM car 20 minutes later and I couldn’t get comfortable for ten minutes, because my brain had taken a step back to what I’d done my whole career.”

  5. Ah yes, his career. Despite his protestations at how fast he isn’t (and he is fast), David made his career debut with Williams-Renault in 1994 (he was a reserve driver the year before), stepping up to the plate to partner Damon Hill after that crash which took the life of Ayrton Senna.

    “With the benefit of youth, you think you’re invincible and you’ll think it’ll happen to someone else, so you just go. I knew I could never replace Ayrton, but I had to plough my own furrow.”

  6. He thinks for a moment, and in typically humble fashion, declares his sympathy with former co-driver Hill. “In reflection, I really take my hat off to Damon. Here’s a guy in his early thirties, who drove the same car as Ayrton. I drove the car after the accident - not the exact physical car of course but the same model - and it must have been really tough for Damon. It probably explains why he had such a short career.”

  7. The polar opposite then, to the return of the most successful Formula One driver in history: Michael Schumacher. Naturally, his reappearance in an F1 car - and his form to date - have garnered controversial views, not least DC’s. “I’m perceived as being critical of Michael by those who follow him, but,” and he emphasises his point curtly, “I’m entitled to my opinion, and I’ve got the benefit of having raced with him.

    “Naturally, I have a tremendous amount of respect for his achievements - he was a better racing driver than I was, but as great a champion as he is, he’s a flawed champion; he’s done a few low punches.

    “For instance, in the past he’s been excluded from the results, he famously parked his car at Rascasse and the stewards put him at the back of the grid, he nearly put Rubens in a wall, and he only apologised when the whole tide of media response was like, ‘mate, you’re wrong’.”

  8. “I’m a great believer in sport involving a rulebook. If you want to compete to the best of your opportunities, you’ve got to follow the rules. Have I had this conversation with him to his face? Yes. If he hadn’t been such a silly boy in Barcelona this year, he would have earned a historic pole position in Monaco and could have won that grand prix.”

    He reflects, keeping his cool throughout. “He has to stop at some point though, and I would hate to think that his continuing stops some other young guy getting their opportunity. But that’s the journey of life - not everyone gets what they deserve.”

  9. This almost transcendental philosophy appears to have kept DC’s feet firmly in the real world. Would he, like Michael, ever consider making a momentous return to Formula One? “Absolutely nothing at all would get me back,” he replies, with a swiftness of response hinting at his settled demeanour. “Nothing. Nothing at all. I had my journey. At 41, I’m not better than I was when I was younger. There’s no point doing it if you’re not going to be better.”

    “I’m glad to say I finished second to the most successful driver in the sport’s history,” he says, coolly. “Whether that makes him better than Fangio or Senna is irrelevant because you’ll never get the comparison. But I’d rather finish second in that era, as opposed to, say, Keke Rosberg who won a world championship by winning just one race. I’m not diminishing the drivers around Keke, it’s just… it’s not the same really, is it? On my day, I could beat those guys, but they had consistency I never had which made them better.”

  10. Ah, but there is one thing David has done consistently well - and better than his peers - and it is fast becoming a trademark, albeit one that still makes him smile. He is smiling broadly now. No, he’s actually laughing when I mention it.

    “I’ve got four pairs of white jeans, and four pairs of white trousers that look like jeans, ” he notes. “It’s bizarre, I’ve actually always worn white jeans because I live in the south of France, but obviously never around the paddock. And then right on my very first broadcast in Melbourne in 2009, I had my whites on.

    “The amount of comments and tweets I get about my tight white jeans - OK, I like them fitted, but tight?”

  11. He laughs. We laugh. Jake Shepherd - the golferiser - is also laughing. He’s met DC and been up close with the SLS Roadster, a car he admires greatly. But it’s not only DC’s jeans that are ‘tight’: trying to hit a golf ball into a moving supercar isn’t what you’d call a ‘loose fit’, but the very definition of ‘ambitious but…’

    Back to the golf bats. The cameras roll. DC is back in the Merc, and he guns it. Jake readies his swing and punts the ball. DC weaves and tries to chase. The radio fires back in his inimitable Scottish drawl. “I think that one nearly hit me on the head.”

  12. Attempt number two, minutes later. DC guns the SLS, kicking up hellfire and fury. Jake steadies his aim and swings for the moon. The mph board snaps out the golf ball’s speed: 178mph. DC has hit 120mph. He weaves, and then suddenly, a shriek; he raises his fist in the air, and celebrates with an entirely unnecessary but utterly glorious donut. He motors back and jumps out of the car, gleaming. A man in an impeccable blue suit hands him the Guinness World Record for the farthest golf shot caught in a moving car.

    “That’s the most excitement I’ve had since winning the 2002 Monaco GP.”

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