Jeremy on: Scottish racing drivers

Posted by Jeremy Clarkson at 06:07 am on Wednesday June 18, 2014

After the three of us have performed the last TopGear Live show of the day, we like to repair to the green room for a nice sit-down and 14 bottles of wine. This means that, later, we cannot walk to the car, let alone drive it to the hotel. So, wherever we are in the world, we use a driver.

During our recent trip to Glasgow, we were given a man who - how can I put this? - liked to get a move on. I think perhaps he was auditioning, without either our permission or knowledge, for the part of The Stig. He was so speedy that in the back, James and Richard started to make sick noises.

So, eventually summoning up all the tact I could muster, which isn't much, I had to ask him if he wouldn't mind slowing down a bit. He seemed to find this incredible. Not so much that he'd been asked to ease off by me, the man from TopGear, but that anyone would want to travel more slowly than the car would actually go.

I had to use my stern face and some extremely strong words so that, eventually, he disengaged the afterburners and the Range Rover stopped knocking over cows with its sonic boom. And then, the strangest thing happened...

Immediately, we were overtaken by a Subaru, and before I had a chance to say, "Holy cow, he's shifting," an Audi A3 tore by. Followed by a car that was travelling so quickly, I couldn't actually make out what it was. Plainly, then, even though we'd been travelling at three or four times the speed of sound, we'd been holding people up.

Later, as I lay in my hotel bed, slightly regretting the 14 bottles of wine, I could hear cars travelling down a road maybe two or three miles away. And it was incredible. You'd hear them max out in second, and then third and then fourth. Even in a rubbish car, that's way past 160kph. Colin McRae may be with us no more, but, trust me, up there, north of the border, his spirit lives on.

All over the world, people's driving styles are as different as the way they make bread or the drink they choose to put in their mouths. The Americans seem to be unaware of there being any other cars on the road and are therefore massively surprised if you join their lane. In Russia, there is naked menace. In Italy, there is flair and style; as I've said before, looking good in Rome is more important than looking where you're going. Then we have the Germans, who simply need to be first, and the Indians who think that a safe arrival is entirely dependent on the mood and the will of their gods. Which, for an atheist like me, is a bit scary.

As a result of all this, you see all sorts of different driving techniques as you move around the globe. But the one thing you almost never see any more is people going really, really quickly. Maybe it's because of the cost of fuel. Maybe it's because governments everywhere have realised that speeding fines are a useful form of below-the-line income. Or maybe it's because of the cars we drive...

In the olden days, when James May was a young man, all cars had wildly different top speeds. A small family saloon could only just wheeze its way to 60mph, while a thoroughbred sportster such as an MG or a Sunbeam could do 80. This meant that ‘racing' on the road was dangerous, but not catastrophically so.

Today, though, if you want to prove that your BMW is faster than your neighbour's crummy little Vauxhall, you have to go way past 200kph. And things get even more tricky if your neighbour has an Audi or a Mercedes or a Jag or something which is comparable to your Beemer. Because, then, both cars will have a limited top speed of 250kph.

This means the ‘racing' is not just dangerous, but completely pointless as well. You have a ‘race'. You prove nothing. And then you get killed.

Or you kill someone else. Occasionally, if we are on a track filming cars that aren't limited to 250kph, we will go to the max to see which is the fastest. You simply wouldn't believe how much tarmac is needed for this. You go on and on at three kilometres a minute, then five, for ages and ages and, I'm sorry, but in the real world, there are lorries and Peugeots which get in the way. And when you're covering 880 yards every 10 seconds, it would be quite hard to pull up in time.

So why, then, is all of this plainly still going on in Scotland? Cynics might suggest it's because of boredom or heroin but I think it has something to do with the fact that most of the world's Scottish people don't live in Scotland. Which means you have a first world, Western state full of first world, Western cars. And a road network that's virtually deserted.

And what a road network. The surface is smooth and grippy, the sightlines are good. The bends are designed to tickle the sausagey bits of the petrolhead. Driving slowly in Scotland is pretty much an affront to God, who plainly designed it as a nirvana for speed freaks.

Maybe that's why almost all of Britain's truly great racing and rally drivers have actually been Scottish. Coulthard. McRae. Clark. Stewart. Franchitti. McNish. Reid. Dumfries. Walkinshaw... The list is almost endless.

And there's more. In England, or pretty much anywhere else really, the traffic is bad, so the only place you can realistically ‘race' another road user is the motorway, where no driver skill is required at all. Whereas in Scotland, you really can find a thousand A-roads where there are crests and turns and all sort of other bits and bobs which level the playing field.

If you have the skill, you can have a diesel Vauxhall Astra and still keep up with a more powerful, grippier, and possibly modded, Subaru Impreza. This would force Subaru man to mod his car some more, to overcome his inadequacies, and that's the recipe for more speed and more racing.

Disgusting? Yes, of course. It's absurd that in this day and age, people should use the public highway as a race track. It's mad. Stupid. Reprehensible. But understandable. Because one chap demonstrating to another chap that he is a better driver is pretty much the exact same thing as a lion demonstrating to another lion that he has longer claws and stronger legs and would therefore be a more suitable mate for all the lionesses in the pride. Stags bash each other with their antlers. Giraffes try to knock each other over. Scottish people race their cars.

Other places may say they are more civilised, because that sort of thing doesn't happen. And that may be true. But occasionally, it's quite nice to get back to basics. To remember that behind our suits and our haircuts and our fancy food, we are still just transportation devices for our penises.


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