AOL Cars talks to Fifth Gear host and ex-racer Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell

Fifth Gear presenter and ex racing driver Tiff Needell might now be into his 60s, but don't think that this man has slowed down on the track.

We can reliably inform you that Mr Needell is still more than a little handy behind the wheel after being thrown around Goodwood's fast, challenging circuit in the passenger seat of a race spec BMW M235i by the man himself.

Ferrying lucky journalists around the Goodwood track at warp speed at a BMW M car event, we spoke to Tiff about how keen drivers can really learn how to drive on the track – far away from the speed cameras, 20mph limits and speed bumps that litter many of our roads.

Track days seem to be increasingly popular. Why do you think that is?
It's the opportunity to have fun in your car. To get let loose where you can drive at slightly more than the speed limits!

So many performance cars are designed with performance that you can't fully use on the public roads, so it's just nice to get in on the track. There are lots of clubs that do it.

I say wait until your tyres are worn down and your brakes need replacing and then come and finish them off on a track day!

What makes M Cars suitable for taking on track?
The main thing about BMWs is that they are built to be driven. Fast. So getting them on the track is almost where they were born to be.

The M cars were born to be on the track. Or on German autobahns at 150mph. So we always have to remember that they come from Germany which still has the derestricted roads when you think it's lunacy to buy a car like that.

AOL Cars talks to Fifth Gear presenter Tiff Needell

AOL Cars talks to Fifth Gear presenter Tiff Needell

Audi and Mercedes are the same, because they've grown up in the same environment; the brakes, the whole car is always designed with that speed in the back of their minds.

Do you think anyone can take M cars on the track and get the most from them?
Not the most, no. One has to have been racing for about 300 years like me to get the most from them, obviously! But you can get very close.

Obviously you've got the stability control systems that you can leave switched on nowadays. It's very hard nowadays that we have stability controls, because you get so used to them. When you suddenly switch it off, you have to work out woah, what's going to happen now.

But as long as you build up slowly and don't do anything rash it's fine – and most of the club days, they have instructors there, someone to sit beside you if you want to go out for your first few laps and get a feel for what's going on.

What skills can people take back onto the road from these driving experiences?
They teach you to concentrate and look further ahead and that's the main thing as soon as you go on track you're told to lift your eyes and prepare for what's coming. The main thing racing drivers learn is concentration – a racing driver's greatest safety aid is that he concentrates – 100 per cent – on just driving the car.

On the public roads we don't crash because we drive too fast or because we drive too close, we crash because we're not concentrating 100 per cent on what we're supposed to be doing – which is driving the flipping car!

What other key skills are there to track driving?
Driving position is quite important. All adverts you see people sitting with these huge straight arms – it's awful!

You have to be able to have your wrist on top of the steering wheel with your shoulder blades on the seat. Track day instructors will get you sitting in the right position. The steering wheel is not an accessory!

Do you think the Goodwood track is a good one for beginners to learn track driving on?
No, probably not! Goodwood's one of the fastest tracks in the country. It's an old fashioned track; swooping, high-speed bends. It certainly makes you alert to getting right the racing line.

The line you take through the corners is more critical the higher speed the corners. You probably want to go somewhere much shorter and with lots of tight bends for your first track day.

How do you drive on the road? Would you consider yourself a fast driver, slow driver?
Fast and impatient, yeah! I'm very good at lower speed limits. I might go a little faster on the higher speed limit roads, when the road is completely clear. I drive for the conditions.