May 2, 2023

Ben Collins (Driving Consultant)

Ben’s bestselling memoir, “The Man in the White Suit: The Stig, Le Mans, The Fast Lane and Me”, pretty much sums up a career that has seen the former Stig drive the wheels off anything with wheels, from F1 to London Routemasters to (yes) Star Wars … and anything in-between. Ben, now Driving Consultant at Straight4, looks at what’s coming next—for him, the studio, and the new game.

You raced for Jackie Stewart early-on in your career. Jackie said at the time there was only one place you were headed: F1. How come that never happened? 

BC: Sir Jackie is never wrong so maybe I’ll get there one day. It was inspiring driving for him because is so cool-headed and professional on every level. No detail escaped his eye and I remember that our race car transporter had to be lifted on jacks so that each of its wheels could be turned so that ‘Goodyear’ was perfectly lined up at 12 o’clock on every tyre. He taught me to race with my head and control my heart.

You’ve pretty much raced in every class of car: Indy Lights, F3, F1 test driver, GT, sportscars, NASCAR, Australian V8 Supercars, and a lot more besides. So ... what's the very best car you ever raced and why?

BC: The best racing car I’ve ever driven was the Ascari LMP1. It was a top-level prototype powered by the mighty Judd V10 engine, with over 800bhp and a hair trigger throttle. The car shot to 200mph in the blink of an eye and stopped even faster on the carbon brakes. At top speed you just smashed the brake pedal with full force and the G-loading was sensational. Every lap was like a round in the ring with Mike Tyson and I loved every single lap. 

You led the 24-Hours of Le Mans for 4 hours in 2001. Do you remember that race and what that felt like, to be the pace setter? 

BC: I got in trouble with the team owner, Klaas Zwart, during that race because he thought I was taking too many risks with the car during the monsoon. Someone told Klaas that I was consistently lapping up to four seconds faster than anybody else and when I came into refuel, he came over for a word. Up until then, I had no idea how fast I was driving. I could hardly see anything but was having fun skating through the puddles and the car just felt great.

How does all this experience translate to what you bring to Straight4 as a handling and driving consultant? 

BC: Like most drivers I drive by instinct and from the seat of my pants. Although you can’t replicate G-forces on the sim, you can recreate the handling characteristics because all the dynamic control through the wheel and the pedals can exist vividly in the digital world. It’s unbelievable until you experience it. Then you add the landscape and driving environment, which is another level of ultra realism, and it means that I can translate my real-world experience into the game software. I can feel the tyre working, deforming and gripping on the sim in the same way that I would in the real car and if I can’t, then we adjust the physics to make it work. It’s an awesome process, especially when you’re working with the most passionate developers in the world.

Your career means people know you in various guises—as the original Stig, as a pro race driver in dozens of series, and as one of the world's most successful and famed stunt drivers. But how do you see yourself these days? 

BC: For me, nothing tops competition driving but I love every aspect of my career and will continue working on car chases and racing projects. I’m also fascinated by what makes machines work and that’s led me to work with the likes of Arkonik to re-imagine the Land Rover Defender and start my YouTube channel, ‘Ben Collins Drives’, to really explore the world of motoring.

You played F1-champ Denny Hulme, Ken Miles' teammate at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in the movie Ford vs Ferrari. Is there a future for Ben Collins the actor now too? And what was that experience like? Did you drive the Ford at speed? 

BC: That was an awesome movie to work on and my acting must have been impeccable because nobody realised I was even in it! Last year I worked on the new Michael Mann Ferrari movie and played the role of Sir Stirling Moss behind the wheel and a couple of short lines. Mann is notorious for really grabbing audiences and this one will definitely be worth the ticket. A lot of work goes into building the cars for the scenes in these films and they look incredible, so you do feel like you’re in a time capsule. You can 4-wheel drift them around a lot more than modern racing cars and in the 50’s you had to really hustle them—Stirling Moss was the king of the precision power slide so I had a lot to live up to. 

You've done stunt work on dozens of movies including the Bond franchise. What was the most epic stunt you ever did, and what was the one that scared you the most? 

BC: Working on four Bond movies has been epic and the first chase I filmed around Lake Garda was fully loaded. There was a sheer drop on one side, a mountain on the other, and sections of dark, twisty tunnels to get through at speeds of well over 100mph. I’m always nervous whenever there are people on the ground in car scenes because you’re very aware of the safety element being paramount. I think the most complicated and rewarding stunt sequence I’ve worked on was Han Solo. As a Star Wars nut, it was mind-blowing to double Solo in a land speeder, which was effectively a tricked out rally car. It could pull outrageous angles and was fantastic at jumping because the suspension was so well designed. 

What does your work for Straight4 look like? 

BC: I’ve known the team at Straight4 for about ten years and they are the best in the business. I got hooked on the whole process because Ian Bell sets the bar ridiculously high, but we somehow reach the milestones and end up with an unrivalled driving experience. We have some ideas knocking around for finding the next level with our new sim, and we know the competition is hot, so it won’t be easy, but it never is. 

Do you sim race for fun?

BC: I race for fun and to learn. Conditioning the mind to respond correctly and quickly is something I’ll always work on, and the competition bug isn’t going away anytime soon.

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