The Ben Evans Column: Stars in Wrecked Cars

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These are dangerous times to be a minor television celebrity, whether you’re crashing jet cars, sacrificing your credibility on the dancefloor, or having to spend one second in the company of David Gest, our hardworking D-list celebs have had a hard time of it lately – with nary an invite to Tom and Katie’s wedding to show for their troubles.

However, while the bush-tucker trials of I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here are marginally less dangerous to a trip to your local curry house, putting a bunch of celebrities into Formula Ford cars is a different matter, as Ms Dynamite found out to her cost the other week.

Despite attempts to prove otherwise motor sport remains both difficult and dangerous.

If it were as simple as the producers of Sky One’s The Race would have liked, then Ms Dynamite would have skipped a stay in Northampton General, and Ingrid Tarrant would not have written off a ?ܣ100,000 Monster Truck.

Finding myself without Sky last week I mercifully managed to miss most of The Race but from the clips I’ve subsequently seen it serves only to show that BBC1’s Stars in Fast Cars was robbed at the Baftas.

The problem is this – if you get the celebs doing comedy car-related challenges (the Stars in Fast Cars route) the show is dull. But if you put them in meaningful machinery, a la The Race, you dramatically increase the risk of wrecking some precious machinery (oh, and Sabrina The Teenage Witch may get hurt).

Inexperienced drivers

I do have some sympathy with Ms Dynamite, as I actually raced the car she crashed for a whole year, and it was the most vicious, uncontrollable, machine I’ve ever sat in. That Van Diemen RF97 is a seriously potent racing car that, at full pelt, will top 130mph, and was raced by the likes of IRL stars Dan Wheldon and Vitor Meira.

I raced it in the Silverstone Motorsport Academy series in 2004 and it was a tough car to handle. Badly set-up, it understeered into corners and oversteered out and frequently caught the drivers in the series out. In-fact, I don’t think a single one of the drivers in the made it through the year without a spin caused by the awkwardness of the car.

Even so, having seen My Dynamite’s shunt, I have to say that the incident (triggered by a touch of wheels with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson) was endemic of inexperienced drivers in cars that were simply too fast for them. Neither driver gave the other quite enough room and contact was inevitable.

In fact, given then angle and speed of the impact Ms Dynamite was extremely lucky to get away with a severe shaking, as Woodcote (indeed the Silverstone National circuit as a whole) is surprisingly dangerous.

Celebrity racers

However, budding R&B starlets are not the first celebrity victims of the circuits. Wham’s Andrew Ridgely raced in European F3 in the mid-80’s and actually proved to be a better driver than singer (but then I’m arguably a better singer), and jockey Richard Dunwoody achieved some success in Formula First before a monster shunt at Mallory Park ended his racing aspirations.

Likewise one-time television presenter Mike Smith was a successful late-’80s touring car racer who enjoyed some epic duels with team-mate Frank Sytner.

Of course in celebrity racing terms the Americans simply have to outdo us Britons. Paul Newman and Steve McQueen’s racing exploits are well documented, but spare a though for former Beverly Hills 90210 star Jason Priestly who achieved considerable success in the Infiniti Pro-Series before a terrible qualifying crash ended his career.

Get them out of here

In the event The Race was won by Brian Johnson ahead of Gary Numan, although given just how awful much of the series was, it is arguable that no-one was the winner.

Motorsport remains an exhilarating challenge that has clear risks. Motorsport is entertaining to millions of fans across the world because they get a chance to see talented drivers pushing their machinery to its limit, not because somebody who was once in a rock band is making a prat of themselves in a Caterham.

Please, let’s keep it that way.

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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