A blind man has just set a top-10 time around the Top Gear test track.
Dr Amit Patel set a time of 1:46.58 seconds in one of the Toyota GT86s used by Top Gear for its Star in a Reasonably Fast Car laps. The former first-response medic is completely blind but didn’t even take the easy option of an automatic gearbox – he managed the clutch and six-speed gearbox on his way to setting a time that would put him ninth on the Reasonably Fast Car leaderboard.
To help Amit achieve the seriously impressive feat was performance driving instructor Mark Watkins, who has experience of working with blind and partially sighted people on racetracks. Mark acted as Amit’s eyes and coached him in a Yaris away from Dunsfold Aerodrome, the home of the Top Gear test track, before booking in for timed laps at the world-famous venue. Amit said:
“It’s been six years or so since I’ve been behind the wheel of a car, but it’s funny how things come back to you – the sound of the engine, the gear changes, the clutch and the brake. But then driving, and not knowing where you’re driving, that’s the insane part.
“I focused on the instructions, concentrating on what Mark was saying. I tend to forget that I can’t see, it was crazy just to think that I was actually doing this. Being on the test track, driving the GT86, it was a dream come true.”
Toyota, which has worked with the Olympic and Paralympic Committees for eight years, made no modifications to the GT86 normally used by stars like Chris Hoy, Jay Kay and David Tennant. There were no dual-control features.
What makes the top-10 time even more impressive is the obvious ballast factor of Mark being in the passenger seat. Some say it could be worth a couple of seconds per lap…