The mere fact that I was about to be driven in a Proton
rally car should have set some alarm bells ringing. Instead, my brain told me the most frightening thing was the early hour. On the upside, I was somewhere in the middle of Wales, watching the early morning mist clear to reveal some of Britain’s most stunning scenery.
Unfortunately, what it also revealed was a Malaysian rally driver who – my hosts cheerfully informed me – had just stepped off an overnight flight. I also seem to remember this was his first time in Europe, and his first time driving on a British rally stage.
I – his first passenger – raised an anxious eyebrow, but what really worried me was that he was shivering in the unaccustomed cold and trying to counteract vicious jet-lag with a life-threatening diet of caffeine and nicotine. And, when I say ‘life-threatening’, I mean it was my life he was threatening.
You see, naïve young man that I was back then, I assumed he would take his first few runs round the practice stage gently. You know, get to know the terrain, the car, the levels of grip, that kind of thing. But, no. He went at it in full attack mode from the off, and I was terrified.
To the best of my knowledge, he had precious little idea where he was going – and no English to ask anyone, anyway. All I remember is a lot of noise, a lot of vibration, and seeing a succession of gates, fences and walls approaching my side window at some speed, before Mr Singh casually caught the drifting car, straightened everything up and buried the throttle pedal to hurl the car on to the next bit of unfamiliar countryside.
Every few yards, the driver and car seemed to perform feats that defied several laws of physics. And, yes, with hindsight, it was an awesome display of driving from a true professional. At the time, all my brain could do was to worry about whether I’d nominated a next of kin.
I’m not saying the experience scarred me, but it was a while before I plucked up the courage to go to Wales again, and, to this day, I don’t think I’ve been in a Proton since.