Words: Jamie King Photos/Video: Matt Richardson
Paul Swift really needs little introduction to Ford fans. He’s the man behind the precision driving you see performed in Ford’s own marketing and promotional videos, plenty of stunts for TV shows, and, of course, at various shows and events throughout the summer. If you’ve been to Ford Fair in recent years, you’ll no doubt have seen the tyre-smoking shenanigans coming from Fiestas, Focuses, Mustangs, and even the Ford GT supercar. Well, that was Paul.
And if you’ve ever thought ‘yeah, I’d like to have a go at that’, now you can. You see, when he’s not filming the latest TV commercial or wowing crowds at shows, Paul also runs his Ultimate Stunt Experience days, which gives ordinary people like us the chance to learn the precision driving techniques and perform the same stunts you see Paul and his team doing. Also, Paul offers team-building and corporate days too, so if your boss is looking to get you and your workmates motivated, a day out messing around in fast Fords will do the trick!
The Ultimate Stunt Experiences are available at Paul’s hometown of Darlington, or at the centrally-located Silverstone circuit. The experience lasts for half a day, and costs £249. For that, drivers will learn handbrake parallel parking, high-speed J-turns, drifting, and go head-to-head with others in a timed autotest competition. And, of course, you also get the experience some of Paul’s incredible skills from the passenger seat too, including being driven around on two wheels!
So, to find out exactly what’s involved – and because it looked like a good laugh – we booked on to one of the days at Silverstone. As you can tell from our stupid smiles in the photos, it was a fantastic day. We learnt a lot about car control, got to do some silly skids in a Focus RS and Mustang GT, was driven around on two wheels, and, above all else, had an absolutely brilliant time!
Here’s what we got up to as part of the Ultimate Stunt Experience….
The first discipline we got to grips with was the parallel park. This is one of stunts Paul’s famous for – usually squeezing the car into an ever-decreasing gap until there’s just a few millimetres to spare! Thankfully for us, the team had thoughtfully replicated the two parked cars with a series of cones marking out the ‘space’ we needed to aim for.
The car we used was Mk3 Focus RS, but this one had recently been fitted with Ford Performance’s ‘Drift Stick’ – an electronically controlled hand brake that locks the rear wheels, so-called as it helps to initiate drifts.
As a Ford Performance product, the Drift Stick is currently only available for LHD cars, but Paul is testing a RHD version for Ford. I have to admit, it’s pretty addictive too. And very effective – you no longer need to be violent with the handbrake, and gentle pull on the Drift Stick and the rear wheels lock with ease. The difficult part is getting the car to pirouette neatly into the parking area without sending the cones flying everywhere!
Paul calls this discipline the ‘drifting’ part of the day, where in reality what it really teaches you is the importance of throttle control. You wouldn’t think that you would be able to get a FWD Focus ST breaking loose at the rear, and then holding the ‘drift’ just with throttle and steering inputs. But you can, as you can see from the photos!
Traction at the rear breaks loose easily thanks to some clever ‘Easy Drift’ additions to the rear tyres. As Paul says: “these are basically an evolution of the old trick of sticking McDonalds trays under the rear wheels.” They work too, you start off by building speed gradually, and when you feel the back end break away you need gentle inputs on the throttle and steering to maintain the drift.
Notice the word ‘gentle’? I was far too heavy-footed for this. To quote Paul on the day: “If the throttle has a range from 1-10, Jamie knows two setting; 1… or 11!” Whoops. But by the end of it I was starting to get the hang of things, and it definitely made me more aware of my throttle control (or lack of it!).
The famous J-Turn is one of the staple stunts of any good display, as well as being the go-to manoeuvre for avoiding baddies coming at you head-on. We used another Focus RS for this stunt, and it was surprising how much speed you can get up in reverse before flinging the car around. On my first attempt my hand flew off the steering wheel, and later attempts saw me end up in all manner of different directions. This is the once discipline you need top be heavy-handed and quite violent with the controls, it should have been my best event. I did get there in the end though, even if I did start to make myself feel a bit sick by the end of it!
One of Paul’s signature stunts is to drive around with the car in two wheels. And as part of the package, we got to experience this for ourselves from inside the car. Paul lines up the ramp and the next thing you know it’s all gone sideways! It’s proper unnerving stuff, but a fantastic experience.
Throughout the day, we were all given the chance to complete a mini-autotest in V8-powered Mustang GT. The course included a slalom around some cones, a right-hand circle into a left-hand circle, before coming to a complete stop in a designated area. Each of us were given one practice run, before Paul grabbed the stopwatch and recorded our times. Penalties would be applied for any cones hit, and the best time would win a prize.
And the winner was… me! Unbelievably I managed to just nick it ahead of the others on the day, and for my efforts was awarded the highly-prized Paul Swift baseball cap!
Before you go…
Before we all headed off at the end of the experience, Paul treated us to some quick demos of how it should be done. I must have seen him perform similar stunts dozens of times at shows and events of the years, but they never fail to impress. And when you’re stood just a few feet away – at one point in the middle while Paul drifted the Mustang around me! – you can really appreciate the level of car control this guy possesses. It really is unbelievable, and after you’ve had a go at it yourself, you have even more admiration for the man. And to top it all off, he’s a nice bloke too. Paul and the entire team make the day feel relaxed, informal, and most of all, lots and lots of fun! What a great day!
Paul Swift Precision Driving