Let’s talk about other cars and the dangers that come with them. Before you get far you’re bound to contend with an element of squeezing as you leave the driveway and head into the urban sprawl. Getting to know the width of your car and the design nuances by which you can judge your positioning will save some visits to the paint shop further down the line.
Fixed features inside the car such as the A and B pillars to the front and sides of the driver’s eyeline are a burden in the sense that they create blind spots. They are useful when it comes to formation flying as you observe the movement of other vehicles relative to yourself and for gauging distances to objects outside of your bubble.
In NASCAR, every inch of space counts when you’re gliding past a concrete wall at 180 mph in a machine that handles and generally feels like a high-speed tumble drier. To prepare for this, I used to enlist my mate Vinny, who would stand patiently at different points around the car in the pit lane, at a top speed of zero mph. It gave me the opportunity to stare directly at his proximity to the car at different points and acclimatize to that distance, then look ahead as if I were driving, and back to Vinny again.
A few of my competitors would snigger, but it was worth it. A dozen or so laps into one race at Rockingham Motor Speedway I entered turn two at 160mph and the whole track was blocked by crashed cars. There was a tiny gap between one yellow car and the wall, and everyone ahead of me who tried to make it through was stonking into the concrete. I aimed my front left wheelarch at the tail of the stopped car, rather than focusing on the wall, held on to that view all the way and cleared it.
Whenever I get in a new car I do the same thing. I never asked Clarkson to help because the temptation to run him over would have been overwhelming. If there’s nobody around, you can do the same thing with a big cardboard box and practise driving up to it, or line it up alongside to test your width.
The trick with passing through the middle of those evil metal bollards springing up in city centres is to line yourself up centrally using your peripheral view and make several sharp focuses on each bollard before driving through. Try to spend less time fixated by the obstructions you want to miss and more time focused on the window of space that lies between, then trust your body to handle it. Jonny Wilkinson does exactly the same thing before he magically converts his kick through the posts.
Another common fault people develop is to continuously work the wheel for no reason and weave in and out of gaps between parked cars, simply because they failed to fix a course and stick to it. Aiming for a point in the distance makes it much easier to follow a smooth groove, and when you do find a challenging pinch, just kill the speed and allow yourself the time to handle it properly.