Life in the fast lane

British motoring legend Timothy Needell is embarking on a new journey as a host of Discovery Turbo’s new show, ‘Fifth Gear’. Asha Chowdary talks to the ex-racer about his motoring adventures...

He could be road testing the new Mini Cooper Sand one moment or profiling a Lamborghini Murcielago the next, but for Timothy ‘Tiff’ Needell, British racing car driver and television presenter, the excitement never ends. He is just as happy as he used to be when he drove a Morris 1000 Traveller, his first car and later, as a racing car driver when he zipped down the circuits at incredible speeds. His love for cars was a passion fuelled by his father, who was also a motor racing enthusiast, but Needle embraced the sport and went on to turn his driving skills into a lifetime vocation.

Shifting gears

Today, as one of the anchors on the show Fifth Gear, which features on Discovery Turbo, he is delighted to be able to bring his motoring knowledge to a vast audience. From knowhow on super cars and SUVs to hatchbacks and hybrids, Needell and the rest of the team on Fifth Gear, garner the most exclusive information possible on cars and bring it to their audiences.

In an exclusive interview with the car enthusiast, Needell begins by remembering with nostalgia the days he would watch his heroes on the racing tacks. “My father took me to watch motor racing as soon as I could walk. I watched my heroes Stirling Moss and Jim Clark, and I began dreaming of becoming a racing driver myself. I got lucky and a little later, I actually won a car in a magazine competition that got me into the profession. I enjoyed 20 years as a professional racing driver, racing all over the world.”

Needell’s television career started with Top Gear. “Once they found I could drive and talk at the same time, I did 15 years with them,” he says with a laugh and adds, “They took the show off the air later and now we created Fifth Gear very much in the spirit of what we now call old Top Gear. It is a car enthusiast show where we’re looking much more closely at the cars that people buy and drive.”

He loves to talk about Bangalore and the days he spent in the city. “I raced and won the 1985 Bangalore Grand Prix. I really have some wonderful memories about those days and I went on to race in Chennai too,” he remembers.

Talking about his show on Discovery Turbo, Needell says that it is anchored entirely by racing drivers and car lovers. “We want to bring to our viewers almost every aspect of motoring,” he explains, adding, “As to which car would suit India best going by the road conditions, I would say that you need to look for a stronger car with a good horn. So, I think I would drive an SUV if I lived in India.”

Trends have changed among car buyers across the world, observes Needell. “When people plan to buy a car, they don’t look for luxury or costs only. Today, fuel economy is important. In England of course, we have taxes on CO2 emission, so there’s a lot of concentration by the motor manufacturers to improve their emissions. A lot of people have started buying electric cars. This is the future that I think everybody has to look at,” he says. 

Love for wheels

The best part of buying a car today lies in variety of choices that people have. “You can have diesel cars, electric cars, hybrid cars or petrol cars. Instead of just making a small car, a middle car or a big car, manufacturers are now making a lot more variations. You can have little MPVs and so many other sizes, shapes and engines that you choose from. Another factor is the safety of the cars. Nowadays, cars are much improved in area of accident avoidance, and there are systems that stop cars skidding out of control.”

Ask Needell what his dream car is and he finds it hard to choose. “I can’t get my dream car even being a television presenter. My all-time favourite is the McLaren F1 supercar, but that’s now 15 years old. But it’s still the best supercar ever. Today, I would choose the Porsche 911 or Ferrari 458. But more down on the price, I would perhaps go for a BMW 5 M 3. It is a rather good car at the moment.” 

Though Needell, who is also an avid golfer, did not have a long career in Grand Prix, he speaks fondly about those days. “It was a special moment. I was only a stand-in for two Grand Prix. But to have been a Grand Prix driver was special for me. After that, most of my motor racing career was in sports car racing, and I finished third at Le Mans in 1990, which is pretty impressive. But of course, that’s not as good a memory as winning the Bangalore Grand Prix. I’ve been lucky to live my dream.” he adds.

As for his advice to drivers, Needell says that the biggest mistake they can make is getting distracted while driving. “You need to concentrate. As soon as you start playing the radio or talking on a cellphone, you could make a mistake,” he says.

As for the future, Needell says he would like to do more travelling and adds, “I was fortunate to race around the world, but I want to bring more exciting stories to television. If I can make more people enjoy driving their cars, then that would be something. I think whatever you do in life, whether it is rugby, or football or cricket, you have to make other people understand your sport. I want people to understand the joy of driving.” Fifth Gear airs on weekdays at 10 pm, on Discovery Turbo.

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