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Breakfast TV’s Ben Shephard laps Brands Hatch blind

Tuesday, December 02 2014

When ITV Good Morning Britain presenter Ben Shephard lapped Brands Hatch for the first time he could be forgiven for being a little off the pace, because he was simulating blind driving at the wheel of a specially-adapted car.

The drive was part of a feature to be screened on Good Morning Britain on Monday 8th December as part of ITV's Text Santa campaign, and they teamed up with the Speed of Sight charity, which provides driving experiences for the blind and people with other disabilities. The charity's founder, Mike Newman, has overcome blindness to amass five land speed records, the latest at over 200mph, plus a water speed record and aerobatic record.

ITV GMB Blind DrivingAfter Mike showed how it is done, Ben took to the driving seat of the specially-adapted sportscar, which features a steering wheel and pedals on both sides of the two-seater cockpit. Guided by Newman's father, Mike Snr in the 'passenger' seat, Ben drove two laps of the Indy circuit sighted, before swapping his crash helmet for one with a blacked-out visor, and relying on Mike Snr's instructions to negotiate the track.

After his second run, Ben said: "I've been round the rally course, but I've not experienced Brands Hatch before in a race car. At the best of times you want to be able to see what you're doing, but to be completely blind, it was absolutely terrifying. It was incredibly visceral, I really felt like I was overloading my remaining senses, and I was desperately having to listen to Mike, who was giving me instructions as I was going along, and having to sense the power in the machine. You could feel the camber in the road, and knowing the track quite well from watching races here, I could imagine where I was on the track. But even at the end the noise and smell was so disorientating, it was just an extraordinary experience.

"What the Speed of Sight guys are doing, as an opportunity for disabled people to come along and experience that, is a miraculous thing. I'd thoroughly recommend anybody that loves their motorsport to have a look at what they are doing. I'm still shaking now and I've been out of the car for half an hour!"

Mike Jnr said: "Speed of Sight came about through my personal ambition to get involved in enjoying motorsport. I can't see at all and have been a motorsport fan all my life and when I started breaking records I started meeting many people with lots of different disabilities, wishing they could still drive, or wishing they'd been able to drive. I started to think about how I could involve people and give them the chance to do it, so we had a car built with dual controls and twin steering wheels, open top so it's very tactile and auditory, and we now travel the country, giving people with disabilities like mine and other types of disabilities, the chance to drive on phenomenal race circuits like this one.

"Personally, motorsport for me is a very physical activity and it requires a great deal of concentration. I have to listen to the instructor and also the car itself, to listen to what it's doing, so that you know that you are responding in the correct way. I have to use every sense I've got to compensate for the one that I haven't.

"The track's great, I loved it. I've been here once before, when Alan Jones won the British Grand Prix [in 1980] and it's a shame it's taken so long to come back!"

You can find out more at www.speedofsight.co.uk