I’d met Andy Green once before. On that occasion we sat either side of a microphone and talked about driving fast. I could have told Green about the time I held my nerve all the way to 198mph in a RUF-modified Porsche 911 on a German autobahn. But as this was 1997, and Green had just driven a 10-tonne twin jet-engined single-seater called Thrust SSC straight through the sound barrier, I thought better of it.
Instead, we talked about the little things. Jackie Stewart once remarked that he could smell freshly mown grass as he approached the Curva Grande at Monza at around 150mph – a sign, maybe, that the Scotsman’s senses has become preternaturally heightened at the wheel of his Tyrrell.
Green has a better story. At around 700mph on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, he noticed a slight kink in the painted white line that marked the start of the mile over which his speed would be measured and thought to himself “Hmmm, the guy driving the white line-laying truck must have turned the paint on fractionally too soon”. Now that’s what you call a heightened state of awareness. But, at the same time, Green was also famously winding on 90 degrees of opposite lock to stop Thrust slewing wildly off course and alerting radar defences in an adjacent country. And that’s plain nuts.
Even since then I’ve wondered how good a driver (in a sub-sonic sense) Green really is. I mean, is it his skills as a fighter pilot combined with the testicular fortitude required to be regular Cresta Run competitor that make him the favourite to be the first man to drive a car at 1000mph, or is he simply a gifted natural behind the wheel? Sitting next to him in a Radical SR3 RS for eight laps of Goodwood, a circuit he’d never driven before, seemed as good a way as any to find out.
Green is a little greyer these 15 years on but the barnet, with its laser-line parting, is as immaculately hewn as ever, the handshake just as strong and cool. Eye clarity, whiteness and twinkle are of a quality supermodels would die for, and testament to healthy living and hours in the gym. And those standard issue Disney-hero cheek bones glint in strong sunlight like the rivets on the canopy of a Tornado F3.
There’s a bit of the Steve McQueen about him, too – the look of timing and coordination on the move, a motor-skills sensitivity and grace that makes you feel slightly awkward in his presence. But perhaps most impressive of all is the easy acceptance of danger you only get from someone who knows what it is.
And can he drive? Can he hell! After just a handful of sighting laps with Goodwood chief instructor John Powis, the circuit is logged, assimilated and ready to be taken apart, apex after inch-perfect apex, in the raucous and ridiculously rapid slick-shod Radical by a fully committed and utterly fearless Green. No heroics, no showboating, no mistakes – just maximum g everywhere: speed, speed and more speed. To fighter ace Green, the forces must have seemed vaguely ticklish. Me? I thought my head was going to fly off.
Driving a car at 1000mph won’t be a walk in the park, even for Andy Green. But, boy, is he a quick learner.