Catcher Car driver David Coulthard enjoys the warming rays of Monaco’s spring sun on his ankles. The sensation of this simple pleasure is not lost on him as we talk about his involvement in the Wings for Life World Run and in finding a cure for spinal cord injury.
Why are you personally involved in the Wings for Life World Run?
My personal connection with spinal cord injury research all goes back to when I was a test driver for Williams. Frank Williams is quadriplegic! He employed me, mentored me and gave me the opportunity to become a Grand Prix driver. And in my years driving for Williams, I saw first-hand the daily restrictions of a spinal cord injury and the constant care needs it requires.
Sure, some people with spinal cord injury have more independence than others, but the reality is it’s not only a life-affecting injury for the individual but for friends and family, too. I wanted to give back in whatever way I could – so here I am.
What are you doing on May 5?
Listen, I’ve got a little bit of driving experience, so I’ve been the UK Catcher Car driver since the first Wings for Life World Run in 2014. But this year, I’m off to Switzerland. To Zug.
I’ve had a chalet in Switzerland for 15 years, and I know the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people. I’m looking forward to catching them and relieving them of their pain or encouraging them to reach beyond their goal for the day. Generally, when I pass them in the Catcher Car, I see happy, smiley faces. I guess I’ll do the same in Zug as I did in UK: At the end of their race, I honk, wave and give the thumbs up to celebrate their success.
What has been your most memorable Wings for Life World Run moment, so far?
Oh goodness, the whole day. I live in the moment, so every moment, every person I pass is the most memorable – until the next one. But it’s the people out there in wheelchairs that give me goosebumps. To me, their achievement is more inspirational and admirable than the long-distance professionals. Yes, those guys have a great talent, and I admire their work ethic, but people who have overcome adversity are my real heroes.
Tell us about life inside the Catcher Car
Frankly speaking, driving the Catcher Car slowly is significantly easier than driving a Grand Prix car quickly. I just buckle up, check the seat, take a briefing from the technical expert and trust in him, like I’ve always trusted in my team, and get on with it. The system is fool proof.
The reality is we have corners, so we average the speed sometimes rather than always go the exact speed. In Cambridge, there’s a 90-degree corner just after the start, so I have to slow. The software helps me work out what speed to do to get back to the average speed, though.
Before there’s anyone to catch, I can relax. But I want to be spot on when I’m closing in on someone. I really focus on getting that speed perfect because they’ve earned the right to know whether they covered 8.12km or 7.98km. I want to do them the justice of giving them an exact finishing distance.
I guess those are the best moments – when competitors engage with the Catcher Car. At their finish, they sprint away from us, they throw their hands in the air, they laugh, they shout in at us – I’ve even seen little celebration dances, hugs and surprisingly energetic leaps as we pass. They’re disappointed and happy all at once. There’s such a good spirit to the day, every moment is a best moment.
Sign up for the Wings for Life World Run or tune in to the live show on May 5 to catch all the action.