Fifty-five years after he shocked the motorsport world by winning the Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper, Northern Ireland-born rally legend Paddy Hopkirk has proved his skills behind the wheel once again by achieving the highest civilian driving standard in the UK.
Race ace Paddy, 86, and his son Patrick, 47, both recently passed the IAM RoadSmart (formerly the Institute of Advanced Motorists) Masters with Distinction qualification.
Paddy said he was “surprised” and “thrilled” to have become one of only 500 motorists to have secured the UK’s top driving qualification.
“It was hard work. I was very nervous, but we both passed thankfully,” he told the News Letter.
Well aware he is not the driver he once was, and acknowledging that age does “diminish the faculties”, he continued: “That is why I am so pleased to have passed this test, because it has made me more alert.
“When your faculties deteriorate it makes you be careful in other ways.
“As we get older our driving standards probably deteriorate and one thing this really does is helps you to brush up on your skills and reminds you of the importance of things like using your mirrors.”
Paddy, who grew up in Whitehouse – now part of Newtownabbey – and learnt to drive a two-seater ‘Harding’ around the Macedon estate, is still an ambassador for the Mini brand.
For the past three years he has worked as a volunteer for IAM RoadSmart as its Mature Driver Ambassador – travelling the UK talking about road safety and how older people can drive safely and with confidence on today’s roads.
The Masters course wasn’t Paddy’s first advanced motoring assessment. He has previously taken IAM RoadSmart’s Advanced Driving Course twice (27 years apart) and the Mature Driver Review.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a rally winner or a daily commuter, everyone can be a better driver. I really want to keep developing my driving skills because the roads are always changing – it is very important to be aware of what is around you, and to make sure that all road users are protected from the risk of injury as much as is possible.
“I enjoyed taking the Masters as did Patrick, and am delighted to have reached Distinction. It is proof that there is no age barrier to being better and safer behind the wheel,” he said.
Paddy, who also won the Acropolis Rally in 1967 and competed in the famous Le Mans 24 Hours race, says he would advise older drivers to take IAM RoadSmart’s Mature Driver Review.
“It’s not a test, but an examiner accompanies the driver and he will tell them what they are doing wrong. It’s just to brush up the skills. We all need reminding about things and about our bad habits from time to time,” he added.
For more information about IAM RoadSmart log on to www.iamroadsmart.com