Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Mark Higgins Interview

Mark Higgins is a three time champion of the British Rally Championship who has played a starring, yet secretive role in some of Hollywood's biggest action blockbusters.

I recently had the chance to catch up with him and hear about his career in rallying, his thoughts on the current state of the BRC and his time spent doubling for the likes of Daniel Craig, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez.

Mark Higgins Interview

Dominik Wilde: Growing up in a place synonymous with motorbike racing like the Isle of Man, how did you end up competing on four wheels instead of two?

Mark Higgins: My grandparents, parents and uncles all rallied so I always wanted to be a rally driver. I first co-drove at 14 and my mum was my first co-driver on the Manx rally. I did trials riding but then went onto karting. I was definitely better on 4 wheels , I love bikes and have a race bike and enduro but I keep braking bones!

Dominik Wilde: Rallying has certainly proved to be a success for you, taking three British Rally Championships the stand out statistic, but for you what has been the highlight of your competitive career so far?

Mark Higgins: It’s very hard to say, obviously the first BRC rally win and championship, another was being 46 seconds ahead of Sebastien Loeb in Donegal (International Rally in 2007) at the end of day one, and the TT lap. Also being team mate to Colin (McRae) and Carlos (Sainz) on Rally GB.

Dominik Wilde: Winning three BRC crowns puts you amongst other former champions such as Colin McRae, Stig Blomqvist, Ari Vatanen and others – how does it feel for you, and of course your brother, to be alongside such iconic names?

Mark Higgins: Growing up with those names and then becoming friends with some of them is very special. It’s hard to imagine these moments when you were a kid who idolized them all. I remember Ari Vatanen after my first British championship win congratulating me on the recce of Rally GB which was special back in 1997.

Dominik Wilde: Now it’s been a while since you did a full BRC season, but what are your thoughts on the current state of the British Rally championship?

Mark Higgins: It’s very sad to be honest. I learnt my craft in the BRC and had some fantastic years, I hope it comes back again as it often does a full cycle, but it’s become very expensive and we need the manufacturers back to support it.

Dominik Wilde: Once one of the country’s top motorsport championships, it seems to be a shadow of its former self right now especially since this year’s championship was cancelled – Do you think the BRC can bounce back next year and eventually grow to be as big a series as it used to be?

Mark Higgins: I hope so but when you need a half million pound budget to do the season in the R5 car it becomes difficult for the guys with talent to come through without a team’s support.

Dominik Wilde: A lot of criticism has been made of the dominance of front wheel drive cars in the BRC – in particular the Citroen DS3 R3T. Your first title came in the front wheel drive Nissan Sunny but you went on to take titles in four wheel drive cars too, do you think having a field of mostly FWD cars is a good thing or would more variety be better?

Mark Higgins: You need variety of FWD cars not just one manufacturer, it is great for competition but not spectators etc. Last year there were events with 12 cars entered in the BRC which is not good. In terms of the guys fighting for the title you only need one good competitor but the championship needs depth and atmosphere and the more cars the better.

FWD is great for young drivers and if you can drive a FWD car well it makes the cross over to 4x4 much easier. I would love RWD normally aspirated cars, but can’t see that happening.

Dominik Wilde: More recently you’ve been competing in China, how did the opportunity to do events over there come about?

Mark Higgins: A team contacted me through Mitsubishi - my brother had already been out there since early 2000. It’s a great championship with top teams, European drivers and good cars. The last event had 130 entries with Alister McRae, Nial McShae, Manfred Stool and Chris Atkinson competing in very good cars.

Dominik Wilde: How do events in China compare to events in the UK or Europe?

Mark Higgins: They’re much hotter! Very good compact events, we have gravel, tarmac, concrete, mixed and a snow event, they tend to repeat the stages in loops then reverse them, but very good and well organised.

Dominik Wilde: Now if I may I’d like to ask about your film career. Obviously you’ve been successful in motorsport, but how did you get into film work?

Mark Higgins: I have worked on TV shows such as Top Gear and (ex-Stig) Ben Colins, who was working on Quantum of Solace, was asked to find a rally driver for the opening gravel scene down the quarry. Myself and Ben had worked over the years together so this is how it started.

Dominik Wilde: Which do you get more enjoyment out of? Driving on the stages or the big screen?

Mark Higgins: They’re very different but I still love competing, that is my passion. There is still a great buzz from the filming when you do a difficult scene, and a different pressure. The only downside is the time away on a film and sometimes a lot of hanging around although we were flat out every night in Rome for Spectre.

Dominik Wilde: With productions taking up long periods, do you miss competing when working on films or is it not something you really think about when you’re working?

Mark Higgins: The China season starts late so I have been lucky recently as I’ve been able to do both. Doing Fast 6 and Skyfall in the same year was the first time since I was 14 that I did not do a rally. It was great to get back to rallying the following year, and it was then I realised how much I missed the competing

Dominik Wilde: Fast and Furious 6 and a trio of Bond films are amongst your credits, but which one was the best to work on and why?

Mark Higgins: Again all different; Fast 6 was great because of the variety of cars I drove and people I doubled, although it’s not every day you get to be Bond in the Aston which is definite highlight of my career so far.

Dominik Wilde: You’ve done a lot of driving for the upcoming Bond film Spectre, featuring the unique Aston Martin DB10 – a car designed for the film. How does the DB10 compare to the cars from previous films from a driver’s viewpoint?

Mark Higgins: The DB10 was great to work with as it's obviously got loads of grunt; it sounds fantastic and is front engined and rear wheel drive. The car never missed a beat through the film and was a pleasure to drive sideways most of the time.

Dominik Wilde: How does it feel to be not only one of a handful of people who will experience such a car, but to be the man who took James Bond’s seat behind the wheel while the cameras were rolling?

Mark Higgins: Yes quite special and the fact the car will never be available on the road - I think the DB10 will become a special part of the Bond vehicles so very happy to have been able to drive all 10 cars that were built.

Dominik Wilde: Now I appreciate you still probably can’t say too much, but could you talk us through working in Rome on the car chase for Spectre – what a day would be like, challenges, highlights etc.

Mark Higgins: A typical day in Rome was:

6PM to 6AM
1000 crew for the 2 cars in the chase
350 film crew
60 security
150 locations
Up to 500 extras on a busy night

Once all roads were locked off we would film on the same bit of road, approximately one mile at a time many times with different angles of the car etc. The challenges were the conditions, cameras strapped to the car, vision and the stunts that were all done for real on the film.

Dominik Wilde: In your time working on films, how closely do you work with the actors and how much driving do they end up doing for the film (if any)? Which actor that you’ve worked with would you say is the best driver?

Mark Higgins: I would be shot if answered the last bit, but I’ve worked with many celebrities and we do get to work closely with the actors. With insurance and their busy schedules the actors do very little in the cars and they’re often on a different film unit than the stunt guys, but all get involved when they can. 

Image: Mark Higgins (Facebook)

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