Lying on my back with my right knee on the wrong side of the leg, my first thought, I’ll be honest, wasn’t about my family. It wasn’t even about work. It was about Michael Fassbender.
What was I going to tell him? In just over a week I was supposed to be co-driving for him on the Rally of the Lakes. And then this Wednesday night five-a-side game went badly wrong. A couple of days later, Michael called me and asked me about my leg.
“It’ll be fine,” I told him. “Don’t worry about it.”
By then I’d managed to get an operation sorted for the Friday, so I thought we’d see how it was looking after that. Out of the operation and with the full cast on, I was happy enough to crack on. One thing that was niggling me a little bit was getting out of the car if we went off.
The cast kept my leg completely straight, there was no bending it at all. If I wanted out, I’d have to hook the left leg out and drag the right one with it. And it was Moll’s Gap for the first stage.
I’d been off on the top of Moll’s Gap twice and I didn’t fancy a third time. I went and sat in an Escort with the same sort of roll cage in and I could get out no bother.
There was only a small modification needed in the car; because I couldn’t bend my leg I couldn’t get my foot on the co-driver’s footrest. We cut a piece of foam and put that above the footrest, so I could stretch my leg out and rest it in the cut out section of foam. That helped stop the leg rattling around.
It wasn’t until a while after the rally that I actually saw the knee and the number of staples they’d put in there (I’d broken my tibia and completely ruptured my patellar tendon as well, so I’d done the job properly – I’ve since hung up my boots…). Honestly, if I’d seen that before the event, I wouldn’t have done it. I told Michael that afterwards and he reckoned he wouldn’t have done it without me… good job I didn’t see that knee!
I’ve got to be honest, I needn’t have worried about Michael’s driving. Tommy Bryne does some driver coaching work with him in America and he told me I’d have nothing to worry about. I grew up in the same village as Tommy – my Godfather was a mentor to him early in his career – so I trusted him completely. And he was right. Michael really got the physics side of the car; he had that inherent understanding of what was going on and what it was doing.
Obviously, he’s done a fair bit of racing and been successful in both Ferraris and Porsches, so he knows how to handle a car. The interesting thing was going to be how he went with the pacenotes. We knew he could manage 12 or 13 corners over and over again, but how would he cope with the 60-plus bends on Moll’s Gap? And to have somebody talking to you pretty much non-stop through the stage is quiet alien to a lot of racing drivers.
For Michael, it was no problem. He’s clearly an intelligent guy and, don’t forget what he does for a living… he memorises lines. He told me when he took the part in 12 Years a Slave, he had two weeks to learn hundreds of pages of script. He locked himself away and had it sorted word-for-word in two weeks. On top of that, he’s multilingual, so learning another language, again, was no problem for him.
Because we weren’t competing, we didn’t feature in the overall classification, but I used the watch on all of the stages and I can tell you, he was competitive – especially on the second day.
And it was an absolute privilege to work with him. Michael grew up in Killarney and, like so many in the town, had dreamed of going through his home lanes as fast as he could. It was great to get the chance to join him. And great for me – after 30 years in the sport – to finally get to co-drive in a Mk 2 Escort. Having said that, the car we were in was more like a rear-wheel drive World Rally Car!
The weekend was amazing and Michael really helped shine a light on both Killarney and the Rally of the Lakes. Not once did I see him stop smiling and he must have stopped for 400-odd selfies on the Sunday alone. I remember when Sébastien Loeb came over [and competed in Cork ’20 and Donegal in 2007) and he was pretty popular – but that was nothing like Michael. He was swamped. That can happen when you’re very much a son of the town. And a Hollywood film star.