Dunsfold’s famous tarmac bows to blind doctor’s lappery

Having lost his sight six years ago, Dr Amit Patel, an NHS ‘First-Response’ medic, has proved that he still has an instinct for rapid, precise driving, states Iain Robertson, when he powered around the Top Gear test track.

Doctor Amit’s time of one minute 46.58 seconds would place him fifth overall, among the famous faces that have driven around Dunsfold circuit on the popular TV programme. As an NHS first-responder, Amit was skilled in safe, fast driving in emergency situations, until his career was cut short by sudden and complete sight loss.



His determination to not allow his blindness to hold him back is a perfect expression of Start Your Impossible’, which is Toyota’s global campaign that encourages people to overcome their hurdles to mobility and personal achievement. It reflects Toyota’s evolution from a vehicle manufacturer, to a mobility provider, and supports its eight-year partnership with the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees.


Returning to the driving seat was a huge step for Amit, who explained that he experiences the world completely differently from how did as a sighted person. He stated: “It’s been six years, or so, since I’ve been behind the wheel of a car, but it’s funny how things come back to you – the sound of the engine, the gear changes, the clutch and the brakes. Yet, driving and not knowing where you’re driving, that’s the insane part!” 



To guide him through his track laps he had the expert help of Mark Watkins, a performance driving instructor, who is experienced in working on-track with blind and partially-sighted people. He outlined: “Amit was immediately natural behind the wheel. What impressed me all the way through was how he was just so smooth.”



Mark provided constant guidance on steering, acceleration and braking from the passenger seat, changing his tone of voice to encourage Amit as he became more confident and the lap times tumbled. There were no dual controls; Amit had sole control of the vehicle. He focused on the instructions and ignored the fact that he cannot see, as he achieved his personal dream-come-true.



Amit and Mark worked up from an initial test session in a Toyota Yaris, before graduating to the GT86 and making a date for the timed laps at the Dunsfold track, near Guildford. Reflecting on his achievement, Amit paid tribute to the support of his wife and young son. He said: “Blindness is always going to be in my life but I don’t wake up in the morning and dwell on it, I just get on with it. That’s easy to say now, as five years ago it wasn’t the case. I have a wonderful wife who helped me out when I needed it and gave me the motivation and we have an amazing two-and-a-half-year-old son. In my head I can see a smile on his face and I’m hoping that he’s proud of what his dad has achieved.”

FCD Summary

If you want to view Amit’s remarkable story, it has been captured in a new Toyota short film which can be viewed here:

 

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