x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The sprinter who beat Usain Bolt - on four wheels

Stars and Cars The Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell is as handy behind the wheel as he is under the bonnet.

The sprinter Asafa Powell also enjoys racing with four wheels. AP Photo
The sprinter Asafa Powell also enjoys racing with four wheels. AP Photo

Asafa Powell may only be the second fastest Jamaican on the planet, but the former world record holder insists he is quicker than the world's fastest man when it comes to four wheels.

Powell has raced against close friend Usain Bolt, the current world record holder in the 100m sprint, on a motor racing track and come out on top, and he also enjoys a less-blemished record in a car than his close friend.

In 2009, Bolt narrowly escaped serious injury when he flipped his BMW M3 while driving in Jamaica.

"I'm definitely a better driver than Usain," said Powell with a laugh. "No question. I've not had any crashes like him and I think I just understand cars better."

Both sprinters are massive car enthusiasts but, while Bolt boasts an impressive car collection, he lacks the expertise of Powell, who is something of a mechanic in his free time.

Although he has never taken any formal training in that field, he spent much of this winter working on his array of luxury cars outside his home in Kingston, the Jamaican capital.

"When I take time away from athletics, I love to get in the garage, get my tools and get out to work on my cars," he said. "No one bothers me and I'm in my own little world.

"Friends often ask me to work on their cars but, because of training, I don't normally have time. But I worked on one of Usain's cars in the past."

The car in question was a Honda Accord, which Powell souped up by changing the clutch and making the car "both stronger and safer".

Laughing again, Powell added: "Usain doesn't know anything about cars so he comes to me. I think he was happy with the work I did. I think he still has the car."

Pride of place in Powell's own collection is a Nissan GT-R, which he loves to drive fast whenever possible. Other cars include two Mercedes-Benzes, a turbocharged Mitsubishi Evolution and two trucks, a Toyota Tundra and a Yukon Denali.

In all, he thinks he owns eight vehicles and is also toying with the idea of branching out to two-wheeled machinery.

"I love motorbikes too, in fact, anything that goes fast," he said, "although motorbikes aren't very safe on the roads in Jamaica. We don't have great roads."

It is on tracks that Powell, who loves performing doughnuts, gets to properly unleash his speed and claims to boast a top speed in excess of 320kph on a track in Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

"I love to race; in fact if I wasn't an athlete I think it's something I would do more of, maybe as a career, but I don't know," he said. "Everyone thinks they can be a racing driver but they don't really know."

Athletics takes up the majority of his time but he admits it is a close call when it comes to picking his first love. "It's pretty close," he said. "I better say athletics in case my coach is reading."

When time allows, he tries to follow the 19 races on the 2011 Formula One calendar and in particular he follows the fortunes of Lewis Hamilton.

"I'm definitely a big F1 fan, and Lewis Hamilton is the man," added Powell. "He's the most aggressive and most natural driver in my opinion. I love to see the way he drives. I hope he can win the world title again. I'm sure he will."

He has been to the occasional grand prix but admits that being 28 years old, a switch to an F1 career has come too late.

"Unfortunately not, plus I think at 6 foot 3, I'm too tall," he said. "I was once given a chance to sit in an F1 car and I couldn't fit in - too much height and muscle I think! I think I'll just stick to my Nissan GT-R."

Driving ambitions will have to be on the back burner for much of 2011.

The focus for Powell is getting prepared for the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, at the end of August, where he will hope to topple defending world champion Bolt and US rival Tyson Gay in the 100m.

"Athletics and cars are what I love," he said. "But I won't spend too much time at home this year as from early summer I'm normally competing in Europe, so I won't see much of my cars."