Top Gear


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Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the world's most widely watched factual television programme. It began in 1977 as a conventional motoring magazine programme. Over time, and especially since a relaunch in 2002, it has developed a quirky, humorous and sometimes controversial style. The programme is currently presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and has featured at least three different test drivers known as The Stig. The programme is estimated to have around 350 million views per week in 170 different countries. First run episodes are broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two and (from Series 20) BBC Two HD. From Series 14 until Series 19, prior to the launch of the dedicated BBC Two HD channel, new episodes were also simulcast on BBC HD. The series is also carried on cable television systems in the United States via BBC America, in Latin America via BBC Entertainment and in Europe via BBC Knowledge. Top Gear aired its twenty-first series in 2014 with the series premiering on 2 February and ending on 16 March. The programme has received acclaim for its visual style and presentation, and criticism for its content and often politically incorrect commentary made by its presenters. Columnist A. A. Gill, close friend of Clarkson and fellow Sunday Times columnist, described the programme as "a triumph of the craft of programme making, of the minute, obsessive, musical masonry of editing, the French polishing of colourwashing and grading".

Races

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The series regularly features long-distance (or, as Clarkson refers to them, "epic") races. These typically feature Clarkson (or one of the other presenters) driving a car against other forms of transport. The challenges usually involve Hammond and May taking the same journey by combinations of plane (one such race showed James piloting his own plane), train or ferry. The feature is edited to portray the result as close and to conceal the winner until the very end of the race (regardless of the actual closeness of the race). A number of smaller scale 'novelty' races have also taken place that demonstrate various strengths and, more often, weaknesses of cars. These races involve one of the presenters, in a carefully chosen car, racing head-to-head against an athlete in conditions that favour the latter. The programme has also featured a variety of small races, typically lasting a couple of minutes, that pit two similar cars against each other, for example, old and very powerful racing cars against new showroom cars.

Challenges

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In the first few series, they featured novelty challenges and short stunt films, typically based on absurd premises, such as a bus jumping over motorcycles (as opposed to the more typical scenario of a motorcycle jumping over buses) or a nun driving a monster truck. No stunt films appeared between series seven and ten, but series eleven saw the introduction of segments with an anonymous stunt man (credited as "Top Gear Stunt Man") performing car jumps.

Starting with series five, many of the programme's challenges were introduced with the tag-line "How hard can it be?". These included challenges where the presenters attempt to build a convertible Renault Espace, being roadies for The Who, driving amphibious cars to France, participating in the Britcar 24-hour endurance race at Silverstone Circuit and trying to build an Electric Vehicle that would be cheaper than a G-Wiz.

Starting with series four, one episode of each series has featured a film built around the premise of "Cheap cars", whereby the presenters are given a budget (typically around £1,500, but it has been between £100 and £10,000 depending on the type of car) to buy a used car conforming to certain criteria. Once purchased, the presenters compete against each other in a series of challenges to establish who has bought the best car. The presenters have no prior knowledge of what the tests will be, although they typically involve long journeys to evaluate the cars' reliability and fuel economy, and a race track event to determine performance.

Many of the car creations from the challenges are on display at World of Top Gear at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu. Isle of Man Post Office issued a set of six stamps featuring a selection of the most bizarre and ingenious automotive challenges featured on Top Gear

Power Laps

In the Power Laps segment, The Stig completes a lap around the Top Gear test track to gauge the performance of various cars. The Top Gear test track was designed by Lotus.

The first car to set a power lap time around the Top Gear test track was a Pagani Zonda C12 S 7.3, which set a time of (1:23.8) in the first episode of series 1.

The qualifications for the normal Power Lap Board are that the car being tested must be roadworthy, commercially available, and able to negotiate a speed bump (sometimes referred to as a 'sleeping policeman'). There is a separate unofficial board of times for non-production cars, such as the Aston Martin DBR9 Le Mans racer.

Cars that have recorded ineligible lap times on the Top Gear track include the Renault F1 car (0:59.0) and the Caparo T1 (1:10.6), both disqualified due to the sleeping policeman requirement, as well as the Ferrari FXX (1:10.7), which was disqualified for using slick tyres. The Pagani Zonda R set a time of 1:08.5 but was disqualified for not being road legal.

The fastest road-legal car that met the Power Lap requirements has been the Pagani Huayra with a lap time of 1:13.8, beating second-place BAC Mono, by 0.5 seconds.

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