Top Gear is back! The new series of the world’s biggest motoring show sees Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid at the helm, with appearances from German race ace Sabine Schmitz, F1 pundit Eddie Jordan, and the international man of mystery referred to only as The Stig. Because that’s his name.
In this new seven-part series, Top Gear’s presenters journey across wildest Kazakhstan in cars with half a million miles on the clock, tackle old-school motorsport in Cuba, blast through America’s wild west in the latest convertible supercars, and attempt to turn an ugly South Korean people-carrier into a luxury yacht to rival Monaco’s finest.
Matt, Chris and Rory also review the latest and greatest cars from around the globe, from the Ferrari FXX K to the Aston Martin DB11, from the incredible Bugatti Chiron to the new Ford GT. Oh, and an eight-wheeled, all-terrain monster from Russia, because no series is truly complete without an eight-wheeled, all-terrain monster from Russia.
It’s all brought to you from Top Gear’s famous test track and its rather draughty studio, where a fresh crop of celebrities will attempt to impress with their driving skills.
Are you pleased with how filming for the new series has gone? What can we expect?
Chris: Top Gear is all about the cars. We’ve got humour in it but the unique premise of the show is it all starts with the car. If you look at the metal we are squeezing into this season, it is mouth-watering. I would say because of the amount we are including, it is the strongest season of cars Top Gear has ever had - and I will happily stand by that statement.
Matt: I think it’s going to be a great series. We are all perfectionists and everyone who works on it are really pleased.
Chris: The people who work behind the scenes are incredible. For one film we made with a Ferrari, we only had a day to shoot it. Now that is not enough time but it was one of those opportunities that you would never get again. Only by the sheer excellence and maximum efficiency on the day itself by the crew did we smash it. And we really enjoyed it! Matt, Rory and I front the programme but the size of the show behind the scenes is a juggernaut. It sounds so glib but the three of us can’t do it unless everyone else is mega at their job.
Rory: Doing Top Gear is amazing. I have had some pretty surreal moments. I have just returned from Cuba. I took part in a massive drive across a country that is so alien to so many people. It was about 30 degrees Celsius whilst it was minus two back home! We also looked at their culture over there and it was a fascinating film to take part in. What is different about this season is we are talking to people and allowing them to have a voice. We want them to share their stories and bring something else to the programme.
Chris: Doing Top Gear is absolutely wicked!
Matt: Yes, I am really pleased with the films. There’s lots of humour. For example, we film one in a Bond sequence that involves me driving an Aston Martin. I don’t want to give too much away but it centres around two guys poking fun at each other and having a good time. They are chasing each other, and then they are both chased! We want humour in the films.
Chris: I watched it again last night and it genuinely makes me laugh out loud at times!
Matt: You can talk about the technical differential, power shifting; timing, four valves but people will start snoozing (if you don’t include humour)!
Chris: The internet exists for that. It is not what we are servicing.
Matt: There is a balance in the show. We also talk about cars that are beautiful, the smoothness to them, the fluidity and we use adjectives that are universal.
This year, it is very much a three-way partnership. Describe the banter between you all.
Matt: What people forget is for the three guys that were on the show before us, it took them a while to build up a rapport. This is now the first season for the three of us and it does take a little while. You take the three people, put them together in a room and say "it’s in your interest to get along" and everyone is open to getting along – but it takes a little while to speed up the shorthand. But what’s great is we are now getting to a point where we are really starting to click. We are having so much fun together!
Describe each other. What’s Rory like?
Chris: He is competitive, he is a perfectionist and he has an interest in the style of cars that I love seeing. I love seeing things that I don’t really get.
Matt: He has this boyish quality to him that gives the audience a voyeuristic view of what we are doing. He has this bright-eyed excitement about it all, which is really endearing and fun to be around.
Chris: He is a big friendly bear, he is much wiser than people give credit for and he has seen it all. I think people will be surprised to see his driving skills.
Rory: I would add that he is also a perfectionist in the way he works. By that, I mean not just in the way he delivers a line verbally but also the tiny body language he uses. You can learn so much from him.
Rory: He is quite obsessive about cars and the mechanics of it all.
Matt: Chris has this vocabulary that I need to carry a pocket dictionary around for! He is one of the smartest people I have ever met. He is just so articulate with descriptions and adjectives.
Who is the most competitive driver out of the three of you?
Rory: We are all very competitive but something has clicked in my brain which says: "I refuse to lose. Win at all costs". I learnt that at the end of the last series when both of these guys cheated at the long jump challenge! From that moment my mind-set changed.
You have flown all over the world for this new series. Which country has been your favourite?
Matt: Kazakhstan was great because it’s the three of us together and we had a lot of fun. Mind you, it’s a place I never thought I would find myself driving in and in something I wouldn’t expect to be driving… It was one of those moments where you go: "You are on Top Gear? Right on…" That is all I am saying!
Chris: I can’t believe where we have been. We have been to the most incredible places and we have had the most incredible adventures. We shot a film in California. It was hard-core. The schedules were harsh but of course, when you get there you are presented with two amazing cars, and there are scenes that I still chuckle about now. We were really buzzing.
What’s been your favourite car to drive in this series?
Matt: The Lamborghini Huracan was a fun car to spin around.
Rory: Volkswagen Golf GTI. Sabine and I did that film. It’s such a good car. It is not on the level of a Porsche but in the right hands it is quicker.
Chris: I had a full 11/10, out of body of moment when I drove the Ferrari FXX K. That woke me up proper sideways. It does 120mph. Nobody else had driven it before. Amazing.
Did you have anything on your wish list you were desperate to do?
Rory: I wanted to do something where there are races involved. Chris is one of the best drivers I have ever seen and I wanted to see where I was in comparison to him. I am happy to say I won a couple of races!
Chris: I am really happy about that!
Matt: No I didn’t go into the series with any pre-conceived ideas. I was more like: "Okay, what is coming this year?" I have tried to imagine what they are going to throw at me but I always fall shy. We’ve done everything from going to Kazakhstan and driving a 500k-mile car, then to a trip across part of America driving an open-top Porsche and a Lamborghini. I have come to it with an open mind.
What has been the most challenging film to make?
Rory: Kazakhstan - because it was so cold. Honestly the temperature in the car was really cold and even my water bottle froze up! We also did a lot of driving. That said, the pay off at the end is spectacular…
Top Gear returns Sunday 5 March, 8pm on BBC Two.