Top Gear Races

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In Top Gear , a BBC motoring show, one of the show's regular features since 2002 is various forms of racing the presenters undertake, either against each other or against invited guests. The show has featured a number of epic races, where one of the presenters — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May, and occasionally The Stig — drives a car in a race against the others in another form of transport. These races typically involve Clarkson driving the car while Hammond and May take the same journey by combinations of plane, train, or ferry. May has said that the races are planned to be as close as possible. [1] Of the long distance races so far, the car has won the vast majority of the races, with the exceptions of the cross-London epic, in which the car was beaten by a bicycle, a boat on the Thames and public transport; Ferrari Daytona vs. Powerboat, in which the boat won; Shelby Mustang GT500 vs. High Speed Train, in which the train won; and the Arabian Peninsula race, in which the alternative 'money no-object' transportation options beat the Bugatti Chiron.



Aston Martin DB9 vs. French TGV – Distance 900 miles

Series Four, Episode One (9 May 2004)

Clarkson drove an Aston Martin DB9 from the Dunsfold studio in Surrey to Monte Carlo, against Hammond and May who took the Eurostar and the French TGV. Hammond and May walked two miles to a bus stop, took a bus to Guildford railway station, and went on a train to London Waterloo. From there they took the Eurostar to Gare du Nord, the RER to Gare de Lyon, the French TGV to Nice, then another train to Monte Carlo. During the race, May compared the contest to the earlier Blue Train Races, won by a Rover Light Six and Bentley Speed Six against Le Train Bleu or The Blue Train. Winner: Car

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti vs. Passenger Jet – Distance 650 miles

Series Five, Episode Eight (19 December 2004)

In what proved to be one of the closest Top Gear long-distance races ever staged, Clarkson tried to beat Hammond and May in a race from the Dunsfold studio in Surrey to Verbier, Switzerland to find out the quickest way to get to the Alps for a skiing holiday. Clarkson drove a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, whilst Hammond and May used public transport, chiefly using a plane to get from Heathrow to Geneva. Setting off at 5:30am, Hammond and May began by taking a bus to Guildford, followed by a train to Woking and a RailAir coach to Heathrow. Clarkson meanwhile drove to Dover to catch the ferry to France, and managed to leave English soil before Hammond and May had even reached the airport. However, after a 90-minute check-in, Hammond and May finally boarded their plane whilst Clarkson had only covered a 100 miles since docking in Calais. Indeed, the plane actually arrived in Geneva early, so by the time Hammond and May had got off the plane, Clarkson was still only halfway between Paris and Dijon, about 250 miles behind. To make matters worse, Clarkson was further slowed by roadworks and then stopped by the police just south of Dijon for speeding, which cost him a further 25 minutes as well as a £60 fine.

After Hammond and May landed in Geneva, they took a train to Martigny. However, the slower mode of transport combined with Clarkson encountering very little traffic after being stopped by the police meant that the car had more than halved the distance by the time Hammond and May arrived at Martigny, where they were then forced to wait for an hour until their next train. By the time their train to Le Châble had left Martigny station, Clarkson had managed to reach the Swiss border and was then just 40 miles behind Hammond and May when they boarded their final mode of public transport: a coach ride up 12 miles of mountain road from Le Châble to Verbier. When they arrived at the Verbier bus depot, Hammond and May had to continue their journey on foot, but having caught up on the mountain road, Clarkson overtook them on the main street of Verbier, barely a few hundred yards away from the finishing point. Winner: Car

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Top Gear: The Races DVD, albeit in a truncated form, with a running time of 10 minutes. It was a never included in a commercial release.

Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren vs. Cruise Ferry – Distance 1320 miles

Series Six, Episode Six (3 July 2005)

Hammond and May raced Clarkson (in a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren) from Heathrow airport to Oslo, Norway. May and Hammond flew to Newcastle, then took the ferry across the North Sea to Kristiansand, Norway and used a speedboat to get to Oslo. Clarkson, in the McLaren Mercedes, had to drive over 1,300 miles (about 2,100 km) through the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark (stopping to rest overnight), Sweden, and Norway. On the way from Kristiansand to Oslo, aspiring to their first epic race win, the engine on Hammond and May's speedboat burnt out while the back-up chase boat's hull was damaged—all while Hammond was getting seasick over the side of the boat—severely spoiling their lead. They had to land in an unknown town (Stavern, in Larvik), taking nearly a day to find a bus and get to the destination—leaving Clarkson to win the race, fly back to England, get home, and be halfway through supper before Hammond and May arrived at the destination. Winner: Car

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Top Gear: The Races DVD, albeit in a truncated form, with a running time of 12 minutes. It was never included in a commercial release.

Bugatti Veyron vs. Cessna 182 – Distance 813 miles

Series Seven, Episode Five (11 December 2005)

Clarkson (in a Bugatti Veyron) raced Hammond and May (in a Cessna 182) from Alba to Tower 42 in London to deliver a truffle. Hammond and May rode scooters to the local airport, and planned to fly directly to London, but had to fly via the French Riviera since the aircraft was not equipped to fly over mountains above 10,000 feet—in this case, the Swiss Alps. While catching up to Clarkson, May had to land in Lille, as he was not licensed to fly at night. From Lille, May & Hammond took the Eurostar to London, and then a bus for the final leg of the journey. Winner: Car

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Top Gear: The Challenges 1 DVD. A much shorter version was included on the Top Gear: The Races DVD.

Polar Race – Toyota Hilux vs. Dog Sled – Distance Approx. 400 miles

Series Nine, Episode Seven (25 July 2007)

Clarkson and May drove a modified Toyota Hilux against Hammond, Matty McNair and a dog sled team in a race across the Canadian arctic. Clarkson and May won the race, and became part of the first successful attempt to drive a motor vehicle to the North Magnetic Pole. Winner: Car

DVD Release: A director's cut of this race was released on Blu-ray. The televised version was released as part of the Top Gear: The Great Adventures 1 DVD box set.

London Race – Car vs. Bicycle vs. Boat vs. Public Transport – Distance 17 miles

Series Ten, Episode Five (11 November 2007)

May (in a Mercedes-Benz GL-Class) raced Hammond (on a Specialized Sirrus Limited hybrid bicycle [2] ), The Stig (using the London public transport system), and Clarkson (in a Cougar motorboat) from Kew across to London City Airport. The Stig started on a bus, then got on the Tube before taking the DLR. Hammond took the lead from the start, although traffic lights meant May remained close behind. The speed limit of 9mph on much of the River Thames put Clarkson firmly in last place. Congestion at Piccadilly let Hammond shake off May, who was further slowed after the Metropolitan Police stopped him to check the camera car's permit. With Hammond 8 miles from the airport, Clarkson passed under Wandsworth Bridge, at which point the Thames had no speed limit. He therefore shot past May and the Stig, but was shocked to discover Hammond had still won by a fair margin. The Stig arrived a short while later, beating May by 15 minutes. Despite the result shown in the film, the presenters mockingly denied this outcome (by saying things such as Hammond crashing into railings and Clarkson's boat exploding), and insisted that May in the Mercedes-Benz won the race fairly. Winner: Bicycle

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Season 10 box set. It was also released as part of the Top Gear: The Challenges 2 DVD.

Nissan GT-R vs. Japanese Public Transit System – Distance 355 miles

Series Eleven, Episode Four (13 July 2008)

In what is commonly agreed to be the closest Top Gear race ever staged, Clarkson drove a Nissan GT-R through Japan, from Hakui, Ishikawa to Mount Nokogiri, while Hammond and May took public transport—most notably the 168 mph Shinkansen. First they took a limited express train from Hakui to Kyoto, before getting on the bullet train to Shin-Yokohama, they then had to take the Yokohama Subway to Yokohama Station, where they got on the suburban train to Kurihama and caught the bus to the ferry. While in Tokyo, Clarkson accidentally turned off the satnav system in the GT-R and struggled to turn it back on as the system only spoke Japanese, costing him 45 minutes. By the time he had managed to turn it back on, Hammond and May had taken the lead. However, May and Hammond were temporarily separated when their train split. They eventually regrouped when Hammond asked May to hold the bus. May and Hammond then crossed Tokyo Bay on a ferry, from which they used folding bicycles (carried in their suitcases) to the cable car, which got them up to the top of Mount Nokogiri. Clarkson, meanwhile, thought he had won the race when he reached the mountain's car park, only to be told by the film crew that the finishing line was at the top of the mountain. All three proceeded to run to the rest of the way, converging on the finishing point from two different directions. Clarkson made it to the summit just 3 minutes before Hammond and May, and was visibly still out of breath when the other two arrived. Winner: Car

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Season 11 box set. It was also released as part of the Top Gear: The Challenges 3 DVD.

Economy Race to Blackpool – Jaguar XJ vs. VW Polo vs. Subaru Legacy – Distance 750 miles

Series Twelve, Episode Four (23 November 2008)

With the team booked to switch on the famous Blackpool Illuminations, the three were presented with a challenge to determine which of them would get the honour of pulling the switch. This took the form of a race from Basel to Blackpool, taking a route of their choice and using any unmodified production car, the only restriction being that they could only use a single tank of fuel. All three presenters chose diesel vehicles – May a Subaru Legacy, Hammond a Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion, to the scorn of his compatriots, and Clarkson a Jaguar XJ. He had dismissed the race as pointless, since the figures indicated no production car at the time could make the distance, and therefore decided to "fail in style and comfort". Finally, the Stig was dropped off in Blackpool to pull the switch if no-one arrived.

Each presenter took different routes across France. Hammond opted for the shortest possible, while May added 30 miles to avoid mountains and several towns. Clarkson headed straight for the nearest motorway and drove "like a loony", heating seats, charging his phone and running the radio in the hope of emptying his fuel tank in France. After initially struggling with consumption, both Hammond and May realized their pace was too slow, and decided to pick up speed. May caught up with Hammond, and the two began an overtaking duel all the way to Calais, arriving 40 minutes behind Clarkson.

The presenters had also chosen different routes across England. Hammond again opted for the shortest, via the M1 and M6. May decided to avoid the risk of M6 traffic by heading along the M1 up to Leeds, then switching to the M62. Clarkson chose to use the M40, with his theoretical route changing to the M6 at Birmingham, although he was really trying to run out of fuel near his house. Despite his fuel-wasting, he passed Oxford with a considerable level remaining, and slowed down, finally taking the race seriously. When Hammond found out that Clarkson was still running, he picked up speed and overtook the Jaguar on the M6 toll. Given his near-empty tank, Clarkson decided to remain economical until his range reached 0, as Hammond's charge had reduced the BlueMotion's range drastically.

With May out of the running due to his slow speed and a trouble-free M6, Hammond's theoretical range reached 0. Once the Jaguar did the same, Clarkson accelerated to catch Hammond. However, his charge was too late, as Hammond was greeted with a police escort just outside Blackpool. Clarkson arrived less than a minute later. May did eventually finish, albeit 40 minutes after the celebration ended. With seconds to go before the switch-on, Richard—despite winning—claimed Jeremy should switch the light, and in the ensuing argument, the Stig pulled the switch. Afterwards, it was found Clarkson's car had 120 miles of fuel left, giving the Jaguar a range of nearly 900 miles. Hammond and May both conceded that despite the Polo arriving first, the Jaguar was to be declared the "real" winner. [3] Winner: VW Polo Bluemotion (Jaguar XJ by agreement)

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Season 12 box set.

Ferrari Daytona vs. Powerboat – Distance 206 miles

Series Twelve, Episode Five (30 November 2008)

Hammond drove a Ferrari Daytona against May and his co-driver in an XSR 48 powerboat from Portofino to Saint-Tropez. Both were stopped by the Italian police at different points to check documents, but Hammond was forced to follow the police to a nearby police station, whereas May did not; this probably led to May winning the race. Winner: Boat

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Season 12 box set. It was also released as part of the Top Gear: The Challenges 4 DVD.

London to Edinburgh – Race to the North – Jaguar XK120 vs. Vincent Black Shadow vs. Tornado locomotive – Distance 378 miles

Series Thirteen, Episode One (21 June 2009)

Tornado on the Race to the North, 25 April 2009. 60163 Tornado Private Charter Cathedrals Express Top Gear Race 25 April 2009 Newcastle pic 8.jpg
Tornado on the Race to the North, 25 April 2009.

On 25 April 2009, the BBC filmed a private charter train hauled by the brand new steam locomotive 60163 Tornado. Clarkson (on the train) raced May (in a 1949 Jaguar XK120) and Hammond (on a 1949 Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle) from London King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley. Tornado completed the run in exactly 8 hours, with four stops for water, while May and Hammond were restricted to the A1 Road (as no motorways existed yet in 1949). Winner: Car

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Season 13 box set. It was also released as part of the Top Gear: The Challenges 4 DVD.

Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 vs. French TGV – Distance 814 miles

Series Nineteen, Episode Three (10 February 2013)

Clarkson raced Hammond and May from Wembley Stadium to the San Siro in Milan, where the winner would get a free ticket to watch AC Milan play Anderlecht in the UEFA Champions League. Clarkson however was restricted to any car he liked which cost no more than £35,000. He decided to drive a Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 while Hammond and May travelled by public transport. They took a combination of bus and commuter train to St. Pancras International, where they then took an early Eurostar train to Paris Gare du Nord. Clarkson meanwhile took the standard journey to Dover where he would catch a ferry across the English Channel to France. However, due to the advancements in public transport since the previous Top Gear long-distance race, all three presenters were aware that the train from St. Pancras to Paris was 20 minutes faster than on previous trips, whilst the ferry journey that the car had to make was now 40 minutes longer; with effectively an hour's advantage, May and Hammond therefore believed that the race was virtually over when they managed to be over 200 miles ahead of Clarkson when the car finally reached French soil. On arrival into Paris, Hammond and May took a metro train across the French capital to Gare de Lyon before taking a TGV to Milan. However, having to navigate the winding tracks around the French Alps meant their speed slowed considerably which allowed Clarkson to catch up. He was virtually neck and neck with the train by the time he was closing in on the Mont Blanc tunnel. However, extensive French roadworks in front of the Mont Blanc tunnel that Clarkson later attested lasted for over 100km, slowed Clarkson significantly, allowing Hammond and May to build up their lead again. They then took the Milan Metro to Lotto Fiera before running to the stadium. With only one ticket up for grabs, Hammond and May raced each other to the finish line. May, who refused to run on television, produced a foldable bicycle out of his bag in hopes of outpacing his colleague, but Hammond was still faster and took the ticket. Clarkson, who had also been hampered by match-day traffic, finished behind both of his colleagues. This is the only Top Gear long-distance race in which car is beaten by public transport. Winner: Train

DVD Release: This race was released as part of the Season 19 box set.

Toyota Auris 1.8L vs. AC45 Sailing Boat – Distance 410 miles

Series Twenty, Episode One (30 June 2013)

Clarkson tried to prove that fossil fuels are still superior to alternatives, and raced a blue 1.8L Toyota Auris against May in an AC45 Sailing Boat, helmed by Olympian Ben Ainslie, and crewed by America's Cup winners. The race was in New Zealand, from Fletcher Bay at the top of the Coromandel Peninsula to Spirits Bay in Northland. [4]

When a baffled May questioned his choice of vehicle, Clarkson explained that it was a hire car, which he claimed made it the fastest in the world because he could redline it until he crashed it.

Clarkson had to drive south on the Coromandel Peninsula before he could turn north towards Northland, making his journey 410 miles, over May's direct route of 220 miles. During the race Clarkson heavily abused his car and rendered it undriveable after crashing into a stone wall to avoid a tractor. He was forced to stop, visit a hire car centre, and exchange his broken Auris for another – then hope that May did not notice that his car was now red. May was constantly battered by the rough seas, and lost his satellite phone during the race after being hit by a large wave.

Despite trying to make up ground by using 90 Mile Beach, Clarkson was beaten to the finish line by May, who had a lead of an hour over the car. [4] Also, May noticed that the car was no longer blue at the end of the race. Winner: Sailing Boat

St. Petersburg Race – Car vs. Bicycle vs. Hovercraft vs. Public Transport – Distance 18 miles

Series Twenty Two, Episode One (25 January 2015)

The presenters decide to redo the race they did in London between all of them, this time travelling across St. Petersburg. Clarkson selects a hovercraft, Hammond chooses a £9,000 (Pinarello Dogma F8) bicycle, May picks a Renault Twizy, and the Stig again relies on public transport. From the start, neither Hammond or Clarkson have it easy with their choice of transport. Clarkson found driving his hovercraft – which he called a Russian design of the presenters' Hovervan – to be quite difficult; along with his instruments and controls being in Russian, he could not keep the craft pointing forward or in a straight line. Meanwhile, Hammond, while managing to overtake and then be overtaken by May, ran afoul of the city's tramlines. Hammond caught a wheel in one of the rails and fell, shearing off the bicycle's derailleur and rendering it useless. The others continued racing and Hammond soon re-entered the race on a second bike, which was borrowed from a passer-by (who was given a lift to his work as compensation).

May, meanwhile, suffered no issues whatsoever, and so was able to enjoy the car he was driving. He remarked how he liked the fact that it was designed for European cities, having two seats in tandem, an electric engine, and scissor doors. However, as he reached the city-centre, he discovered that the city's streets and roads were much wider than he expected them to be. Clarkson, who managed to gain the lead despite the handling issues, soon hit the city-centre, where he attempted to use narrow, peaceful canals to avoid the heavy river traffic he encountered. Unfortunately for him, this led him towards low bridges instead, which required him to deflate the hovercraft's skirts repeatedly to squeeze under the bridges. Although his new bicycle was slower and less comfortable than his first mount, Hammond began to catch up to May and Clarkson.

Clarkson and Hammond soon reached the finish line, with Hammond coming in just moments after Clarkson, only to find that both had been beaten by May, who was waiting in hiding for them. While they commented that the car had redeemed itself in the race, they realised that one of them was missing. The Stig, who had suffered no major issues when using public transport, failed to finish in the end: he had spotted a Porsche 911 and was banging his helmet against the fence that protected it. Winner: Car

Arabian Peninsula Race – Car vs. Alternative "money no-object" transportation: Sports Bike, Private Jet, Luxury Car and Motorboat

Series Twenty Four, Episode Four (26 March 2017)

Matt and Harris are competing against each other in a race from Dubai to a mountaintop hotel in Oman. Harris drives the Bugatti Chiron while Matt takes a combination of luxury transports: a motorboat, a luxury car, a private jet and a sports bike. Early in the race, Harris faced rush hour traffic while Matt was stuck on a 5-knot speed limit zone. As traffic cleared, Harris was escorted out of Dubai by the Dubai Police Force while Matt cleared the marina, enabling him to get the boat to speed before entering the second stage, which was being chauffeured in a Bentley Mulsanne EWB by the Stig's "Emirati cousin", but is stuck in Dubai's downtown district, falling 100 miles behind Harris. However, Harris was stuck immediately upon entering Oman as the Chiron had to be re-registered while Matt arrived at the airport to board the HondaJet to Muscat, enabling him to gain significant ground despite the 100-mile distance between Muscat and the finish line. Meanwhile, Harris attempts to take a shortcut through a network of alleyways at a town, slowing his progress significantly. In Muscat, Matt's entered the fourth and final stage of his journey, riding the Ducati 1299 Superleggera. At the final leg of the race, both entered the mountains from opposite direction, leading to a tense final sprint. Winner: Alternative "money no-object" transportation

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  1. Top Gear, Series 11 Episode 4 1:01:13
  2. Gear, Bicycling, Specialized Bikes
  3. May: "We have to acknowledge though, that the true hero of this whole piece is that Jaguar."
    Clarkson: "Yeah, I couldn't agree more"
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