Top Gear: Series 16, Episode 1
- Jeremy, Richard and James set off on a road trip up the east coast of the United States in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, a Porsche 997 GT3 RS and a Ferrari 458 Italia
- Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Danny Boyle
Series 16 of Top Gear kicks off with a statement from Jeremy, “As we know, there is a financial crisis going on at the moment, but we’ve decided not to take part in it” – before showing us a little preview of what to expect over the coming weeks.
Jeremy then moves on to the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania. A road which Top Gear discovered a few years ago and promptly called “The best road in the world”. However letters from a bunch of Americans seem to suggest that the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, USA, is actually better. So Jeremy, Richard and James each chose a car and went over to check it out. James selected a Ferrari 458 Italia; Jeremy, a Mercedes SLS, with Richard ending up in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. After an argument over who had brought the best car, they set off along the Blue Ridge Parkway to let the road decide… however, immediately there was a problem. The speed limit along this truly stunning piece of road is just 35mph. After some time it reduced to 25mph so the boys pulled over for an emergency meeting. Continuing along the Parkway would be pointless, as it is 469 miles long. Turning off to the left would mean they’d end up in the woods of North Carolina, whilst turning right would have them heading straight into the heart of NASCAR country. They chose the latter.
Once they got out and turned onto the highway, they all went a bit mad and unleashed a bit of pent up speed. Jeremy explains why he loves the SLS so much – “This may look and sound like a muscle car, but underneath its very technical, it’s very European. The gearbox is at the back for better weight distribution – and it’s the same double clutch 7-speed box that Ferrari used in the California”. Richard goes into bat for his Porsche – “This isn’t a Super car, it’s a sports car. It’s been stripped out and lightened. It sacrifices rear seats, yes, but it just feels alive. Pure, direct, immediate”. James however was struggling a bit with the steering wheel in the 458 – which has a baffling amount of controls on it. The boys continue along until they reach the birthplace of NASCAR, North Wilkesboro Speedway. America’s first oval track. Today it lays in a state of disrepair with rough tarmac and overgrown grandstands. After swearing to the Mayor that they wouldn’t go fast, the boys take to the track with their cars. But rather quickly it turns into a bit of a race. Jeremy goes overboard and manages to get the SLS drifting – eventually shredding a rear tyre after only a few laps. The Mayor gets on the phone to try and find a shop which could fit a new tyre to the SLS – as it doesn’t carry a spare. Richard and James depart to leave Jeremy to fend for himself. Two tyre shops later and still without success, Jeremy is forced to drive the final 115 miles in the dark to the hotel on a ruined tyre.
Back in the studio, the Jeremy, Richard & James show us some excellent gift ideas for Christmas. Predictably it all ends with the Christmas tree being on fire, with Jeremy putting out the flames with some “Pussy” energy drink.
Back in America, it turns out Jeremy did make it to the hotel successfully – which turned out to be a motor racing resort right beside Virginia International Raceway. Shortly after a morning cup of tea, Jeremy was able to get new tyres for the SLS and the boys hit the track. Jeremy couldn’t keep up with Richard and James and decides that it would be more fun going slowly and drifting just like the day before. Richard’s GT3 RS may have 110bhp less than the 458 Italia, but even so he set about trying to catch up to James, who was driving like a “scolded proverbial”. Richard slowly began to close in on James – losing ground on the straights but catching back up again through the corners. The race was starting to get very serious, with the boys pushing harder and harder – until Richard eventually caught right up to the back of James’ 458. Richard pushed the GT3 a little too hard around a high speed corner which caused the back of the car to step out, sending him spearing across the grass towards a tyre wall. Luckily he pulled up just in time to avoid it.
For the next challenge, the boys do a drive by shooting – firing at a target through the passenger window as an instructor drives along. Due to a recent book release by The Stig (Ben Collins), cardboard cutouts of him are selected to be the target in question. James and Richard both do a drive by each using a pistol – followed by Jeremy in the SLS – who had the unfair advantage of being able to lift up the entire door and sit on the sill for a clearer shot with an assault rifle. After the scores were tallied up, Jeremy won the event with 245, followed by Richard in second with 145, and James third at 82. The next morning, the boys hit the road and head for New York City – which would take a surprisingly long time due to the slow speed limits on the road. To cure the boredom, the boys decide to have races from 45 to 55 mph. This keeps them entertained until lunch time, when they try to find a restaurant using the SatNav in Jeremy’s SLS. This fails to find anything except fast food restaurants. After lunch at McDonalds, the boys make a slight detour through Washington DC, before finding a drag racing circuit so Jeremy & James could settle the argument as to who had the fastest car. On a soaking wet track, neither driver was able to get the power down without spinning the wheels. On the final run James applies the throttle a bit more gently and manages to actually complete a run without spinning – making him the winner.
Back in the studio, Jeremy introduces Danny Boyle as the Star in a Reasonably Priced car. Danny manages a 1:47.80 on a wet track.
We rejoin the boys as they approach New York City, where they gather under the Manhattan Bridge to receive their next challenge. Jeremy reads it out – “You have been booked to appear at 11am on an American Chat show. The studio is on West 59th St, near its junction with 11th Avenue. There’s only time for one of you to appear so the first to arrive gets the gig.” Jeremy and James decide to use their SatNav and spend a few minutes trying to find the address. Richard’s GT3 RS doesn’t have one, so he sets off first to get a head start and consults his printed map on the way. Jeremy and James both get slightly lost and also frustrated by New York’s many one-way streets. James ends up going too far, but manages to backtrack to the studio and arrives first, followed by Jeremy soon after and Richard a distant last place. Not that they envied James – the TV show in question ended up being an aerobics programme on the Manhattan Neighbourhood Network.