Series 23 wasn’t exactly Top Gear’s finest hour, what with Chris Evans’s shouting, the burnouts in front of the Cenotaph, and the fact that the show lost half of its 6.5 million viewers. Talk about a poisoned chalice – which is why it is surprising that Matt LeBlanc decided to stay on with the show, after Evans jumped overboard seemingly before the credits on the final episode had rolled.
Matt’s pledge to remain on Top Gear caused the rumour mills to go into overdrive, with suggestions there was bad blood between the two – and that LeBlanc even had something to do with Evans’s resignation.
“I didn’t even know he was quitting!” LeBlanc says, as he prepares for the launch of Series 24. “The way I found out was just like everyone else, I read it in the papers. My decision to come back was based on the fact that I had such a great time last time.”
Series 24 of Top Gear will be slightly different from the series which came before it, with a return of a three-presenter lineup consisting of LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid – with Eddie Jordan and Sabine Schmitz reduced to part contributors. Another major change is that the Star In A Rallycross Car segment has been taken out into the paddock and shot, with the track reverting to the usual layout and the Mini Cooper replaced with a reasonably priced Toyota GT86.
There’ll be some new overseas trips, too – with Cuba, Montenegro, Monaco, the USA and Kazakhstan among the countries the team visited during filming. But LeBlanc says the basic principle of the show is still at its heart.
“Everybody has some relationship with the automobile,” LeBlanc says. “When you were a child, driving with your parents to go off on holiday. When you were at school and you got arrested for, maybe, drinking when you weren’t supposed to. After your wedding, when you went off on your honeymoon in a car pulling cans behind it. The automobile is such a part of our lives that I think everyone can relate to a show about it.”
LeBlanc also says that life on Top Gear can be overwhelming. “I don’t know why there’s such huge controversy about it, but boy, being on this show is like being in a fish bowl. Everybody’s after you, waiting for you to put a foot wrong, and that can be tough. But I like cars, I know a little bit about cars, I can say some funny things about cars and hopefully people want to watch me. Hopefully.”
“I’ve never set out to be in things that are controversial or that follow any great career plan, I do things that interest me. If because of the success of Friends the six of us are judged under a magnifying glass for anything we do after that – if I’m judged more critically in my post-Friends projects than I might have been otherwise – well, that’s OK. You either accept that or you don’t, and I choose to accept it.” – Matt LeBlanc
Top Gear returns on Sunday 5 March at 8pm on BBC2.