I couldn’t beat Cumberbatch, but I loved being a Top Gear ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’

Have you ever fancied a lap of the track with The Stig or to take on the might of the awesome Ariel Atom that reshaped Jeremy Clarkson's face? Tim Glanfield test drives BBC Worldwide's Top Gear Track Experience in Surrey...

“Should I put my seatbelt on?”


The engine of the Porsche revved. I took that as a yes as the supercar lurched forward towards the Top Gear test track. 

Some say he doesn’t say much… and they’d be right. A “hot lap” (read: incredibly scary) with The Stig stimulates a lot of things – but conversation is not one of them. Luckily there’s not much time to worry about awkward silences as before half of Supergrass’s seminal 1995 indie-hit ‘Alright’ has had time to play out on Stig’s stereo (he’s a sucker for the classics) you’ve rounded Chicago and Hammerhead passed Gambon and you’re back where you started. And if you’re lucky, you’ve still got your lunch with you… (here’s the video selfie I made – excuse the stupid faces, I was nervous)

A brief audience with The Stig is just one of the many highlights The Top Gear Track Experience has to offer. A co-production between BBC Worldwide and Brandscape Group, this petrol-driven day out is the closest most people will get to being on the show without having to become a celebrity and hang around with Richard Hammond. 

Based at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, the experience is centered around the actual Top Gear studio which is open to guests with every element you’ll see on the show – well, except the three presenters (they’re replaced by cardboard cutouts… which is probably for the best)

Of course the question on everyone’s lips is “how fast can I go if I’m the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car?” The answer, if you’re anything like me, is… not very.  Apparently the celebs get half a day of practice on the circuit before they record their time.  Presumably that’s how Benedict Cumberbatch (no, I couldn’t NOT mention him in an article) recorded 1m 48.7seconds around the circuit, when I could only manage 2m 03seconds after a short time on a video simulator, one training lap, and then my ‘proper’ lap. Maybe Sherlock’s a better driver, or maybe I just needed a few more laps? I guess we’ll never know.  However, just like Benny C, anyone who takes on the challenge gets a video of their pitiful attempt to conquer the famous figure of eight, like this one below. Yep, I went the wrong way around the tyres…

My favourite part of the days was driving the astonishingly powerful Ariel Atom (you remember, the car that did this to Jeremy Clarkson’s face…)

After driving as fast as I dare (which is pathetically slowly) around the circuit in one of these rocket powered lawnmowers, we then went drag racing with an Atom against the awesome speed of a Nissan GT-R. I won’t tell you which car won the battle of raw power versus technology… but it’s definitely worth trying both cars out to find out for yourself. 

On the other side of the aerodrome, I was invited to go off-road in a Land Rover Defender through the woods – a drive that was spiced up when half way through the experience shots were fired at the vehicle from behind James May’s caravan.  I was informed that there were military grade sensors on the vehicle, and that we needed to avoid being destroyed by the virtual gunfire.  We made it out alive with some serious “hits” to the car… but I lived to write another Top Gear Experience review. Phew! 

This could very easily have been an average track day for petrol heads which BBC Worldwide had allowed a Top Gear sticker to be slapped on the side of; but what is striking about the offering is just how much thought and effort has gone into making it a really authentic Top Gear experience that appeals to car nuts, and casual fans (like me) in equal measure – there’s even under-17’s off-road experiences, and chauffeured laps for non-drivers… if they want them. This is no Top Gear box set with lazy sleeve notes and an Ultra Violet copy as a bonus, this is an 18 carat gold engine-shaped case with seasons 1 to 19 hidden inside.

But be warned, this is not a cheap day out. Although the organisers are keen to emphasise all the prices are extremely competitive when compared to other track days – those who aren’t familiar with standard motor sports tariffs (such as myself) may more than flinch when they learn it costs £175 to be a Star in a Reasonably Priced Car and £99 for a flash around the track in Stig’s Porsche. However, with a global audience for Top Gear clamoring for a piece of the action, and a genuinely exciting day out led by properly enthusiastic drivers and staff – there’s little doubt that those with deep pockets will make sure the TG Track Experience is booked up for the foreseeable future.

Top Gear Track Experience opens to the public from 27 August 2014


For more information and to book tickets visit www.topgeartrackexperience.com