Fasten your seatbelts: Top Gear is back. But not as we know it. With old hosts Matt LeBlanc and Rory Reid departing the main show, the BBC motoring series will now be driven by a new team: Paddy McGuinness, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff and returning host Chris Harris.
And according to Harris, this is one of the best line-ups the show has ever seen. In fact, he claims the new trio will be better than the longest-serving hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.
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Speaking about the comparison between Top Gear and The Grand Tour – the Amazon Prime series presented by Clarkson and co – Harris told RadioTimes.com and other press: “We’re a different type of car show. There’s loads of space for two car shows and I’m not sure there are any more so I don’t really mind.
“I think we’re going to be great – I think we’re going to smash it and it’s going to be better than them.”
Flintoff added: “Doing [Top Gear] is brilliant. I’m not taking anyone on – we’ve got to try and do what’s best for this programme. If you’re thinking that then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”
So, how exactly will the new dynamic work? As you might have expected, Flintoff and McGuinness are the jokers of the pack with Harris the extensive motor expert – “Chris is the safety net on the show… he does look after you in that sense,” says McGuinness.
But it’s not all good news for Harris, with the presenter on the butt of most of the jokes from Flintoff and McGuinness. Remember that shot in the Top Gear trailer where the two fling a melon at Harris? That actually caused a “big gash” on his head, he says.
Still Harris wouldn’t have it any other way, apparently. “There’s plenty of old-fashioned bullying going on and I quite like that. I think it’s good!” he says. “I’ve always been the small one and I like it when one of the big ones has a go because every now and again they fall over.”
“It’s not just Chris, though,” Flintoff interjected. “At every point, we all get our moment where there’s two on one and it changes all the time.”
One example of when Flintoff finds himself the target of the other two: a series of challenges where each presenter drives the first car they’d ever owned. While McGuinness hits the road with an Mk2 Escort and Harris a Mini, Flintoff arrives in a Porsche Boxster.
“I didn’t buy a car until was 22 – I’d been a professional sportsman for six years!” he laughs. “I’m not going to lie, it was nice driving that thing.”
As well as a string of new challenges, reviews and studio interviews, viewers can also expect a tonal shift from previous series, with the new Top Gear centred on unscripted “mucking in”, according to McGuinness.
“What you say when we’re chatting is what it is. It’s all ad-lib – we get the rough spine of a story. We never thought ‘we have to do this’ – it happened naturally, really.”
Although this new set-up might give the audience the impression the show is aimed at a certain type of man – one preview clip presented to journalists featured Flintoff rubbing his unwashed hands over Harris after visiting the toilet – McGuinness suggests the show has more mainstream appeal than ever before.
“It’s not as full on laddy as you might think,” he says. “You can sit with your friends or your family and watch it on a Sunday night. You don’t have to be a petrolhead to get into it.
“Well, fingers crossed.”
Top Gear starts Sunday 16th June at 8pm