By Alex Easthope
From the moment Clarkson, Hammond and May entered the arena on a motorised version of their TV studio set, you knew it was going to be a typically Top Gear-esque affair.
Top Gear Live was bigger, better and more explosive than it has ever been before. Held at the NEC in Birmingham, and the ExCel Centre in London, the show comprised of three different aspects to satisfy the thousands of petrol-heads that turned up.
An arena show, hosted by the three popular(ish) television presenters held a strong Olympics theme, what with the 2012 games being hosted quite literally down the road from the ExCel Venue. Obviously this led the team to create their own petrol fuelled opening ceremony. It was everything you’d imagine from them: spectacular.
The arena show did a great job of recreating their unique approach to car appreciation, and delighted the crowd with mad ideas and games. Car Curling was a personal favourite. One presenter would drive a car uncontrollably on casters for wheels into a target, while the other presenter would follow suit, hoping to bash the sitting duck out of the way to glory.
Other Olympic style games included chariot racing, with scooters replacing the stallions, and Splat the Rat, where Hammond, May and Clarkson would drive Rover City Cars frantically around the arena trying to run over remote control rats. Fans of the show may remember their absolute hatred for the Rover City Car. Perhaps inevitably, the host who splats the least rats has their Rover run over by a Monster truck.
A refreshingly witty script, and a familiar strain of controversy, coupled with explosions, supercars, stunt driving and even a herd of performing JCBs really impressed the crowd.
The action didn’t end there though. In another hall, adjacent to the Live Arena, an actual race-track had been created ready for a live show hosted by Ex-Top Gear presenter and F1 driver – Tiff Needell.
With special guests including Queen of the Nurburgring Sabine Schmitz and five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell, the show was a tantalising feast of speed and noise.
An old versus new drag race feature, where legendary cars from the past took on their younger cousins was genuinely interesting. My favorite ‘heat’ was the Jaguar XJ220 against the brand new XKR-S. It was close but the latter narrowly beat its older sibling.
Another highlight that had the older members of the audience smiling was the emergence of all the notable Group B rally cars from the 80s. These flame-snarling monsters were banned back then, and the chance to get them all together and witness them being thrashed round the track was amazing. The indoor amplification meant that the noise was almost deafening.
Top Gear Live was definitely worth going to see, if a little on the expensive side. The two separate shows were action packed and held a high level of excitement throughout. I would recommend that anyone with a slight whiff of automotive interest should check it out next year.