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‘Top Gear’ episode 1 recap | A new beginning, again

Season 27 of Top Gear kicked off Sunday night, and we were there on our couches for the premiere to see everything Chris Harris, Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness had to offer. With only five episodes in this season, this new group of characters doesn’t have much time to get it right.

They started with a bang, on a massive road trip through Ethiopia in cars identical to their first vehicle purchases. Before that, though, the hosts recognized the rebirths and numerous changes “Top Gear” has gone through since Clarkson, Hammond and May left the premises. Good on “Top Gear” for not brushing over any sort of controversy and unrest, then getting on with the show as it’s meant to be.

As is typical for “Top Gear,” the adventure/story portion of the show was definitely the most entertaining. We wholeheartedly approve of all the vehicles these guys bought as their first transportation — watching Chris Harris toss his little Mini around the sand and rocks was especially joyful. The boys get on rather well together for just starting off, and while the interludes for challenges didn’t feel totally natural, the challenges themselves were still fun to watch. Being in Ethiopia with such a vast array of alien-to-us shooting locations definitely helped keep us entertained from a visual standpoint.

We weren’t surprised to see Chris Harris handling the “serious car review” portion of the show where he pitted a Ferrari 488 Pista against a McLaren 600LT — the others aren’t traditional automotive journalists. We won’t give away who won, but the Ferrari did manage to surprise us in one particular area.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the whole episode is how the three hosts got on with each other (Sabine Schmitz was nowhere to be seen). There’s no Captain Slow or American car maniac amongst the group, but a comedian (Paddy) and cricketer (Freddie) certainly do bring fresh voices and perspectives. We’ll give them time to warm up to each other as the season goes on, with a new episode this coming Sunday. One thing we know for sure after this first go: Chris Harris really does not like the hot desert as much as he loves hot, burning rubber.

EXCLUSIVE: We Chatted With Chris Harris About Season 27 of Top Gear

Top Gear Finds Its Chemistry Again

The new season of BBC America’s Top Gear will debut on Sunday, July 14. With the last few seasons as a reference point, the idea of a new season of the show may have lost its luster for some. However, season 27 has some new hosts and is bringing back one of the best car reviewers in the business for another go, Chris Harris.

I had a chance to screen a few episodes of the new season and then have a quick chat with Chris before the premiere. 

For those who don’t know, Harris will be joined by Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff and Paddy McGinness. Freddie isn’t largely known in the states, and neither is Paddy, but they’re both huge stars in the UK.

Freddie was is a former cricketer and was one of the best players in the game in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, he’s made a name for himself in broadcasting. Paddy is a well-known comedian, actor, and television personality. Together they bring a rough-and-tumble sense of humor to the show and are a nice complement to Chris. 

The Right Group

top gear Chris, Freddie, Paddytop gear Chris, Freddie, Paddy
Image provided by BBC America

“It’s fantastic fun,” Chris told me over the phone. “You can’t fake what we’re doing.” He went on to say that he’s been a fan of both Freddie and Paddy for a while now. “I’m in a wonderful position of getting to work with two people who I think are great.”

Chris did say he had to get used to the banter a bit and be able to hit back with quick lines to the other two hosts of the show. “Last year, I’d have asked him for his autograph,” Chris said when speaking of Freddie. 

The banter is what helps make this season special. The last season featured Chris Harris, Matt Leblanc, and Rory Reid. It was a notable step in the right direction. However, the addition of Freddie and Paddy brings back a level of humor that hasn’t been with the show since the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond.

You can tell the three like each other, but they also love embarrassing each other and competing with each other. It’s a good dynamic and a lot of fun to watch. “I think as a team, we’re really strong,” Chris said. 

More Than Just a Car Show

Chris also discussed the need to reach a wider audience with the show. He said it can’t just be a car show anymore. It’s about entertaining a wide audience, and these new hosts help do that. “I think we have a really good balance of knowledge, entertainment, fun—just joy really.”

Usually, when I hear something like that I roll my eyes, but having screened a few of the episodes early, I can genuinely say Chris is right. The new season of Top Gear is just enjoyable. That’s not to say it’s not without a few cringe-worthy moments. There are some stumbles over lines in front of the studio audience and some of the banter borders on outright bullying, but it feels like nobody is taking anyone too seriously, which is exactly what the series needed.

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It’s a silly car show, and it feels fun and unguarded again in a way it hasn’t recently. That’s what makes this season worth watching. 

Chris talked a little bit with me about the process. He said that it’s largely off the cuff. While the in-studio and in front of an audience portion of the show is at least partially scripted, the drives the team does and a lot of the challenges are not.

“So, we start with an outline,” Chris said. “You have to have an idea of what you want to do and what you want to achieve, but nothing is really scripted. The producer’s job is to find extraordinary locations, create things to do, and then throw us into the mix.”

Plenty of Amazing Cars

While the show is definitely trying to branch out and be appealing to more people, don’t for a second think that cars aren’t the focus of the show. The hosts drive some of the best and worst cars imaginable. In the first episode, they all buy similar cars to the first ones they purchased and go on a massive road trip through Ethiopia.

There’s plenty of fun track stuff, too. Chris takes the helm of the supercars and hypercars most of the time, driving everything from the Ferrari 488 Pista and McLaren 600LT to the Tesla Model 3 and the Dallara Stradale among many others. It’s fantastic to have him doing his own thing in these cars.

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When I asked him about these test drives, he said he thinks many of the Top Gear test drives will be “a bit straighter now.” He said some of the older tests in previous seasons tried to be more humorous because they thought they needed that. Now they can do longer and more focused segments on specific cars. “The show can carry that,” he said. “They’re a bit more like the stuff I used to do on the Internet.”

The bottom line for the show it will continue being what people have come to expect from Top Gear, but now it’s what it should have been since its three well-known hosts left and went to Amazon. Is it perfect? No, far from it. But it’s a lot of fun, and there are now three hosts who have some genuine chemistry on screen and who all seem do enjoy doing ridiculous things in cars. 

Watch Chris Harris Hustle the Porsche 919 Around a Racetrack

Harris Looks Genuinely Amazed

The Porsche 919 is the amazing hybrid Le Mans-winning car that the company recently retired from racing. Top Gear’s Chris Harris was lucky enough to have a chance to take the car for a spin around Cuidad Del Motor De Aragon in Spain. He also took a look behind the scenes of the car to see the nitty-gritty details, too.

The Porsche 919 Hybrid is an amazing vehicle. It pairs a 2.0-liter V4 engine that makes 500 hp with an electric motor that adds another 400 hp. Add to all that some serious aerodynamic treatment, computer power management systems that help with power assist and torque vectoring, and you’ve got one of the most amazing cars ever built.

Before Harris was allowed to drive the 919 on the Spanish racetrack, he had to spend some time in a simulator. The simulator looks like an awesome giant video game. Most car enthusiasts dream video game. However, Harris claims it isn’t a fun place to be. The simulator looks amazingly real, though. 

After that, Harris goes over the 919 EVO, which Porsche is using to try to beat track lap times around the world. The EVO is a souped-up version of the regular 919 and roughly makes an amazing 1,200 hp in a car that weighs about 1,940 pounds. That’s an insane power-to-weight ratio.

Then Harris gets out on the racetrack. The 919 looks like a true force. You can tell in the video that the electronics are picking up the slack and allowing for faster speeds. Harris says it feels like the car is “doing more thinking around the lap than me.”

The advanced electronics systems make adjustments to the car to compensate for the driver. This allows corners to be taken faster and boost applied when necessary. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Check out the video below. 

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Pink Pig joins Forza Motorsport 7 along with Top Gear car pack

Forza Motorsport 7 is getting an update tomorrow. This July update means new playable cars and events for the game, and it starts with Porsches.

Hot on the heels of Porsche’s “Pink Pig” livery making a memorable re-appearance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the original car that wore it is introduced for the game. The tongue-in-cheek, unique-looking livery was created for the 1971 917/20 wearing number 20, and while the actual car is held at Porsche’s Zuffenhausen museum, Forza gamers can now experience it in virtual form. To balance out the vintageness, the other Porsche added in the update is the 2019 911 GT3 RS. It’s a mad, manic car with more than 500 horsepower developed from its naturally aspirated engine.

The July update also includes a Top Gear-themed car pack, available free for Forza Motorsport 7 Car Pass owners. It includes seven cars: the 2017 Ferrari 812 Superfast, the 2018 McLaren 720 S, trackday specials Vuhl 05RR, Exomotive Exocet Sport V8 XP-5, and KTM X-Bow F GT4, along with two classic cars: the 1964 Porsche 904 Carrera GTS and 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Especially the 1.3-liter, 90-hp Alfa Romeo is a sweet, stand-out addition amongst the more powerful cars.

There are also changes made to getting cars: all “exclusive” cars will be unlocked and made purchaseable with in-game credits, after the player has reached Car Collector tier. This means more than 100 previously exclusive cars are now accessible.

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