Farewell, Dunsfold: Clarkson's final lap of the Top Gear test track
Farewell to Dunsfold - the orangutan on the last lap of the TG circuit
The condemned man has a final smoke on the track
The sinner orangutan’s last ride on the TG track
IT TOOK a while for the BBC’s senior management to understand what I was on about. They’d just canned Top Gear and couldn’t really understand my plans for bringing it back. Eventually, though, I managed to get a bit of face time in Jack Barclay’s Bentley showroom in Mayfair with Jane Root, the controller of BBC2 at the time.
It took some time for BBC executives to understand what I said. They just cut off the TG and couldn't understand my plan to resurrect the TG. In the end, I met with BBC2, the then big man, Jane Root, at the Bentley dealer on Mayfair Street.
Over a glass of wine I said that the show would have a studio, which would be in a hangar, and that outside there’d be a test track, where all the corners would be named after soft rock bands. “It’ll be a place,” I said, “where car things happen.” And the penny dropped.
With a glass of wine, we said that we have to have a test track on the outside of the studio hangar. The corners of the track are called soft rock bands. I said that there will be a change in the car world. Everything settles
With her backing, Andy Wilman, the producer, and I set out to find the “place” where these “car things” would “happen”, and ooh it was tricky. Britain is festooned with airfields and empty hangars, but everywhere we went it was the same story. “I’m afraid the RAF still needs it.” Or: “You’ll never get planning permission for that.”
She came back with Andy Wilman and I started looking for a place where the car world was changing. There are countless airports and empty hangars in the UK, but the replies in all places are - I am afraid the Royal Air Force will use it, you can not get authorization
In the end, while I was looking at a potholed and pockmarked option somewhere in the north, Andy rang from a place called Dunsfold in Surrey . . . and the rest is history.
In the end, when I saw the rugged choice in the north, Andy said that Surrey's Dunsfold could be used, and the rest of you know.
It was an active airfield, but the perimeter road was in good nick and the owner said we could paint a few lines on the main runway to mark out a bit of a track. To help us out with that, we called a Lotus test driver called Gavan Kershaw, who came down from Turnipshire and worked out the corners that are now so familiar to millions of people around the world.
This is an airport that is still in use, but the road surface is very good. Everyone also said that we can draw the track on the main runway. We asked Lotus test driver Gavan Kershaw, who came from Turnipshire and drew the familiar TG track.
We were especially pleased with Hammerhead, which, for no reason at all, wasn’t named after a soft rock band. It was a quick left followed by an opening right and it would, said Gavan, cause a badly set-up car to understeer. Weirdly, the car that understeered most through there was the Lotus Elise. And anything on Pirelli tyres. Everything else kicked its tail out and went through, sideways, trailing a thick cloud of tyre smoke. I loved the Hammerhead. But then I loved all the corners. It’ll always hold a special place in my heart, that track.
We are very satisfied with the hammerhead, I don't know why, not named after a soft rock band. Quick left bend to open the right bend
Which is why, last week, I was feeling a bit choked as I went through the gates for the very last time.
Therefore, when I last stepped into the track last time, I whimpered in my heart.
The Top Gear portable office was locked to stop me taking even a small souvenir. The hangar was empty. But the track was full of enough memories to keep me going. The missing lamp where Black Stig went off in an Aston Martin Vanquish. The tyre wall rendered cockeyed by the first White Stig’s Koenigsegg moment. And the two furrows left by me after a quarter-of-a-mile spin in a BMW 1-series.
The TG portable studio was locked in case I took the souvenir and the hangar was emptied. But the track still makes me forget. Black Stig drove the runway lights that the original Vanquish lost control. The first white Stig drove the CCX out of control and crashed into the shadow. And I am driving a 1M slid out of the 1/4 mile mark.
The longest accident, however, made that look like a parking bump. One of our drivers — I shan’t name him — had been asked by a director to get a shot of a Lamborghini’s speedometer reading 200mph. So off he went, in the pouring rain, to oblige. And he finished up more than half a mile away, pointing backwards, just yards from a primary school playground.
The longest accident made CCX's accident look like a small scraping. One of our drivers - not named - was asked by the director to drive Lambo to make a 200MPH speedometer close-up. Then he rushed under the heavy rain. Eventually ran for 1.5 miles, turned upside down, almost crashed into the elementary school playground
Then there were the celebrity moments. Lionel Richie was our first big-name American guest and we’d rented him what was described as a luxury motor home. What made it luxurious was that it had a picture on one of the walls. A picture, much to our American friend’s distress, of the Twin Towers. And it got worse, because while he was out on the track, trying to set a time in the reasonably priced Suzuki Liana, the front wheel fell off.
There was also a star event—Lionel Richie was the first American guest, and we rented a “luxury car” for him—the luxury is a painting on the wall that fits the American twin towers. And things got out of control, he played the front wheel when he drove the Liana brush circle.
Then we had Sir Michael Gambon bloody nearly rolling while doing the last corner. And Tom Cruise, who did exactly the same thing.
Sir Michael Gambon and Tom Cruise are almost in the last corner of the car (two-wheel drive)
As I said. Many memories. So I wanted to enjoy my last moment out there, which is why I was so very grateful to Ferrari for shipping a brand-new 488 over from Italy.
As I said, there are too many memories. So I hope to enjoy the last time, so I am very grateful to the official Malaysian horse to bring a new 488 from Italy.
I’d brought some guests. People who’d donated, between them, £100,000 to the Roundhouse charity in London to be there for my last hurrah.
There are also several guests. These live audiences donated £10 to London’s Roundhouse charity.
Or so I thought. In fact it turned out that what they’d really bid for was the chance to be driven round in the Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s LaFerrari.
Or this is my guess, in fact, they only pay for the test of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason's LaFerrari (Nick is also the owner of 250 GTO/330GTO S/N 3757LM on TG)
While we waiting for a go in that, I took them round in the amuse-bouche, the 488, and ooh it was good. Many people have said that because it’s now hurled along by a polar-bear-friendly turbocharged engine, it’s lost the magic of the naturally aspirated 458. But it hasn’t. It really, really hasn’t.
And when we waited for the test, I tried the pony, 488, Scorpio, this car is awesome. Many people say that environmentally friendly turbine engines lack the membrane method of self-priming 458. But not, really, really, too
Yes, you sense there’s been some marketing-led jiggery-pokery to make it sound “proper”, and the engine bay does look a bit empty, but from behind the wheel it feels pretty much identical to the 458, which means it feels better and more exciting than all its rivals. There’s a lightness in a Ferrari, a delicacy, that McLaren and Porsche and all the others just can’t match.
It is true that you can feel the pure blood in the mouth of the market, the engine compartment is indeed a bit empty, but in the car, this car is the same as the 458, that is to say, it is higher than all the opponents. The lightweight of the prancing horse has the unbreakable exquisiteness of the broken shoes and Nike.
There’s a lot of speed, too. Had I been so inclined, I could probably have done my fastest-ever lap in the 488. But I wasn’t so inclined. I was there to have fun, to kick the tail out and burn some rubber. Which is why Mercedes had sent along an AMG GT S.
The speed is as amazing. If I prefer this car, maybe I am breaking 488 to break the personal lap record. But I didn't pursue speed, I pursued fun, the dragons swayed, and the tires rolled. That is why the three-star star brings AMG GT S
The Ferrari is a wonderful thing — make absolutely no mistake about that. But the Mercedes is more . . . how can I put this? It’s more me. A big engine at the front, a gearbox at the back and a big smiley ape in the middle, shouting, “Power!” for no apparent reason every few seconds. The Ferrari is a quail’s egg dipped in the finest celery salt. The Merc is a great big steak, dripping in blood and horseradish.
The prancing horse is extraordinary - there is no problem. But the three-pointed star is even more..... so to say? More scarlet. In the middle of the big engine tail-end gearbox, a smiling orangutan shouts Power from time to time! The prancing horse is a quail egg with parsley powder, and the three-star star is a bloody unhealthy steak.
So I did a few laps in that, looking out of the side window at all the places where people had come off, and then it was time to choose. Which would I use for my final lap?
So I opened AMG in the last few laps and watched people from the side window out of control. What is the last lap?
The answer was obvious. It would have to be the Ferrari the Ferrari. Nick Mason’s million-quid hybrid.
The answer is obvious, Ferrari has a Ferrari, Nick Mason's million mixed super run
And so off I went for one last go in what most people would say is the greatest, most exciting car yet made. It’s up there, certainly. But I did look a bit quizzical when I first put my foot down hard, because while the acceleration was prodigious, it didn’t feel quite as savage as it had done in the McLaren P1.
So my last lap chose the best and most racing supersports in people's mouth. Obviously the evaluation is very high. But when I have a throttle, I have some doubts. This car is not as savage as the Nike P1.
What does surprise you is the way you think it absolutely must be time for a gearchange but the rev counter suggests that the petro-Faraday motor is only just starting to gird its loins. On and on the power comes, in a never-ending stream of relentless noise and thrust.
The amazing thing is that you think that the oil and gas hybrid will start to go online when the shift is made. Power is constantly flowing, sound waves and sprints come and go
When the dashboard and the steering wheel finally start to light up like the control room in a stricken nuclear power station and you pull on the right paddle to change up, you get your second surprise, because ooh it’s quick. Not blink-of-an-eye quick. Way faster than that. And then you’re in the next gear, and on and on comes the power again.
When the dashboard and steering wheel are finally as light as the slammed nuclear power plant, you can shift gears and immediately feel the speed. Not too fast, but far better than this. Into the next gear, the power continues to drain
Then it’s time for the tricky second-to-last corner, the one that caught out the celebrities because you’re going from a wide runway that dulls you to the sense of speed to a tiny slip road where everything feels much faster. You need to brake hard in a Ferrari the Ferrari, and that’s OK because it slows down the way it changes gear: immediately.
The penultimate bend, this wide and narrow area makes the speed of the car high. You have to brake hard, don't worry, because the brakes and shifts are just as fast.
Through the bends? Well, it was Nick’s car and it was my last-ever lap and I didn’t want to bin it, so perhaps I wasn’t pushing quite as hard as I should have been. But I dunno. While it felt sublime and planted and wondrous, I do seem to recall that Porsche’s alternative, the 918, has just a tad more grip.
Curve performance? Amount, this is Nick's private car, and this is the last lap, I don't want to get out of control, so I didn't go all out. But I don't know, although it is excellent and solid, but my confirmation is that the 918 with broken shoes has stronger grip.
Let’s not forget McLaren never wanted to see its P1 race the 918 around Dunsfold. It had done the maths and worked out that in those tight corners the Porsche’s four-wheel-drive system would give it the edge.
Remember that Nike does not want P1 and 918 to face each other in the TG dojo. After careful calculation, it is decided that the narrow curve is beneficial to the 4WD of the broken shoes.
We will find out one day which of these three cars really is the fastest. It’s on the to-do list. But for now it was time for the last lap. And I made it a good one. A smooth one. The sort of lap that would have made the Stig proud.
One day we will look at the performance of the Three Kings. To do. But this is the last lap, excellent and smooth, let Stig be proud of the circle
And then it was over. And back in the car park everyone was packing up to go home. And there was one of the guests left, saying she hadn’t had a go. And the only car that hadn’t been loaded onto the trailer was the Mercedes. So I took her out in that. And went nuts.
Everything is over, everyone back to the parking lot and started to go home. But there was another guest who did not leave, saying that she had not yet left the track. And only AMG GT S has not loaded the car, so I loaded her and galloped
My last lap, then. It was smoky. And I’m happy with that.
On the last lap, the tires are rolling, and the gorillas are mad.
Translation: Gearnnobs subtitles group - evolutionary generation (ALMF3512)