Taking laps with Top Gear’s Chris Harris and The Stig at Yas Marina Circuit ahead of new season

While audiences across the Middle East may only just be settling down for season 23, host Chris Harris’s thoughts are already on the next season, which is due to begin production in two weeks.
The Stig (left) and Chris Harris (right) of Top Gear at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Courtesy BBC/STARZ Play Middle East.
The Stig (left) and Chris Harris (right) of Top Gear at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Courtesy BBC/STARZ Play Middle East.

It’s not every day you find yourself debating the wisdom of a hearty breakfast as you’re thrown around Yas Marina Circuit at 241 kilometres per hour in a car driven by Top Gear’s very own The Stig. But then, it’s not every day that Top Gear, the world’s most popular motoring show, celebrates its 23rd series finally reaching screens in the region thanks to an exclusive deal between BBC Worldwide and streaming service STARZ Play Middle East.

This season is the show’s first since the highly publicised departure of former hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Sadly, despite our best efforts, The Stig was as talkative in real life as his famously silent TV persona suggests, so instead we sat down for a chat with co-host Chris Harris after our spin around the track.

While audiences across the Middle East may only just be settling down for season 23, Harris’s thoughts are already on the next season, which is due to begin production in two weeks. As expected, the show is again the source of intense speculation following the departure of Chris Evans after just one series, and fellow host Matt LeBlanc’s future on the show.

Harris wasn’t giving too much away, but the former YouTube star did admit that we may see a lot more of him in season 24.

“All I can say is that if you don’t like seeing me on Top Gear you’re going to be disappointed in the future — I’ll be doing a bit more, yeah,” he reveals. “Other than that, beyond the announcements that have been made in the last few months about who is definitely leaving and who is definitely staying, don’t expect any changes.”

It’s unsurprising that the new version of the show has faced a few teething issues — Clarkson and co had helmed the show for 12 years, taking it from niche petrolhead territory to the BBC’s biggest global brand — and Harris admits that stepping into their shoes was a challenge. “It was daunting, but the great thing about a brand as big as this is that you’re surrounded by people who know what they’re doing and look after you. They know what they want from the brand and you can’t step beyond that. That means for me, rather than worry about the enormity of it and how many people watch it, all I wanted to do was discharge my duty on the show.”

Harris has a simple but effective interpretation of precisely what that duty is. “I know what I do,” he says. “I drive cars, quite fast and sideways, and I talk about them and entertain people through the medium of cars. I’ve done that for 15 or 20 years and I’m quite good at that. It’s if you step out of that that you get in trouble, so I’ve just focused on what I do and left the amazing team of people I’m surrounded by to do their stuff.”

Although he is committed to just carrying on doing what he does he best, Harris concedes there are some marked differences between producing his web show and a behemoth like Top Gear.

“When I do stuff for my channel, I’ve got Neil, my cameraman and editor and the talented one in the duo, as a two-man band doing literally everything ourselves. Then with Top Gear, well, take the time I landed here in Abu Dhabi to shoot the [Aston Martin] Vulcan episode at Yas for this series in March — we’re 34 people walking through customs full of bags and you’re thinking ‘we’re going to make seven minutes of television here, this is ridiculous.’ But it’s what you need. Just go and study those films, they are easily the equal of anything on television.”

Viewers can look forward to seeing the Vulcan take on Yas Marina Circuit’s bends in episode four of season 23. Although the team weren’t officially here to shoot on this publicity trip, we could yet be in for a surprise — Harris had been distracted by events taking place out on the circuit before we sat down to talk, and he could hardly wait to get back outside.

“We’re not shooting this time round, but a [McClaren] 675LT and P1 just turned up, so we’re going to get out and film them on the circuit after this — that’s pretty spectacular if you’re into cars. You just wouldn’t see it anywhere else in the world.”

Top Gear, season 23, is available now at www.starzplay.com

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Published: September 21, 2016 04:00 AM

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