Top Gear heads Stateside to sample NASCAR

After a strong season-opener last week, Top Gear continued its solid form with another very entertaining episode to hit the airwaves last night in the UK. This week’s affair – much like world politics – had a very ‘East meets West’ feel to it, with explorations of the phenomena known as NASCAR and the emerging Chinese car market…

More on those in a moment. Sandwiched in between those was this week’s ‘Star In a Reasonably Priced Car’, former Friends actor Matt LeBlanc, a man whose post-Friends achievements have amounted to little. While he certainly may not be a talented man in front of the camera, he is more engaging in the Top Gear studio given he’s a raving petrolhead. His hot lap around the show’s test track is certainly impressive…

What Matt LeBlanc lacks in acting talent, he more than makes up for it with skills behind the wheel Mercedes' new SLS AMG Roadster is given a test run

While Mercedes’ gull-winged SLS AMG coupe is certainly a spectacular to look at, it’s woefully impractical (not to mention overpriced). But a tweaked version is on the market, with the car-maker releasing a £200,000(!) roadster version. It’s horrific price is more than made up for with bucketfuls of opposite lock, slipping a sliding with Clarkson behind the wheel.

Undoubtedly the strongest parts of the hour were the features that bookended the episode. It opened with Richard Hammond taking a closer look at the phenomenon that is called NASCAR, which stages seventeen of the twenty best-attended sporting events each year.

While the sport is regarded by most motorsport purists as an environment for hicks whose attention spans are limited to watching cars turn left all day, one cannot deny its popularity. And as Hammond capably demonstrated, it’s certainly got a lot more going for it, and the segment is well-supported by interviews with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and ex-F1 racer Juan Pablo Montoya.

Juan Pablo Montoya chats to Richard Hammond Clarkson and May sample some of China's more questionable cars...

And bringing the episode to a great close, Clarkson and James May take a trip to China to investigate the theory that the world will be dominated by Chinese-made cars in just five years’ time. In China, a new car is bought every 2.3 seconds (a rate quicker than the whole of Europe), and copying more famous designs are rife – perhaps not surprising given that the country is the home of the cheap knock-off.

Fortunately, this segment is a good mix of the light-hearted (keep an eye out for Kung Fu Stig!) and the more serious approaches, and a great insight into the country’s incredible manufacturing boom. There’s plenty of food for thought from this…

Richard Bailey
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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.