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Top Gear: Ranking the Epic Races

July 11, 2012 by Matt

Top Gear TG TGUK Presenters Team Guys Blokes Jeremy Clarkson Richard Hammond James May

A few stipulations: It goes without saying this list features only episodes from the original, ongoing, may-it-live-forever British version of the show. The other country-specific spinoffs aren’t worthy of mention. Also, I’ve included only races that have been long enough to split into multiple segments on the show. And finally, I disregarded “road trips” wherein the guys each debate the merits of whatever cars each of them have selected, and the overall goal isn’t really finishing first.

Naturally, any of these, no matter how far down the list, has more charm and entertainment value in 30 seconds than any of the aforementioned country-specific Top Gear spinoffs have in an entire season.

  1. Aston Martin DB9 vs. Trains (Season 4, Episode 1) Race route: London to Monte Carlo. The original Epic Race and still the best. There was something absolutely electrifying about the production values, the closeness of the finish and the allure of the car itself, the then-new and drop-dead gorgeous DB9. This is the race that continues to hold car guys glued to their TV sets for its entirety.
  2. Jaguar XK120 vs. Motorcycle vs. Locomotive (Season 13, Episode 1) Race route: London to Edinburgh, Scotland. Also known as The Race to the North. Absolutely magnificent. No, it may not have featured the supercar du jour, but it’s hard to witness sweeping overhead shots of the brutish Tornado locomotive or classic XK120 blasting through the northern English countryside, set to a driving orchestral score, and not be stirred. It’s an epic slice of classic British technological heaven.
  3. Nissan GT-R vs. Japanese Bullet Train (Season 11, Episode 4) Race route: Hakui, Japan, to the top of Mount Nokogiri (near Tokyo). Easily the closest finish of all the Epic Races. In spite of the “camouflaged” editing, with most installments you can sort of tell who has the edge near the end, but this one is a true nail-biter. Fun to watch.
  4. Caterham Seven vs. Building One (Season 8, Episode 7) Race route: The guys must build a Seven from a kit before the Stig can drive a completed one from the factory in Surrey to the presenters’ location in Scotland. I’ll admit I’m a bit biased in favor of this one because constructing a Caterham in my garage would be paradise. So as much as the guys bickered, and I wished they have just let James direct the whole thing, I did truly enjoy watching it come together. Bonus points for an Epic Race featuring the Stig, whose interactions with ordinary folks are invariably entertaining.
  5. Car vs. Bike vs. Public Transport vs. Speedboat (Season 10, Episode 5) Race route: Across London to London City Airport. Another Epic Race including the Stig, who is given the public transport option and subjected to the most “face time” with mere mortals we’ve ever seen. Otherwise a bit of a snoozer, watching all the participants crawl through London traffic.
  6. Ferrari Daytona vs. Powerboat (Season 12, Episode 5) Race route: Portofino, Italy, to St. Tropez, France. A short route, and a bit simplistic, saved by the Daytona. James’ time in the powerboat can get monotonous, consisting as it does of him getting his kidneys pulverized for the duration of the race, but any time Richard cracks the Daytona’s 12 butterflies on the Autoroute and lets the Ferrari’s engine sing, it’s all worth it.
  7. Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren vs. Boats (Season 6, Episode 6) Race route: London to Oslo, Norway. Debits for one of the parties not actually finishing the race. Bonus points for the beautiful shots of the SLR McLaren crossing the ├śresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. All in all, an okay race.
  8. Bugatti Veyron vs. Cessna 182 (Season 7, Episode 5) Race route: Switzerland to London. More demerits for one of the parties not actually finishing the race as planned. Jeremy’s comments about the Veyron are entertaining, however, and the car puts on a show. How could it not, with 1,000 horsepower on tap?
  9. Ferrari 612 Scaglietti vs. Jet Plane (Season 5, Episode 8) Race route: London to Verbier, Switzerland. The second Epic Race, this one would have been better if the featured car had been more compelling, but the 612, as nice as it may be to drive, is kind of revolting to look at. Not a very interesting race route, either.
  10. Jaguar XJ vs. Earth’s Rotation (Season 16, Episode 6) Race route: Across the width of England, from west to east. Again, not a very interesting car, and witnessing the trash talk between the opposing sides being as fun as it is, competing against “the Sun” isn’t terribly compelling on account of the lack of give and take. Overblown.
  11. Porsche Panamera S vs. Mail (Season 13, Episode 4) Race route: Southern England to northern Scotland. Just depressing. Racing a letter across the “height” of Britain? In a hideous Panamera? Okay…

So…there you have it. Comments, corrections and additions welcome. I should note that all of these are available in their entirety if you subscribe to Netflix’s streaming service (no affiliation).

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1 Comment

  1. Mike B. says:

    I am glad I am not the only one who ranks the Veyron race low. They get too excited about that car. I do like the episode where James topped out the SS version though.

    I also agree on your #1 choice, the earlier season were better. The presenters seemed more excited and they show felt much less scripted.

    #4 is one I also love, yet for some reason don’t watch it as often.

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