Driving around Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit in a supercar is an unforgettable experience, but imagine being chauffeured around the track by drivers from the world’s most popular car show, using two of the fastest supercars in the world.
Well that’s exactly what Gulf News tabloid! got to do last week.
The BBC’s Top Gear was on the capital’s Formula 1 track, which will now exclusively broadcast on Starz Play, an on-demand streaming service. One of the hosts, Chris Harris, and the show’s anonymous driver, The Stig, were both on location and invited the media along for a driving experience.
The invitation-only event was top secret and major security measures were applied, going as far as to take away our mobile phones.
I spot The Stig walking over to the track, with someone in front and behind him to stop any bystanders from approaching him.
After signing what seemed like an endless number of waivers stating that if I was hurt during the experience no one else was liable, I was given my helmet. The first to drive me around the circuit was Harris, who originally gained fame from his YouTube car show.
Super chilled out, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, Harris was as down to earth as they come. A few minutes in his presence and you realise that this guy is a walking car encyclopedia.
After the short formal introductions were over, Harris wasted no time in revving the engine of the Mercedes AMG GTS, getting out of the track’s pit-lane and flying round the corner. All along he was chatting casually and even looking at me while speaking, which made me very uncomfortable because I would have much preferred him concentrating on the road.
“So have you been in a supercar before?” Harris asked, after a long “hmmmm” sound, I decide the safest answer was, “no, I haven’t.”
I figure shorter answers would keep him from looking away from the road.
We then flew at full speed at a straight part of the track but Harris continued the conversation, as if he were cruising on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche. I pretended that it was all cool and I was in no way worried about crashing or dying. In reality, all the questions I planned to ask him had flown out the window and I had no idea what I was asking.
“I think, I have about 15 cars?” Harris said in response to a question I don’t recall asking. Phewww, maybe I was asking some sensible questions after all, subconsciously.
“Oh my… my legs are flying in the air, I can’t put them on the floor,” I said.
Now, I do not claim to be an expert at social interactions but I do believe that was not the best response. But that is information that someone should tell you prior to the experience, to tone down the shock: “by the way, expect your legs to lift off the floor when you are going at full speed,” or something of the sort.
I decided to somehow redeem myself by asking Top Gear and car-related questions.
He said he was pretty shocked when Chris Evans first called him and asked him to be on the show but decided it was an amazing opportunity and accepted.
“It [Top Gear] was pretty daunting to start with because it is a big brand… it is difficult following the superstars that did it before. I went into it with an open mind and I went into it expecting it to be really quite difficult and unpleasant. But surprise, surprise it wasn’t,” Harris said.
The smell of burning tyre filled the car as we drifted round a corner, and I was curious about to how he drifts so effortlessly. Harris gave an explanation that is meant to be simple to follow, so I nod my head in agreement and swiftly move on.
Harris confessed that although he owns 15 cars he only owns one house, “I’m not really into houses, well other than I’d just like to have somewhere to live,” he said.
Having owned hundreds of cars over the years, what is the most he has spent on a car? “I guess around £200,000 [Dh1 million]… I basically spend 80 per cent of my net income on cars,” he said.
The sound of the car drifting around yet another corner, as my body swings towards the door, is incredibly loud. And unfortunately, the end of the lap seems very close but not before I ask him how he feels about working with The Stig, who does not speak and can be perceived as grumpy?
He gets a cheeky smile on his face and says: “I am not allowed to talk about that individual, and I don’t really want to talk about that individual...you can make of that what you will. IT is really good at what IT does.”
We arrive back where we started in the pit lane and I thank him for the incredible experience.
After a drink of water it was time to meet the second driver of the day, the legend that is The Stig. But before I do I am provided with a set of instructions by his people. I am to sit in the car, seat belt on and not touch him. They also advise that I can speak to him if I wish, but he WILL ignore me.
I join The Stig in the Jaguar F-TYPE R AWD for the once-in-a-life time opportunity.
He is thin, dressed in his trademark white race suit and full faced helmet. I say hello, which is not even remotely acknowledged, and as soon as my seat belt is on we are off.
We get onto the track at full speed and turn at the first corner without the need to slow down all that much, which makes me scream rather loudly. The Stig was unfazed by my presence, or screams, and continues to turn the wheel and foot on the gas.
I try to concentrate on the empty track ahead however, the silence in the car is extremely uncomfortable. So I decided to speak, even if The Stig will not. But I was suddenly pressed against my seat as a long stretch of track appeared, which for The Stig presented the opportunity to go faster.
His driving feels different to that of Harris. He is faster, drifts smoother and is not a massive fan of the break. He is a different calibre of professional.
However, the feeling of fright soon turned into one of exhilaration. He swung round the corners really tightly, without much fuss and before I knew it he is slowing down as we enter the pit area, indicating the end of the journey.
Harris did not slow down when entering this area. I wonder if it is perhaps habit, from the Formula 1 driving days?
We arrive at our destination, I thank him, but he just continues to stare ahead. It is a strange life when you are paid to drive, stay silent (even in soaring temperatures) and ignore people.
Don’t miss it!
BBC Top Gear season 23 is now available to stream on starzplay.com.