Top Gear Season 18 Starts Sunday

Get ready on Sunday to torrent legally view the newest season of Top Gear. The Top Gear team has put up a few trailers to show just what we can expect from this new show. As always, there will be burnouts, big engines, and dry British wit a plenty, but there also seems to be a few surprises. One segment that looks particularly interesting is the brief clip of the hobbit in the NASCAR racer.

Once again, it’s time for the return of the greatest car show….in the world.

  

Top Gear USA Season Premier

The show Top Gear is highly revered in car enthusiast circles. Combining stunning visuals, wit, and humor, the British show has been the only one to successfully communicate the joys of being a gear head to non-gearheads. As such, it has grown quite popular aboard, and therefore must be copied and changed for U.S. consumption. The result is Top Gear USA with three hosts: Tanner Foust, Rutledge Wood, and Adam Ferrara. Moderate success in its first season has led to a renewal for a second season. The first season was plagued by poor host chemistry, lame jokes, and mediocre car segments. However, many of those negatives started to be chipped away as the show gelled. I was hoping that this season’s debut on Sunday would continue the momentum that the first season had gained.

The opening was quite jarring. Usually, there is a segment inside the studio outlining the show and some playful banter by the hosts. This time, you the viewer were dropped right in the middle of Texas for the show’s one and only segment: using old cars as pickup replacements for under $2,000. This strategy was quite smart. The average History channel viewer usually does not like cars, so opening immediately into the desert, in Texas, with pickups involved is sure to rope in non-enthusiast viewers. A cheap pickup challenge is wholly appropriate as well for American viewers. So, boring Ferrara voiceover aside, the show showed early promise.

The hosts then presented their car choices for the challenge. Foust bought a 80s BMW 3 series, Wood bought an early 90s Miata, and Ferrara bought a 70s Ford Maverick. It was here that the show began to worry me. A cheap pickup challenge is a great opportunity to involve little loved, but highly funny automotive orphans. Top Gear UK does this regularly. For instance, Top Gear USA could have used old El Caminos, Subaru Brats, and Ford Rancheros. Ferrara actually got closest to this since he bought a Ford Maverick which shared a platform with the Ranchero. Ferrara even cut the back out of the Maverick, effectively creating a Ranchero. Odd car choices aside, the segment did not turn me off just yet.

To go along with the pickup theme, the challenges were mixes of cowboy nostalgia and modern hauling capability. Oh, and turning all the cars into monster trucks for some reason or another. The segments were pretty funny, but you didn’t hear much about the cars at all. Wood, Ferrara, and Tanner would make references to say the BMW being preppy and full of tech, but gave no facts or stories behind such statements. As the show went on, it felt more like a reality show with cars, instead of a show about cars.

Also, there weren’t enough jokes about pickups in general. Top Gear USA could have used this segment as a jumping off point to make fun of suburban cowboys in their always clean pickup trucks. On the other hand, they could have showed the importance pickup trucks still play in the American workforce. That’s the great thing about the original Top Gear; they plug cars into larger societal issues, sometimes serious, sometimes just to make a jab at people. This makes the show more light-hearted and fun. Without this element, the show is too dry and one dimensional, especially for those that aren’t huge car buffs.

I chalk many of these shortcomings up to this episode being the season premier. The History Channel seems to have tried to attract new viewers by dumbing down the automotive aspect of the show as much as possible. In this respect, they were successful since this Top Gear USA debut had more viewers than the first season. Besides, the show is still leagues better than The Car Show, which we also reviewed. My only fear is that History dumbs down the show too much in an attempt to grab viewers, stripping all car content out in the process. TV has enough lowest common denominator content on already, from Toddlers and Tiaras to Jersey Shore. There is no need to have another vapid, boring reality TV show on the air, even if it has cars. If Top Gear USA can add some car content back in, and improve the writing just a touch, the show could be great.

I hope my fears are unfounded when I turn in next week, which looks to be a lot of fun. There will be the Ferrari 458 review, and a review of the hosts’ first cars. This premier might just of had a case of stage fright.

Top Gear USA is on the History Channel at 10/9c. You can visit their website here.

  

The Indy 500: An Old Dog learns some new Tricks

Fast was the word of the day as a near record setting pace livened up a hard fought race, with a surprise twist of a finish.

It was a beautiful day for racing today with weather in the Mid 80’s, little humidity, and a cloud free sky; this is a Morning in America type scene. There was all the usual fanfare that precedes the event; a parade of past winners, fireworks, and a B2 Bomber all flew overhead. Top Gear: USA host Tanner Foust was even there do a stunt involving a full size Hot Wheels track. The circus was on full swing.

On pole sat little known racer Alex Tagliani. An even more surprising showing by Simona Slivestro from Switzerland overshadowed him qualifying. Also known as the Swiss Missile, she experienced catastrophic suspension failure in practice, flipped her car, and ended up with second-degree burns on her hand. However, the next day she bandaged them and put the car in 22nd position. After the theatrics of qualifying, the race was shaping up to be a show of the ages.

There is no sound on Earth like that of the beginning of an Indy car race. You don’t as much here the cars as you feel them. As the cars approach your seat a wave of sound comes over you followed by a resonance that will not stop ringing from inside your head for the next few days.

This start was like 100 before it. Tagliani jumped out in front, but was soon overtaken by Target Racing driver Scott Dixon. Tagliani on lap 10 soon extinguished Dixon’s lead, the race was officially on. Drivers Jockeyed back and forth until the first caution came out. On Turn 2, Lotus Racing driver Takuma Sato skid into the wall. Shortly after that caution was lifted, his teammate E.J. Viso slid into the wall at turn 4. Tony Kanaan, a former Indy 500 winner, was the lone Lotus driver left.

On lap 35, Scott Dixon overtook Tagliani once again. From there, the field began to settle. The lead pack separated from the back markers and Dixon continued to put time onto his lead. One of these back markers was Simona Slivestro who suffered from mechanical issues all day. Eventually, she would be forced to retire from the race. Her day had come to a close, but everybody else sped headlong into the rest of the race.

On lap 60, Franchitti would become the third leader of the day as he overtook his teammate Scott Dixon. Open lap pitting then began as a few drivers began heading in for fuel, including Dixon. A loose wheel on Vitor Meira’s car caused him to crash and bring out the second caution of the day.

On a caution lap, the field is frozen and no one can change position. This means that Scott Dixon, and others that pitted, were stuck near the back of the field. At this point Ed Carpenter found himself in the lead for a short time until Dario Franchitti relinquished him of the position on lap 100.

After the pace laps for that caution ended, the race once again hit its rhythm. Orial Servia who was soon joined by a hard charging Scott Dixon overtook Dario Franchitti. Average speeds at this time reached 178mph, 5mph faster than the previous fastest race.

Teams began pouring into the pits out of necessity after the long run. After this period, Dario Franchitti would still be in the lead. However, on lap 147, Tagliani’s day would end when a flat tire caused him to crash. Now, with nearly 50 laps to go, pit strategy becomes crucial.

Some teams decided to pit, including Danica Patrick, who hedged their bets that there would be a few more cautions to come. If that were the case, these teams would not need to pit later, setting themselves up for higher positions. However, if the race continued with only a few cautions, these teams would find themselves out of gas.

The next caution came shortly when an altercation in Turn one put two drivers into the wall. I happened to be sitting in that corner and witnessed the crash firsthand. Imagine two hockey players checking into the boards. Now have them move at around 200mph and you can imagine the sound and the fury that results.

Drivers that did not pit before chose to after the accident, including Dario Franchitti. Graham Rahal would then lead with around 30 laps to go. Also pressing for the lead was Tony Kanaan, the lone Lotus driver, who had been struggling through midfield all day.

Rahal would need to pit shortly though and on lap 180 Danica Patrick, who had also been struggling on the day, would inherit the lead. The crowd was now on its feet every time she passed. However, Danica too would need to pit and would end up doing so on lap 190, 10 laps short from glory.

Another little known driver, Bertrand Baguette would take the lead from their, but he was also need to pit at lap 197. From here, rookie J.R. Hildebrand would take the lead with three laps to go.

On the final lap, J.R. Hildebrand is out in front with Dan Wheldon on his tail. The crowd is into the race as Hildebrand makes his way around the course, Wheldon a little more than two seconds behind. On the final corner, Hildebrand goes to pass a slower driver instead of slightly backing off. He hits a rough patch of tarmac outside the racing line and slams into the wall hard. He begins sliding at an over 100 mph on the way to the checkered flag. Wheldon shoots out from behind him and seems to pass him before the yellow is out. The track fell silent as people were reeling from just who won the race. Further replays would show that it was Wheldon, a driver that did not have a full contract this year, had won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

  

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