“YOU’RE the first journalist doing the challenge today”, pro driver Nathan tells me as I pull the KIA Cee’d on to the Dunsford Park track – adding to my nerves.
I’m taking part in Top Gear’s famous Star in a Reasonably Priced Car challenge as part of the brand new Top Gear Track Experience being opened up to the public.
Fans of the hit BBC show will finally be able to re-create some of the most iconic moments from the TV series, including the Ariel Atom experience (which saw Jeremy Clarkson’s face hilariously pinned back by the 100mph winds), and a Range Rover Evoque off-road experience, while being ‘shot’ at by a machine gun.
Fans are also able to have a hot lap with the Stig himself, as well as recording their very own time in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.
I’d had three laps on the video game version of the track, in the Top Gear studio, to familiarise myself with the route – before heading out to do my lap in the KIA Cee’d. Unlike the celebs who take the challenge, they have half a day to get to know the track.
Following one practise lap, I was given the green light and I was off round the former Second World War airfield. The time to beat is 1.42.1 set by FRIENDS star Matt Le Blanc, although judging by my virtual track times, I doubt I’ll get anywhere near that.
After throwing the modest Cee’d round the runway-turned-track, it’s an anxious wait to see how I got on. I think I did ok, except for a moment of under-steering on bend number 2, which I already know has cost me some vital seconds.
My time – 1.52.20, which includes an added three seconds for the weight of the co-driver, so without that I record 1.49.20, placing me in the top ten – just ahead of pop star Will.I.Am.
I’m pretty pleased with that. The pre-lap nerves have now gone and, like everyone else who will do their lap, I’m itching for another go.
But there’s no time to waste. Next I race in an Ariel Atom – against a Nissan GT-R, in my second experience of the day.
The Atom, which is open to the elements with no roof or windscreen (luckily the sun’s out), is capable of 0-60 in less than three seconds. Although sadly for me my boot gets caught on the pedals, which are terribly close together, so it takes a little longer to reach such speeds.
As part of the experience, I’m given a few laps around a temporary track to get used to the driving such a unique vehicle. The wind sticks my helmet to the headrest as I zoom down the converted runway.
Then, it’s time for the drag race – I’m given the opportunity to race both the Atom and the GT-R.
I’m successful in the Nissan and less so in the Atom – my heavy boots have thwarted me yet again.
After a spot of lunch, served from the American-style burger van, I take some time to look around the replica studio – where visitors are free to roam around the various vehicles on display from the show.
I’m also given the opportunity to sit in Clarkson’s chair and pretend to interview Hammond and May.
After which, I head out to take part in the Range Rover Evoque on the off-road course. One of the most famous moments of Top Gear saw Clarkson being chased by a tank. That’s not on offer here, but you do come under simulated gunfire, which tests your driving skills – and your nerves.
The marksman has a target to ‘hit’ on my vehicle, which triggers an alarm inside the vehicle if he finds his mark.
Even though I know no bullets are being fired, the sheer noise of the machine gun is enough to slow down my driving. My Range Rover Discovery is being put to the test on the uneven ground enough, without the distraction of faux shooting coming my way.
After just about surviving, I take the short drive back to the track for my hot lap with the Stig.
In true Stig fashion, there’s no polite “hello” or handshake awaiting me as I get his Porsche 911 GT3. In fact, there’s barely enough time for me to get a selfie with the man himself before we’re off hurtling round the track.
I try in vain to make conversation but he’s having none of it. And before I know it we’re back at the hanger – needless to say his lap time was a bit quicker than mine.
For the millions of viewers of the BBC show, the track experience is the perfect chance to be a part of Top Gear.
The track day, run by Brandscape, opens to all on 27th Aug and is open to those of all driving abilities, with some events available for those ages 11 and up.
So get yourself along and see if you can beat our time round that track – it shouldn’t be too difficult.
For more information visit topgeartrackexperience.com