AOL Cars drives the Top Gear test track
Boasting the official BBC seal of approval, you can be assured this isn't some cynical attempt to cash in on Top Gear's popularity. Instead, punters will be wholly immersed in the show, being able to take a tour of the studio, as well as participate in activities inspired by Clarkson and Co's most iconic moments.
We prepared our best racing driver's excuses and made our way to Top Gear HQ to see if it's worth your money.
Fans of the show will recognise parts of the security-heavy Dunsfold Aerodrome, as the site and its surrounding roads are heavily used for filming. Things get even more familiar as we're ushered into the studio itself, which – despite being a lot smaller than it looks on TV – is complete with the iconic engine block coffee table and a plethora of the show's past creations, including a rather forlorn-looking convertible people carrier and the gang's ill-fated BMW art car.
As cool as it is exploring the set, the big draw for most will be the chance to take to the wheel of the reasonably priced car. Costing a not inconsiderable £175 – so priced as only one customer can drive at a time due to the circuit's figure-of-eight configuration – the experience kicks off with a 15-minute introduction to the circuit via a video game simulation. It's not quite what we'd had in mind, but after being whisked into the reasonably priced car itself (not the current Vauxhall Astra, but rather the Kia Ceed of previous series) and lining up on the starting line, we wished we'd spent longer learning the route.
Thankfully there's a pro driver on hand to talk you around the course, and after a single sighting lap, we're lined up for our timed run. Unlike the celebs who turn up, one shot at glory is all we had (what's that we said about racing driver's excuses?) so our overall time of 1.53.11 isn't overly impressive. However, we can now confirm (after a bum-clenching near miss) the second to last corner really is the hardest on the circuit and that getting lost (a-la Jonathan Ross) is easier than you might think. There's also a real sense of excitement in taking part in such a well-known TV set piece – something you certainly wouldn't get at your average track day.
There are numerous other activities available, all of which are designed to recreate famous moments of the show. Fancy rearranging your face at the hands of an Ariel Atom? No problem. How about being shot at by a tank (thankfully firing blanks and fitted with a 'laser tag' system), as you attempt to avoid being hit by hiding behind caravans (naturally) on the off-road course? It's all here.
It's easy to baulk at the prices charged for the Top Gear Track Experience, particularly given the limited time spent on each activity (hot laps wit the Stig, for instance, cost £60 and last just three minutes). However, far from coming away disappointed, the event proved to be an entertaining day out and gives a real taste of what it's like to be a part of the most popular factual program in the world.
If you've got a Top Gear fanatic in the family, we'd highly recommend it.