If you’ve directed your Internet browser to TopGear.com over the past few days, you’ll have noticed our dispatches from Goodwood Festival of Speed - a gathering of individuals brought together by speed. Speed and loafers. But yesterday, we were at the Red Bull Soapbox Race in London. This was a very different celebration of speed…
At 11am on Sunday, 20,000 people turned up to Alexandra Palace to watch 70 amateur teams throw homemade soapbox racers down one of the steepest roads in London - a hay bale-bordered, 420m long run that drops 40m from top to bottom.
As you’d imagine, the course has a few obstacles: four jumps in total, a few chicanes and two faux-policemen with speed cameras at the halfway point. Predictably, the crowds were hoping for as many soapbox-to-obstacle encounters as possible. They weren’t disappointed.
Elsewhere in the pits - teams were finalising their preparations. Bobsleigh-like push starts were being perfected; tyre pressures were checked (really) and dance routines for the ‘showmanship’ element of the judging criteria were run and re-run.
Then there were the racers. They included a curious nod to fish and peas, a giant asparagus, a scotch egg and an eight-foot Usain Bolt - in full lightning strike pose. But there was some actual engineering under there. Teams spoke of drafting in university students, CAD design and clay modelling. Team Phya-Bird told us of ‘issues with the surface quality of the GRP moulds’ during their build, and a crew of Jaguar Land Rover engineers preached the merits of employing carbon composites.
But by 12:15, all the chat didn’t matter. It was race time. And the judges - mountain biker Gee Atherton, trials rider Danny Macaskill and Red Bull Racing Chief Designer Rob Marshall - were waiting to be dazzled. The criteria? Creativity, speed and showmanship.
Despite the heavyweight adjudicators, one man refused to show his nerves prior to ‘push-off’ - Christian Horner, Infiniti Red Bull Racing team principal who took the team’s own F1-style soapbox down the course. “Today’s all about having a bit of fun,” said Christian. “It’s great to see the effort people have made.” We asked him about his focus for the race - speed or showboating… “It’s about seeing the chequered flag,” he said. You can take the man out of F1 etc…
Click through the gallery below to see our highlights from today’s competitors then tell us below - what would you have come up with?