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Welcome to TG24: a battle for the best driver's car of 2019

24 hours, 15 cars and one track. Watch out Le Mans, TG's coming for you

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A bit like the freemasons, every Top Gear event has a different handshake. A moment that not only tells you it’s underway, but that everything will be alright.

This year’s happened like this. We all arrived at night to a quiet hotel, had a small bite to eat, drank absolutely no beer and went to bed early. The next morning we shuttled down to the paddock. Which we found entirely deserted. Eventually, one of our number remembered he’d been given some keys, labelled 31 to 40. Pit garage 31: empty. Pit garage 32: empty. Pit garage 33: radios (shouldn’t bother, all we do is lose them). Pit garage 34: snacks (wot no Quavers?) and not nearly enough water. Pit garage 35: drums labelled Repsol 100oct.

By this stage anticipation and concern are building in equal measure. Five garages down, five to go, and no cars yet.

And then comes pit garage 36. Soft morning light streams in and conspires to fall perfectly on the Porsche 935, lifted on its axle stands. It’s a perfect sight. One of this year’s rarest and most exciting cars, parked up and waiting quietly, patiently. No need to investigate further right now, just stop and drink this in.

We usually call this Performance Car of the Year – PCOTY for short. On other occasions it’s been Speed Week. But this year it’s TG24 and the format is slightly different. When we sit down to start planning this each year we try to imagine what the ultimate track day of this year’s greatest driver’s cars would look like, what it would include. This year we stripped the track day concept back so far we ended up asking ourselves, ‘Day? Why only day? What about night?’. And 10 seconds after that we were planning Le Mans.

But, aside from Le Mans – run primarily on public roads – where could we go that would allow us to run for 24 hours? And – no small matter this – had no noise restrictions. Step forward the awesome Portimao circuit in southern Portugal. Complete with southern Portuguese weather: perfect cloudless days pursued by moonlight and stars. Ah, night time, when the mercury had the decency to drop below 30 degrees and our skin stopped blistering.

So what will you be reading and watching over the coming weeks? I reckon every car you can see in the aerial images is pretty identifiable, but you’ve got to admit that the 15 machines we’ve lined up span a wide river of talent.

Ford Ranger Raptor and Ariel Atom 4? One not only weighs a quarter of the other, but is literally four times faster to 62mph. Mercedes-AMG A45 and McLaren 720S Spyder? Ford Focus ST and Hyundai i20 WRC – yes, a real one, in full gravel spec. And yes, you’ll see what that looks like skidding around on a race track. And on a rally stage, because they’ve got one of those here as well. Porsche Cayman GT4, Renaultsport Megane Trophy-R (might as well put a ‘vs’ between those two right now).

Tesla Model 3 Performance, Jaguar Project 8, Toyota Supra, Toyota Supra again (spotter’s points available), Aston Martin DBS Volante, and then ramping up to a crescendo of track talent that reads Merc AMG GT-R Pro, Porsche 935 and, yep, it’s one of only two in existence, the all-conquering VW ID.R.

It’s one heck of a line-up. Some we’ll look at individually, others will slot into groups, we’ll pore over details, show you how to do a full anti-lag launch in a WRC car, you’ll be able to watch the 935 and ID.R sharing track space (and read Chris Harris’s words on them) and much more. But we don’t want to give everything away right now. That would only spoil the fun – now you know the cars involved have a go at working out what we might have tested against what. You’ll probably come up with better groupings than we did.

We have towers of spare tyres, Repsol has sent barrels of its newest fuel, and Chris Harris, bless him, has missed seeing some cricket for this. Welcome to the TG24.

We’ll have loads of stories building up to TG24, so stay tuned to TopGear.com over the coming days and weeks

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