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Fancy driving around the TG track?

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Unless you’re an A-list celebrity with an autobiography close to publication, or indeed Peta 23 From Essex, your chances of being invited to have a thrash around Top Gear’s glamorous test track and poke around Jeremy’s dingy studio have, traditionally, been minimal. 

Until now. Because – as you’ve doubtless gathered from the blanket news coverage over the last few weeks – you can now take part in the Top Gear Track Experience, which opens the glamorous, mildewy world of TG’s test track and studio to us mere mortals.

As TG.com’s current office teaboy – my autobiography’s not out for another few months, sadly – I headed down to the top secret location just off the A23 near Guildford to find out what it was all about.

The activities on offer are many. It starts a pair of off-road experiences, one for under-17s in a Range Rover Evoque, and one for grown-ups in a Land Rover Defender. Both the courses are serious off-road affairs, not just muddy tracks, requiring the Landies’ full suite of locking diffs, hill descent control and low range gearboxes.

It’s hardcore, technical stuff, made all the more difficult by the fact you’re being shot at by a real army man as you attempt to negotiate the slopes and divots. If the TG track was a real warzone, I’d look like a colander by now…

Back on the tarmac, I took a blast in an Ariel Atom around a handling course, in a bid to prove my face would hold up better to the Somerset lightweight’s warp-speed acceleration than Clarkson managed. Wearing an open-face helmet, I can cheerily report my head fared no better than JC’s and the permanent wind-frozen leer took a while to thaw. Things got no less feature-warping in a drag race between the Atom and Nissan GTR, which is about as close to petrolhead nirvana as it’s possible to get.

After which came a lesson from the tame racing driver itself: a chance to sit shotgun with the Stig for a lap in a properly fast car (I sampled a 911 GT3, which remained very much not on fire) and discover first-hand how the Follow-Through got its name. 

You can’t appreciate the gulf between a white-suited automaton with an extensive vocabulary for ducks and us normal humans until you realise quite what Stig can do with a car. I thought we were going off at the second-to last corner. Somehow we didn’t, though I swear I spotted a bead of sweat on Stig’s visor.

After that, a handbrake-tastic blast in a bevy of hot hatches on a specially made handling course, to get myself to grips with front-wheel drivers, before the big one.

Because, finally, came the challenge to set competitive instincts into overdrive: a lap in TG’s Reasonably Priced Car (though the venerable Kia c-apostrophe-eed rather than the newest Astra), and a chance to see how your speed compares to showbusiness’s jet-setting elite. And John Prescott.

How did I do? Let’s just say I didn’t trouble Ellen MacArthur’s spot atop the c’eed leaderboard, but didn’t suffer a Full Wogan either. Respectably mid-table.

So if you want to feel like May, Hammond, or, heaven forbid, Clarkson, you can’t do better than the Top Gear Track Experience. I’ve tackled supercar driving experience days before, but this is something else entirely. After all, what Red Letter day also features the chance to see the world’s biggest collection of slightly out-of-date beef Hula-Hoops festering gently in the back of a dingy production office? Find out more here

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