Opinion – Why the resignation of Chris Evans gives hope for Top Gear

With news that Chris Evans has, quite publicly, quit as a Top Gear presenter after just one series, ESM reflects on what it means for the show.Top Gear Chris EvansIn a world where someone resigning from a top job has become almost commonplace, that Chris Evans threw the towel in quite so soon after the end of Top Gear’s series 23 is still a little surprising. Faced with falling viewer figures, despite the almost desperate protestations from Evans that they didn’t show the true picture, his position looked untenable. On social media much of the ire of Top Gear viewers was directed at him personally. News of a police investigation over historic accusations from the 1990s were probably the nail in the coffin.

Perhaps it’s also proof that the UK hasn’t become completely “anti-expert” in outlook, despite what the recent EU referendum might suggest. Whilst nobody can deny Evans is passionate about cars he isn’t an automotive journalist and, as the lead on a motoring show, that’s potentially a big deal. No, Matt Le Blanc isn’t a journalist, and nor is Sabine Schmitz or even Eddie Jordan, but they weren’t the ones plastered on the front of magazines and across adverts. He was the poster boy for the ‘new’ Top Gear and therefore the one most likely to take the flack if it failed.

It won’t have helped that not a week went by without some news story of a producer quitting, in-fighting between Evans and Le Blanc, and the cringeworthy spectacle of him puking his guts after being in-car with Sabine Schmitz. Whilst the latter might have been a way to try to inject some lighthearted humour, and make him appear human, it did little but make him seem unsuited to a job that involves testing performance cars. Becoming emotional and crying his eyes out over the McLaren F1 was also awkward and embarrassing to watch.

Evans had an almost unwinnable situation. He would never be Clarkson, yet had the job of anchoring Top Gear faced with an audience almost expecting him, and it, to fail. Whoever was the lead presenter for series 23 of Top Gear would have faced a metaphorical kicking from the media and those who watched each week. To counter that would have needed an almost superhuman dose of personality, knowledge and charm. Sadly, despite all his previous successes, Evans lacked those when it came to a motoring show.

For someone who owns a plethora of expensive supercars and classics, he ultimately failed to communicate that passion and excitement in a way that made his features palatable. Contrast that with the successes of Chris Harris and Rory Reid in conveying how a car makes you feel, but with some form of critical analysis, and the gulf between them and Evans becomes all too apparent. From the first episode we complained about how Evans seemed to be shouting constantly and, as the series continued, his voiceovers seemed to also be read with the basic delivery of a primary school presentation. (more…)

Friday Video: 2016 Audi Sport R8 Advert ‘Spin’

We never really feel the need to justify posting anything to do with the Audi R8 here at ESM, and we just can’t escape the mesmerising attraction of the latest advert.Audi R8 V10 plus

Whilst previous R8 adverts have concentrated on the epic power and glorious sounds of the R8’s V10 engine, the latest video is apparently all about control. Perhaps Audi are rather sick of people complaining about their adverts and trying to get them banned, hence the “speed isn’t everything tagline’ from the new ‘Spin’ commercial. Clearly it isn’t glamourising speed – that R8 appears to be moving very slowly round and round in a circle. Plus it does have a soundtrack featuring Dusty Springfield which is hardly the music for some crazy driving antics. Perhaps Dusty Spinfield would be a more appropriate name. Anyway, decide for yourself here:

We’re fans, but it’ll never top our favourite R8 advert, which somebody did try to have banned in the UK would you believe? We’re glad they failed. No doubt there’ll be complaints to the ASA about ‘Spin’ also, so enjoy whilst you can.

Opinion – Season 23 ‘New’ Top Gear and Extra Gear

So, after months of speculation and hype, the latest version of Top Gear finally arrived. The reaction across social media and wider has been almost universally poor. ESM’s editor explores why it missed the mark.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR

Spoiler alert: Imagine this, but with Chris Evans shouting in your face, and you’re basically there.

I’ll admit that I’d grown tired of the previous incarnation of Top Gear. The format had become stale, Clarkson had disappeared even further up his own backside, and the whole thing appeared to have been lingering around just a little too long. I always remember Clarkson writing that they’d stop making TG when it became obvious the time had come – fate seemingly ensured that happened.

Which begs the question as to why, with the possibility of completely blank slate and an almost limitless budget, did the BBC and Chris Evans decide to do nothing but remake old ‘new’ TG but with different people?

What staggers me is that this approach appeals to almost nobody. Loyal fans of Clarkson, Hammond and May have departed to await Amazon’s The Grand Tour so clearly this new TG wasn’t going to attract them back. Chris Evans doing a Clarkson impression is not the same as the real thing. You can dress yourself in a bear costume, make bear noises, and even shit in the woods, but it doesn’t make you a bear. In the same way shouting, and leaving slightly too long a… pause doesn’t make you a Clarkson.Top Gear StigYet, by slavishly copying the format and style of the previous iteration of TG, it means the latest version does nothing to attract new viewers. One of the key issues was the fact the actual setup and structure of the programme had become boring, yet the producers did zero effort to move away from it. Even the overwrought editing of videos remains, making it hard to actually see or hear the car you’re meant to be focussing on. So that’s impressive work in managing to appeal to no one and ostracize everyone – not even Clarkson et. al managed that.

Perhaps that is what enrages and disappoints me the most. The BBC had a huge opportunity to take TG in a different direction, just as Clarkson and Andy Wilman had done 14 years ago, but completely choked. What we’re left with is a product that manages to be inferior to its predecessor. This is like a car being given a mid-lifecycle facelift, where the accountants decide they need to save some money so cutback on equipment and features. Yes it might look newer, but underneath you’re left with less than you would have previously got for your money. There’s now no chemistry between Matt LeBlanc and Evans, no controversial comments, and zero innovation.

Think taking a Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette to the Fallon Naval Air Station is a new idea? No. Jesse Crosse did that back in 2005, but had the sense to include a Ford Mustang as well. But he didn’t feel the need to SHOUT ALL THE BLOODY TIME or strap pointless lasers and missiles to the cars. He also managed to actually form opinions, rather than just regurgitate from a press release. (more…)

Friday Video – Audi RS 3 ‘Birth’

Audi has a habit of producing some rather decent adverts. There was the epic sounding R8 V10 plus one from a couple of years ago, and further back there’s the Audi 100 quattro driving up a ski jump. However, this latest one is rather bold, even by Ingolstadt’s usual standards. Take a look for yourself – our comments are below:


Editorial – An open letter to ITV Motorsport

Getting a full day’s live motorsport on TV, for free, is something to be celebrated. So what has got ESM’s editor so fired up about ITV’s British Touring Car Championship coverage?

ITV BTCC Coverage
Ask yourself this; when was the last time you really wished motorsport coverage would switch to show people stood in the pits, rather than something happening on-track? I’m willing to bet the answer is most probably … never. So why on earth do TV directors seem so intent on doing it?

Perhaps the aim is to add some sort of ‘human-interest’ angle to a motor race? Instead of merely being a sporting event, the TV director feels the need to elevate it to some great dramatic feat of cinematography. They didn’t spend several years at university, then many years more working up the ladder, to be standing at a rainy Oulton Park for just some noisy cars. No, they wanted to be directing epic movies, or something like Sherlock or Broadchurch. Forget those heathens who just want to see racing – there’s raw human emotion on show here!

In all seriousness, we have to commend ITV for the work they do in broadcasting an entire day of motorsport when it comes to the BTCC. To start at 10.30am and roll all the way to 6pm is a big deal. Not even Sky Sports F1 broadcasts for that length of time on race day. We should also be grateful that the BTCC remains free to air. There isn’t much live motorsport left that doesn’t now exist, at least partially, behind a pay wall.

Let's get this straight, we're not blaming him How could we? The man, the legend, Steve Rider.

Let’s get this straight, we’re not blaming him. How could we? The man, the legend, Steve Rider.

But that doesn’t mean we should have to put up with TV directors trying to turn it into something that it isn’t. If you’ve looked at some of the comments on Twitter following the opening rounds at Brands Hatch, and Sunday’s action at Donington Park, there has been a consistent theme. The on-track action; brilliant. Just stop cutting away from it to show people in the bloody pits!

Mrs Colin Turkington is, I’m sure, a lovely person. But I imagine even she gets rather fed up of having a TV camera poked in her face every 30 seconds. Also, she’s trying to watch the race like everyone else. You, Mr TV Director, cutting to her is actually stopping her seeing what’s happening to Colin. So she’s naturally going to look frustrated or concerned – like the rest of us, she can’t see what’s going on.

It’s not just BTCC that this disease exists in, however. (more…)

Editorial | What road for Top Gear now?

Clarkson and Top Gear have dominated the news this week. EngageSportMode’s editor gives his opinion on what this latest controversy means for the future of the world’s most popular motoring media brand.

2015 Top Gear Live Newcastle 001

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or in an area without 02 signal, for the past week you’ve probably heard a little story about Jeremy Clarkson. Actually, going back a second, an area without 02 signal could be virtually everywhere in fact. Sorry, I digress.

But yes, ‘Jezza’ has landed himself in hot water again for reportedly striking a Top Gear show producer in a fracas over his dinner. That’s what the papers and, curiously, the Radio Times will have us believe. In short, nobody really seems to know the full details, and those that do are keeping very quiet whilst the incident is investigated. In truth, it doesn’t really matter. Of greater significance is the potential ‘end of days’ for the Top Gear TV brand as we know it.

It’s been almost 12 and half years since ‘new’ Top Gear returned to our screens in October 2002. Given that, were it a person, TG would have now qualified for secondary school, it seems hardly apt to refer to it as new anymore. That in itself is, perhaps, one of the greater challenges Top Gear faces – no longer is it fresh and novel, but instead has become increasingly formulaic and predictable. (more…)

Review – Top Gear Live 2015 at Metro Radio Arena

Turning an immensely popular global television success story into an arena show – how hard can it be? The short answer is not particularly difficult. The longer answer is whether or not such relative ease truly adds anything to the Top Gear brand, other than around 90 minutes of fireworks, flames and digs at the Argentinians.

2015 Top Gear Live Newcastle 001

The stage from the TV show makes an appearance, with added V8 power. The Stig in bits under the coffee table.

It’s hard to know how to describe Top Gear Live succinctly. A ‘car circus’ is perhaps the most appropriate analogy: an over-the-top ringmaster compéring proceedings in Clarkson, a troupe of clown sidekicks in Hammond and May, death-defying stunts and dramatic explosions. It’s also much like a circus in you know Hammond will have his teeth made fun of, that James May will be called slow, and that Clarkson will make comments about the Daily Mail. Much the same way you know the circus lion won’t eat the lion tamer, and that the trapeze artists will always catch each other – there’s no hidden surprises here.

The show can be split into two distinct categories – the bits which involve Clarkson, Hammond and May ‘cocking about’ and the bits which are a strange, but mesmerising, form of automotive interpretative dance. The former consists of staple TG challenges such as drifting, racing Reliant Robins, and car football. On the other hand, the latter includes precision stunt driving, French motorcyclists inside a globe of death, and hauntingly strange sight of a woman with flamethrower arms, setting Porsche 911s on fire as they slide around. That last one looks just as surreal as it sounds.

There are actual performance cars in Top Gear Live though. The ‘supercar parade’ includes a long list of wonderful exotics, ranging from a Morgan Plus 8, to BMW M6 Gran Coupé, Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Aventador. It’s like a short moving motor show, just without the chance to get up close and actually see the cars. Or see half of them, depending on where you sit. (more…)

Top Gear Series 21 – Not A Review

The 21st Series of Top Gear started the other night, Sunday 2nd February 2014, here in the UK. EngageSportMode had planned to review each episode like we did previously but, quite frankly, the whole thing left us feeling completely apathetic.

Series 20 had its good and bad points – that Hovervan thing being an obvious low – but in general it showed there was still a car programme fighting to get out. Based on episode 1 of the new series, that faint glimmer of hope seemed to have disappeared in a barrage of scripted nonsense and predictability.

Taking three hot hatches from the eighties/nineties (Ford Fiesta XR2i, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Vauxhall Nova SRi) could have been a superb chance to compare them to their modern counterparts. But no, that would have been real car journalism, and remember Top Gear is a light entertainment show just like Strictly Come Dancing or Downton Abbey. As a lot of the reviews of this episode have already mentionedTop Gear is so far away from journalism you could fit all the copies of Clarkson’s various books ever sold in the void left behind. Is this a bad thing? (more…)

Top Gear Review – Series 20, Episode 6

Although it seems like it has only just begun, series 20 of Top Gear concluded with the 6th episode on Sunday night. Like all five reviews previous, contains spoilers below.

Top Gear Series 20, Episode 6 – UK Air Date 4th August 2013 

After just six short weeks, Top Gear pulled out something quite dramatic for the final show of the series. Range Rover Sport 001


Top Gear Review – Series 20, Episode 5

After the mixed up message from the previous week’s episode, including the media fallout from parts of the Hover Van segment being staged, what would number five bring? As usual, contains spoilers (of the pop-up kind too).

Top Gear Series 20, Episode 5 – UK Air Date 28th July 2013 

Some people have already labelled this as the best episode of the season so far. Hmm…

Porsche 911 (991) 001