The Top Gear test track is the test track used by the British automotive television program Top Gear. Located in Dunsfold Park, it was designed by Lotus engineers and is used to both test cars seen on the program and in two segments of the show involving timed laps; Power laps by The Stig and Star in a Reasonably-Priced car, where celebrities take a cheap car currently on the UK market around the track as fast as they possibly can.
Occasionally, professional racing drivers would partake in this latter segment, which had a separate board and a separate car; the Suzuki Liana used in the first seven series. The course is just under 2 miles (3.2 km) in length and is a rough figure of 8 layout.
A digital version of the track was released for the video game rFactor and has also appeared in Gran Turismo 5 (PS3), Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360), and Forza Motorsport 5 (Xbox One).
It has been rumoured that the track will be demolished as part of new housing developments in Surrey, though as of 2019, the track remains operational.
The track is a rough "figure of 8" layout, and is located at Dunsfold Park in Surrey, England. It was a World War II airbase and British Aerospace manufacturing and test facility. The track has a "road" course, and a drag strip, although this is never used for timing purposes. Designed by Lotus, the layout of the track is designed to put the car through various conditions, ranging from provoking under-steer to testing brake balance and tires. It is about 1.75 miles (2.82 km) in length, and the track is considered to be an equalizer for cars, since both 0-60mph (0-100kph) times and top speed are totally meaningless to the program according to Richard Hammond. The length of the straight is 1.76 miles long.
The track contains 8 corners, all of which have been described below. However, aside from early episodes and tie-in media, only Chicago, Hammerhead, The Follow-Through and Gambon are typically mentioned, with the rest ignored or given pseudonyms, such as Bacharach usually being referred to as "the one before Gambon".
Every lap taken at the Top Gear test track is commenced from a standing start at the start/finish line; no timed laps with a rolling start has ever been recorded.
Corner 1: Crooner Curves
Each lap begins with the gentle right-left sequence of the Crooner Curves, taken flat-out in the run up to Willson. Crooner refers to a male singer who speaks in soft, hushed tones, perhaps referring to its gentle curvature.
Corner 2: Willson
The second corner on the circuit is Willson Bend, named after former Original format Top Gear host Quentin Willson. It is usually the first corner seen on a lap, and is a left-hander which leads into The Crossovers, a straight section of the track which a driver uses to cross over into the other half of the track.
Corner 3: Chicago
Named after the American rock band of the same name, Chicago Bend is a tight-right hander which takes drivers onto the West portion of the track. It is then followed by a straight, unnamed portion of track that curves slightly to the right.
Corner 4: Hammerhead
The slowest, most complex section of track is known as Hammerhead. It is named due to forming a hammer-like shape, though it may also be named after the shark whose head resembles that of a hammer. Controversially, it is possible to cut the lines which form this corner and potentially gain time, as there are no barriers which prevent a driver from doing so.
Corner 5: The Follow-Through
Following Hammerhead, the track begins to head East back into The Crossovers, though typically at a far higher rate of speed than its previous appearance earlier in the lap. It is here that a driver must decide whether to "follow-through" and keep their foot pressed down on the accelerator, or lift off to keep the car on the racing line and potentially lose a few tenths of a second doing so. Its name is a double entendre; if one decides to take it flat-out, they might "follow-through" as they hurtle towards the tyre wall at speeds upwards of 100 MPH.
Corner 6: Bentley
The car rejoins the Eastern portion of the track at the sixth corner; Bentley Bend. It is named after former Original format Top Gear presenter and producer Jon Bentley, who was the man responsible for discovering Jeremy Clarkson in the 1980s.
Corner 7: Bacharach
The second-to-last corner, as it was often referred to by Clarkson, was a tight left-hander which required a driver to shift the weight balance of their car in order to clip the apex and maintain enough speed for the run up to the final corner; Gambon. It was named after American composer Burt Bacharach.
Corner 8: Gambon
The final corner of the Top Gear test track is Gambon, another tight left-hander similar to Bacharach, albeit taken at a slower speed and approach. Mistakes are often made here, and running wide results in a car bouncing off the natural inclines and potentially damaging the suspension. It is also possible to cause the nose of a car to lift if the apex is taken too tightly, as was discovered by guests such as Michael Gambon and Tom Cruise, the former who served as its namesake from Series 2 onwards. Prior to Gambon's incident, the corner was known as "Carpenters Corner".
Naming of Gambon
Gambon was named after Michael Gambon, a Top Gear guest, who, as a Star in a Reasonably-Priced car, almost rolled the Suzuki Liana in the show's eighth episode. Regardless of his notability in the show, Gambon only achieved a time of 1:55.0, putting him in 54th place in the final Liana chart.