Is Top Gear about to sack the Stig?
Will The Stig survive the new Top Gear line-up ?
Top Gear may have a problem on its hands: newly signed up presenters Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz will be more than a match for the Stig on track.
The Stig was a brilliant construct created in Clarkson/Hammond/May era in an effort to achieve some respectability when laying down quick lap times in new cars. None of the former presenters are particularly slow, but having this anonymous bloke set the benchmark took pressure off the three to establish leaderboard time.
It also avoided the inevitable forum discussions about how a particular car would've been much quicker round the Top Gear test track if a real racer was behind the wheel. Stig was a real racer, revealed when first Perry McCarthy and then Ben Collins unmasked themselves as being the guy in the helmet.
But so too are Harris and Schmitz. How much so will be revealed in the series when Harris drives the Aston Martin Vulcan hypercar in Abu Dhabi (as seen in the trailer, above). A source close to the show says that when he jumped into this 820bhp beast of a machine at the Yas Marina Formula One track he immediately got within four seconds of Aston Martin test driver Darren Turner's best lap.
He then proceeded to chip away at that until he got within two seconds. That was on a circuit he didn't know, driving a car he didn't know. Pretty impressive stuff, particularly given that Turner is a formidable racer who has won his class at Le Mans before.
Harris has prior history driving brilliantly in unfamiliar race cars. The time he came second at the Goodwood Revival RAC TT driving a 1963 Lister Jaguar Coupe partnering with Touring Car driver Anthony Reid was a highlight. He also won his race in the 2014 Le Mans Classic driving a Jaguar 1955 D-Type, which was pretty heroic given older machinery like the Jag often requires a much more delicate touch than modern racers.
In an interview with Top Gear magazine he lists coming 11th in the Nürburgring 24 hours as one the best drives of his life.
But Schmitz can top that. Having grown up living just a few yards from the Nürburgring, she started racing there as soon as she was able. She went on to win the Nürburgring 24 hours race not once, but twice in a row, in 1996 and 1997.
In 1998, she was crowned champion of the VLN, a 10-race series held exclusively at the Nürburgring, in which she competed against some of Germany's best drivers. And between races, she worked as the driver of the Ring Taxi, giving passenger rides to paying guests in a BMW M5.
So where does this leave the Stig? He was anonymous because, as Jeremy Clarkson once observed, racing drivers are often pretty dull talking about driving fast. Harris has proved on video that doesn't have to be the case.