We sit down and have a talk with Matt LeBlanc in our second part of our interview series with Top Gear’s presenters.
If someone said to you that an American actor would become the leading presenter of Top Gear a few years back, you would call them insane.
Top Gear though proved it’s not afraid to shake things up a bit and bringing LeBlanc on-board certainly was one of the biggest surprises the last season had to offer. More importantly though, the man who once became world-famous as Joey Tribbianni never stopped proving that he is a proper car nut.
[CS = CarScoops | MLB = Matt LeBlanc]
CS: With the second season on Top Gear about to debut, tell us about your feelings compared to last year’s series.
MLB: I thought last year was good, you know, I mean there are a lot of rumors in the press and all that kind of stuff but I thought we made some good films, I had a good time.
I think that this year the films feel even bigger and more ambitious, we’ve gone to more countries we’ve ever gone to, the cast of cars we have is fantastic, we’ve got the Ferrari FXX K, the Ford GT, the Aston Martin DB11, the Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the eight-wheeled Shaman from Russia, the Bugatti Chiron, even a Ducatti 1299 Superleggera, a spectacular bike I rode to LeMans, the list goes on and on.
CS: What changes have you made to the format of the show?
MLB: Well, there is a brand new studio which I think it’s really great, it’ll give the show a fresh face and the audience will get a better experience when we shoot here. A lot of the show though is, I mean, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!
I think a lot of things with the show weren’t broken and this is one more season away from the days of Jeremy, James and Richard, so my hope is that people could come to the new season with fresh eyes and unbiased view and give the show a chance. I think the show will be very entertaining and if you like cars, want to have a laugh and you like maybe to explore the world from the comfort of your own sofa, this will be a good one.
CS: That’s the thing; you can’t have enough great car-related shows. We need Top Gear as we need a show like The Grand Tour, for example.
MLB: Exactly, there’s always room for more.
CS: Have you seen The Grand Tour? What did you think of it?
MLB: I think it’s good! Look, I love those three guys, they crack me up, and they are really fun to watch! They have such an unspoken dialogue with each other that is really enjoyable to watch and now they are doing this new thing and I’m enjoying it and I would watch these guys do anything. I was a fan when they were on Top Gear and I’m a fan of The Grand Tour.
CS: Can you tell us about the new celebrity section of the show?
MLB: Well, we have a new car and we went back to the original layout of the racetrack. No more Rallycross course, no more splashes, jumps, it’s all tarmac, it’s the same track that the Stig drives and I think a lot of people just want to drive the lap that the Stig drives.
CS: Why did you pick a car like the Toyota GT86 over the traditional budget-friendly hatchbacks?
MLB: We needed a new car anyway because the rallycross track was going away and the GT86 just sounded right; it’s rear-wheel drive, it’s a little looser, a little more exciting to drive, a little more challenging, especially on the wet, which we get a lot of out here in the UK, it has more power with 200hp and overall a fun car to drive, but when you make a mistake, it will spin.
And in the practice sessions with the celebrities, they learn very quickly that you can’t be lead-foot just because it has more power; the challenge is to stay on the track. And I think it’s good that it doesn’t have a ton of grip because it still has the standard [Prius-derived] tire on it. Hopefully [the celebrities] will go away from this, learning more than they learned before about the physics of driving a car and the dynamics of transferring the weight, balancing the car and all those kinds of things.
I’ve been so busy, I can’t believe I have to say this but I have not had the chance of driving it yet. Maybe I’ll do it today at some point.
CS: Are we going to see your lap times compared to the celebrities?
MLB: I hope so, I’d love to see who’s the quickest out of the three of us. Probably it’ll be Harris, he’s pretty quick, pretty handy in a car.
CS: Which one of your co-presenters is the most fun to work with? You can pick only one!
MLB: I’d pick Chris Harris because he and I, we have a very similar sense of humor, I love that guy. I have no problem with Rory either, I love him too, but if I had to pick only one, Chris and I seem to have developed a bond and that started from last year. Also his knowledge of cars is insane, he’s like an encyclopaedia. They could be racing wheel barrels in Holland and he would know who leads the championship.
Top Gear Season 24 debuts in BBC America this Sunday, March 12