Specs & Details
Top Gear Test Track
Location Dunsfold Aerodrome, Surrey, England
Track Configuration 1.75-mile, nine-turn airfield road course
Other Facilities Top Gear hangar studio, The Young Drivers Track, British aerospace facilities, operational airfield
Some say racetracks built on old airstrips are flat, featureless abominations. You know, like your typical high-fashion runway model. But if you ask The Stig, Top Gear’s anonymous tame racing driver, he/she/it would probably tell you that the Top Gear Test Track is no walk in the park, despite its being built on an old WWII airbase, thanks to its unique figure-eight layout designed by Lotus engineers with an apparent fetish for demolition derbies.
Located on the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, England, the Top Gear Test Track is just an hour’s drive southwest of London, as is its on-site hangar, where the studio portion of the show is filmed. Originally built by the Canadian Army and civilian contractors during WWII and operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1942 to 1944, Dunsfold was soon after taken over by British aerospace companies. But these days it’s best known as the location of the Top Gear Test Track, and part of the track (known as The Young Drivers Track) is also used by driving schools and instructors as a teaching facility for students under the age of 17.
If you’re a fan of Top Gear, you’ve no doubt wondered what it would be like to drive the track, perhaps doing massive Clarksonesque drifts in an exotic supercar, and although we haven’t had the pleasure ourselves, here’s what we do know about the track. For starters, it was designed by Lotus Cars as a testing facility, with many of its most successful Formula 1 cars having been tested and developed there. Obviously ill-suited to any actual racing, given the figure-eight crossover in the middle of the course, the corner shapes and speeds were designed to reveal imperfections in a car’s chassis and suspension setup by inviting oversteer or understeer.
The second corner, known as Chicago, is a constant radius righthander that was, for example, specifically designed to be a steady-state corner so that any handling imbalance would present itself prominently, while the low-speed left-right Hammerhead that follows is famous for its ability to induce understeer while testing transitional response.
The fastest section of the track starts with the Follow Through, a high-speed righthander that leads onto the crossover portion of the track. From there The Stig (on one of his famous Leader Board hot laps) has to ease over to his right to set up for the very fast lefthander known as Bentley. From here there’s a long blast down the main runway two the final two lefthand corners, Bacharach and Gambon.
The last turn, formerly called Carpenters Corner, was renamed Gambon after British actor Sir Michael Gambon (Professor Dumbledore in the last six Harry Potter films) completed the turn on two wheels during the show’s first season. There’s also a big hump in the grass just off the track on corner exit that The Stig and many of the stars in reasonably priced cars have used for a dramatic launch across the finish line, which runs down a service road in front of the Top Gear studio hangar.
It may not have the huge elevation changes of a world-class circuit like Madza Raceway Laguna Seca, nor is it an epic and storied track the way the Nürburgring Nordschleife is, but given how massive Top Gear’s global audience is and how long the TV show has been on air (since 2002 in its current form), it is almost certainly the most famous and most viewed test track in the world.