It was a cold, miserable and rainy morning I woke to, but I could not have been happier for it was once again time for the Top Gear Festival. This year promised to be bigger and better than ever before and boy was I looking forward to it. Previously the entire show has been held at North Gate dome and while quite excellent was getting a little long in the tooth, due almost entirely to the fact that there is only so much you can get away with indoors without skidding off and mowing down a few hundred people.
So this year they had to look elsewhere and where better than Kyalami, pretty much my favorite place in all of Joburg. The upgrades did not stop there either. With a bigger venue came a bigger cast, with Tiff Needell, Sabine Schmitz, Eddie Jordan, Jody Scheckter, Nick Mason, David Coulthard, the boys from Top Gear and of course the (new) Stig. So the cast and venue were set, but one ingredient remains – the acts. Not only did you get treated to a top notch show, but there was also a great deal to see and do. All involved were kept incredibly busy rushing from event to event, all the while somehow finding time to throw three shows a day over the weekend in for good measure.
Now as I’ve mentioned it was a rainy day and certainly one that Mr. Murphy can be proud of. Not only did he ensure the track was covered in a film of water for most of Saturday morning, but also conjured up some of the best Joburg has to offer in rain storms to guarantee my show got rained out. Surprisingly though, I do not feel cheated in all of this. Not because I feel I didn’t miss out on anything, but because the rest of the festival held its own and then some, even fulfilling one of my personal dreams, to witness the pure thrill of a Formula 1 car in the flesh, flying round a Grand Prix circuit like only an F1 car can.
Time and again in life you’ll hear these words, quality over quantity, and the Top Gear Festival was proof enough of that. Most automotive shows are chock full of manufacturers and products, all clamoring for your attention with free paraphernalia and girls in tight clothing. Now while this can be fun, it sure does get old quick especially when the tome of leaflets you’re carrying somehow seems to be larger than the complete works of Charles Dickens. At the Top Gear Festival less was most certainly more. With relatively few stands compared to the size of venue and previous shows, it meant your focus had to be on the shows events. Indeed this time out, Top Gear was all about the spectacle and with information booths sprinkled liberally around the place it was both easy to navigate and plan to make sure you missed nothing.
Of course being at Kyalami the majority of events took place out on the track or a variation there of. First up was the Ferrari club of South Africa heading out for an hour of fun and games blasting round the track. I can honestly say I have never seen so many Ferraris in one place, going so fast, sounding so load or looking so magnificent. They were truly a sight to behold, with many rare and exciting examples, including an F50, 599 GTO, Enzo and of course the brand new 458 Italia (which managed no to catch fire).
Then it was the turn of Nick Mason and his chums who turned the tempo up by thrashing around in a collection of race cars from all generations and disciplines of which my personal favorite was an old Bentley Le Man racer, decked out and looking splendid in traditional British racing green and which to my great disappointment I was unable to capture properly on camera.
After that it was the turn of the loonies who fall under the collective, “Rally Drivers”. Yes we couldn’t call it a proper festival without at least some dirty fun, and when I say some I actually mean rather a lot. You see not only were the guys in the South African National Rally Championship out strutting their stuff, which was very impressive by the way, even if one of them did get lost and try to run over the commentator and fellow competitor along the way, but it clearly looked like so much fun that Sabine thought she’d have a go too. Her competitor was however last year’s South African champion, so while the ambition was great, the result was a little too predictable.
Lastly it was the turn of the big boys, The Formula 1 cars.
Jody Scheckter led the charge with his beautiful collection, including his Championship winning Ferrari and the ever iconic Tyrrell which all those years ago proved just how good the man could be behind the wheel. But with this blast from the past over it was time for the main reason to go. To see a current F1 car finally let loose again round Kyalami. There was some preposterous race set up between to Renaults and David Coulthard in last year’s Championship winning RBR06, to my mind completely unnecessary. All I and everyone else wanted to see was that glorious machine gliding over the dips and rises and slicing through every curve and undulation that makes Kyalami so charismatic and unforgettable to all those who’ve ever watched or driven it.
So how to conclude this wonderful day? Well I know it will only fall on deaf ears coming from a third world country who can’t even fill in a couple of potholes without charging its citizens an arm and a leg to use their own roads, but Bernie, bring F1 back to us.