To the uninitiated, the act of driving a car might seem like a pretty mild physical pursuit, but at a more elite level, the hosts of “Top Gear” insist that putting the pedal to the metal is a seriously intense experience.
Professional drivers follow the same level of science, training, and nutrition that any other athlete must absorb. As such, the three hosts of “Top Gear,” a show that combines the adrenaline of Formula 1 racing with the excitement of a Demolition Derby, often find themselves pushed to the limits.
With the iconic show set to return for an incredible 30th season in April on BBC America, Chris Harris, Paddy McGuinness, and Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff explained how they prepare for some of their car-based adventures, and we soon found out that despite the fun nature of “Top Gear,” all three guys are extremely disciplined in their approach to driving.
Getting into car racing provided Harris with his first glimpse into how seriously race teams approach subjects like nutrition. “The first professional race, that I did, was with Porsche,” he says. “And I was amazed. The way that they expected their drivers to behave as professional sports people was very real.”
Harris believes that the physical conditioning of the top drivers remain underrated to this day. That includes eating to ensure that they get the correct release of nutrients throughout the race. “I think that most people still have no idea how fit, and strong, a modern Formula 1 driver really is,” he says. “Lewis Hamilton is an amazing driver, but he is a physical specimen too. If you shake his hand, he could crush your hand. You wouldn’t believe how powerful these drivers are.”
While Harris is known to millions of car enthusiasts for his work in automotive journalism, fewer may be aware of his legitimate experience as an endurance racer, including performances in the 24 Hours Nürburgring, Germany in 2010 and 2015. So, do racers watch their calories? “There are very few advantages allowed in racing because the cars all have to be the same weight,” says Harris. “So, one of the best ways to get an advantage is for the driver to be very fit and very light.” He embarks on a carefully tracked diet and drops his body weight before each race, knowing that this will lessen the load, and improve his chances of a quicker finish time.
McGuiness might be better known to viewers for his comedy musings rather than his muscle mass, but he’s taken a closer look at health and fitness since joining “Top Gear.” Last year, at age 46, he dropped nearly 30 pounds, becoming much more toned, thanks to a combination of running, boxing, and eating clean. Along the journey he even received tips and encouragement from figures such as “The Beast” Eddie Hall, Martyn Ford, and Donna Moore. He admits to learning a lot about himself in the process.
“It was a challenge to myself to see if I could do it,” he says. “Now, I prefer to be stronger, and not worry what I look like with my shirt off, but as long as I’m stronger, and I feel like I can run or get on my bike then I’m happy.”
Of the three hosts, Flintoff has the most impressive sporting pedigree, but some of the crazy car antics on “Top Gear” are difficult for any athlete to prepare for, like the time the former England Cricket captain bungeed off a 500-feet dam in Switzerland, while strapped into a Rover convertible. He makes sure to put the work in the gym.
“I’m not doing big weights, its mainly circuits,” he says of his current gym regimen. “I don’t feel like I’ve trained, unless I end a session sweating. I know that if you don’t train, your body changes shape. And mentally, not training has a massive impact on me.”
Flintoff finds that the more he drives, the more his mental and physical stamina improves during the rigors of the road. There’s no questioning that good technique also plays a huge part in driving, too. Harris observes that many drivers are thwarted by bad posture. “One of the most common things, with people that haven’t driven fast cars on a circuit, is that they have no idea how bad their posture in the car is,” he says. “Really, what you want to do is have the seat supporting you, so that you are not using too much of your core, and your arms are free to move.”
After wrapping the latest season of “Top Gear,” all three hosts are in agreement over which tasks presented the most physical challenges. The lads undertook a triathlon in which they were forced to swim in extremely cold temperatures. They also found themselves being towed at high speed down an airplane runway, whilst wearing titanium skis on their feet. “I was at the back of an Ariel Nomad… going, like, 90 miles per hour, and you had to hang on for dear life. You did not want to let go,” Flintoff says.
So, who’s the most competitive of the bunch? “We are equally competitive, but for different reasons,” says Harris. “Freddie, with his professional sporting background just wants to achieve, and Paddy just hates losing with a passion”.
“You’re right,” quips Paddy. “I don’t mind second place, but I hate losing.”
“Ah, second place is like losing!” fires back Freddie. “Second is a loss.”