"Oh, how I've missed the pang of dread I feel whenever you mention the words, 'how hard can it be'."
A prominent fixture of the show invented and popularised in the Clarkson/Hammond/May era of Top Gear, the challenges were the main way in which the show's new format distanced itself considerably from the earlier, more traditional "car show" form seen prior to 1999.
At first, the challenges were relatively tame in nature, often confined to the test track and the studio as opposed to venturing out on location. In the first two series of Top Gear (from 2002 onwards), the premises were usually absurd in nature, such as having a bus jumping over motorcycles (as opposed to the more typical scenario of a motorcycle jumping over buses) or a nun driving a monster truck.
As the entertainment-centric format of Top Gear gained popularity, the tendency for the presenters to venture away from the Dunsfold Aerodrome for purposes other than car reviews became more of a certainty.
When Top Gear reached its fourth series, the challenges undertaken by Clarkson, Hammond and May began to take one of a handful of different structures, such as...
Epic Races Edit
Starting in the first episode of series four, Epic Races - a name given to this type of challenge by Jeremy Clarkson - involved a battle between cars and public transport over long distances, gauging the difference in efficiency between the two by seeing who would reach the destination first.
With certain exceptions, such as the "Fastest Vehicles of 1949" race, which had each of the presenters in a separate vehicle, Epic Races traditionally featured Hammond and May teaming up to take on Clarkson, restricted only to the use of public transport, while Clarkson was similarly restricted by only being allowed to use whatever car he brought to the start point.
Cheap Car Challenges Edit
Starting in the third episode of series four, with the rules often being transplanted for use in the later special episodes, the Cheap Car Challenges had each of the presenters undertaking challenges - with their successes/failures often recorded on a scoreboard - in vehicles which adhered to a common theme and remained within strict budgets which didn't exceed £10,000 for the duration of the Clarkson/Hammond/May era.
The first of these "themes" was for each of them to buy a (fully taxed and road-legal) car for £100, an episode whose challenge Jeremy managed to win by virtue of managing to pay only one pound for the Volvo he obtained.
X vs. Y Edit
Most often involving two out of the three presenters - usually Richard Hammond and James May - though have been helmed by a single presenter, these challenges pit a vehicle against an opponent. The opponents in question, more often than not, are not wheeled vehicles, ranging from a first-class letter in the Royal Mail system to a band of fox hunters (which hunted a Daihatsu Terios sporting decals and livery akin to a fox's fur).
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