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Top Gear Filming

TopGear

TopGear

It started pretty well for a Wednesday, with breakfast at Joe’s Kitchen with my friend Nick who bears a striking resemblance to Richard Hammond, but more of that later. After a relaxed breakfast of pancakes and mixed berry smoothie we set off for the Top Gear studio which is located at the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey.

We made a quick pit stop at the service station on the A3 and meet up with Mike and Jane for lunch at the Little Chef. Unfortunately, this Little Chef had not received the Heston Blumenthal makeover, and looked like it had been stuck in a time warp for the last 20 years.

Toyota Hilux

Toyota Hilux

After several unsuccessful attempts to get tickets from the Applause Store for previous series of Top Gear, it was a very surreal feeling as we entered the hanger where Top Gear is filmed. All around the hanger were iconic pieces from the TV show including the indestructible Toyota Hilux, the Fiat Coupe police car and the Cool Wall.

The lighting made it difficult to take good photographs, but we managed to get a group photo in from of the Cool Wall as shown below. We might be “Un Cool”, but at least we didn’t turn out to be “Seriously Un Cool”.

The Cool Wall

The Cool Wall

I had received tickets for Series 16 Episode 3, and the main feature this week was a group test of the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Mercedes S65 AMG and Bentley Mulsanne in Albania. This was interspersed with a review of Ford Focus RS500, Cosworth Impreza CS400 and Volvo C30.

The filming ran very smoothly with Jeremy and the team filming most pieces to camera in a single take. Jeremy Clarkson was very funny and engaged with the audience between filming which created a good atmosphere in the studio which certainly comes across on television. In comparison Richard Hammond looked moody and fed up between takes. However, as soon as the camera was turned on he came alive, but at no point did he make any effort to interact with the audience. James May only made a single comment on one of the news stories and filmed the link to the second half of the Albania feature, otherwise he was notable only by his absence. From attending the filming it became very apparent just how much Jeremy really carries the show.

The Studio

The Studio

The “Star in the Reasonably Priced Car” this week was Jonathan Ross. The interview lasted for about 40 minutes, but in reality this will be cut down to around 10 minutes when the show is broadcast, at least in part to the amount of swearing and references to Mexicans.

Many people have remarked on my friend’s likeness to Richard Hammond, and during the afternoon break for tea and biscuits, Nick took the opportunity to try and disprove these rumours, but I think he may have confirmed that they do actually look alike.

Nick and Hammond

Nick and Hammond

The episode was first shown on the evening of Sunday 6th February 2011, but unlike many of the 200 people that attended the filming, we didn’t feel the need to push to the front to try and get our 5 minutes of fame on television. However, you might be able to catch a glimpse of us behind the white Ford Sierra RS Cosworth at the start of the hot hatch feature or at the end of the show when Jeremy closes the show on a bombshell.

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geoDefense (iPhone)

geoDefense is a tower defense game for the iPod and iPhone from Critical Thought Games. As with all Tower Defense style games the objective is to prevent your enemy from reaching your base using the weapons available to you. What really makes geoDefense stand out is the retro inspired neon graphics, and it’s certainly one of the most stylish and best looking games currently available on the iPod and iPhone.

geoDefense 001

But don’t think for one minute that geoDefense is an easy tower defense game like Plants Vs Zombies. Even the medium difficulty levels present a serious challenge which will require multiple attempts to complete. However, the game never becomes frustrating, and you keep coming back for just one more go to beat that level.

My only reservation is that geoDefense only gives the player a choice of 5 different units with which to defeat your enemy. This keeps the game simple, but a wider selection of units, as per Plants Vs Zombies which has over 40 different plants, would have provided more variety.

geoDefense 002

Critical Thought Games have already relesed a sequel to geoDefense, called geoDefense Swarm. The main change being that geoDefense Swarm features open areas rather than pre-defined routes, adding a new element to the game play. A HD version of geoDefense is in development for the iPad and is expected to be released to coincide with the launch of the Apple iPad 2 in spring 2011.

A stylish and challenging game that no iPod or iPhone owner should be without.

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Tron Legacy IMAX 3D

Tron Legacy 001

When the original Tron movie was released in 1982 it was the first time that Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) had been used extensively in a feature film. Tron Legacy continues where the original left off and features some of the most spectacular special effects ever seen in a movie all wrapped up within a highly stylised black and neon world.

Tron Legacy 002

I was lucky enough to obtain tickets to watch Tron Legacy in 3D at the BFI IMAX cinema in Waterloo, surely the best way to enjoy this visually stunning movie. Tron Legacy includes over 43 minutes of footage specially created for IMAX cinemas, an approach which was first used to great effect in The Dark Knight a couple of years previously.

Tron Legacy follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) as he investigates his father’s disappearance and finds himself pulled into the grid, where his father has been trapped for the last 25 years.

Tron Legacy 003

Without giving away too much of the plot, Sam teams up with his father (Jeff Bridges) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to defeat Clu and Tron as they battle to escape the grid. For me this is the standout movie of the year, and shows what a disappointing movie Avatar was.

The story successfully dovetails with the original movie in a way in which many sequels fail to. This movie is strikingly stylised, the special effects are stunning, and the Daft Punk sound track provides a pounding accompaniment to this fast paced, action packed rollercoaster ride. This is a must see for all action and sci-fi movie fans and I can’t wait for the Blu-ray to be released in 2011.

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Tom Lewis at The White Room Gallery

I first became aware of the work of Tom Lewis when it was featured on the on the BBC show “The Junior Apprentice” in June 2010. According to Tom his paintings were inspired by a very strange experience on a train, which sparked the series of events and led to the creation of a mythological 18th century French philosopher, the forging of a sword and the images that you see below.

Tom Lewis - Megan and the Garden of Edo

"Megan and the Garden of Edo"

Tom has a very distinctive style that draws on a variety of genres, producing eye catching work that is both accessible and increasingly collectable. He works with a number of techniques and processes, including painting, drawing, graffiti, stencils, photography and digital manipulation.

Tom Lewis - The Legend of Mimizuku Mountain and The Legend of Tamashee Canyon

"The Legend of Mimizuku Mountain" and "The Legend of Tamashee Canyon"

My favorite works are from the “Legend Series” which are based on a fusion of Japanese and Korean culture. Tom Lewis has developed the Geisha Girl series where he has found inspiration in the spiritual tree of enlightenment, landscape and traditions of the orient to develop mystical characters deep in the heart of his imagination.

Tom Lewis - Henry and the last Feathers of Reason and Piper vs The Oracle

"Henry and the last Feathers of Reason" and "Piper vs The Oracle"

In December 2010 I visited an exhibition of Tom’s work at The White Room Gallery in Leamington Spa. There were over 10 of Tom’s framed prints of display and many more unframed prints in a portfolio. However, for me the real highlight of the exhibition was seeing an original painting.

Being approximately 4 times the size of the prints it made a huge statement, and would look perfect on my living room wall. Unfortunately it was not for sale and belonged to gallery owner. However, it did confirm to me that I should start saving up to buy an original Tom Lewis painting when the next character series is released in 2011.

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Gran Turismo 5: Initial Impressions

After 5 years of development and two high profile delays Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) was finally released on Wednesday 24th November 2010. I purchased the GT5 Collector’s edition which includes the Apex driving book and 5 special edition chrome line cars.
GT5 Collectors Edition

I’ve only spent a couple of hours with GT5 so far, but the graphics are amazing (bar the well publicised issues with the pixelated shadows) and the way the cars drive is much more realistic and demanding than previous entries in the Gran Turismo series. However, after such a long development cycle it is disappointing that GT5 falls short in several key areas.

GT5

Firstly when Sony announced that GT5 would include Ferrari and Lamborghini for the first time, I was expecting that a complete range of cars would be available from both manufacturers. However, this is not the case, and there are only 12 Ferraris and 7 Lamborghinis included in the game. To put this in context there are 22 versions of the Mazda MX-5 in GT5. I have a feeling that a lot of paid for DownLoadable Content (DLC) will be released in the coming weeks and months.

Secondly it also appears that the developers have not made the most of the official license for the TopGear television show. While the track is accurately modelled, none of the reasonably priced cars (Suzuki Liana, Chevrolet Lacetti, Kia Cee’d) used in the show are available, and the track is only available for a number of pre-defined challenges. Hopefully the cars and the TopGear track will be unlocked as you complete these challenges.

GT5

Finally there are the loading times between races. I can’t remember playing a game in the last couple of years which takes as long to load a race as GT5. I have a feeling that the loading progress bar is going to become a point of annoyance as I spend more time playing GT5.

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Pure Tech Racing

Today I went Pure Tech Racing close to Gatwick in the UK to try out their Formula 1 simulators with a couple of friends.

Pure Tech Racing

I managed to qualify in pole position for both races, but was taken out by the pack at the hairpin on the first lap in both races.  My fastest lap at 1:05:394 was just 4 seconds off the lap record, which is not too bad after just 60 laps in the car.

When driving the cars on track the motion of the simulators was not as forceful as I was expecting and the driving experience was very arcade biased.  An enjoyable day and I’m sure I’ll be back to try and improve my lap time.

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Dream Car Hire

I thought it would be a good idea to start my blog with an interesting post, so here goes…

As an early birthday present to myself I booked a driving day with Dream Car Hire where I got the opportunity to drive an Audi R8 V10 Spider, Bentley Continental Convertible, Aston Martin DBS, Audi R8 V10 Coupe, Porsche 997 Turbo (Mk 2) and Ferrari F430 on the public roads.

Audi R8 V10 Spider:
I was scheduled to drive the Ferrari F430 at the start of the day, but if had come back the previous day with an engine warning light and was taken straight round to the local Ferrari dealership for some TLC, so I started the day in the Audi R8 V10 Spider. The Audi was beautifully finished, easy to drive and the V10 engine made a great noise. Unfortunately a light rain shower began shortly after setting off and I had to pull over to deploy the electronic roof mechanism. As I got more used to the size and performance of the car I began to feel more confident in pushing harder, but a couple of times I hit a pot hole mid corner, which made the car feel as if the chassis was twisting and not a rigid as I would have liked it to have been. Lots of fun and a great start to the day, but I was sure there was better to come.

Audi R8 V10 Spider

Bentley Continental Convertible:
The footballer’s car of choice was surprisingly rapid, but you really felt the weight in the corners and under braking. The seats were so soft you just sank into them like a sofa. The car to pick if you want to drive hundreds of miles in comfort, but couldn’t help feeling I was about 30 years too young for it!

Bentley Continental Convertible

Aston Martin DBS:
Having not driven an Aston Martin before I was looking forward to being “James Bond” for an hour, and the DBS did not disappoint. It was the only manual car on the day, which after having driven two cars with paddle shifts that morning, took a little getting used to. The DBS was the most beautiful and elegant of the cars, and the interior was a fabulous mix of aluminium, carbon fibre and suede. The V12 engine had so much torque you only needed a couple of gears for driving on the public roads. Unfortunately the ride was hard, I think I described it as wooden, and the steering lacked feedback, which make handling the big Aston a challenge in the slippery conditions.

Aston Martin DBS

Audi R8 V10 Coupe:
Having driven the R8 spider in the morning I was keen to see how the bright red V10 coupe compared. Overall the cars were very similar as you would expect, however there was a clear split in the group between those who preferred the spider and those who preferred the coupe. For me, it was the coupe every time. The chassis felt stiffer, the steering more accurate. For me the styling of the spider which has lost the signature side blades, looks slightly oddly proportioned. Whereas the coupe in bright red with the contrasting carbon fibre side blades looked stunning, and was at this point my favourite car my some margin.

Audi R8 V10

Porsche 997 Turbo (Mk2):
I’m not really a Porsche 911 fan apart from the GT3, but everyone who had driven the Turbo in morning was raving about how good it was and that it was the fastest car on the day. So as I set off for my penultimate drive of the day with “super sport” mode engaged during the heaviest rain of the day with some trepidation. But I needn’t have worried, the famous 911 rear engine traction was evident straight away. Susan and I were both very impressed by how compact, agile and composed the 911 was, it’s a real focused drivers car make no mistake. It was ferociously quick in the wet, so it much be absolutely stunning in the dry.

Ferrari F430:
The Ferrari made a return at lunch time and in the 6th session of the day I got to experience my first Ferrari on the road. This particular F430 had covered 60,000 miles, which must be something of a record for a Ferrari, and were certainly some rattles and squeaks from the cabin. The Ferrari was the most challenging car to drive quickly, and did make the best noise. However, I don’t think this particular example gave the best demonstration of what Ferrari have to offer. The release of the F458 has already made the F430 look dated, and compared to the Audi and Aston Martin the fit and finish leaves plenty room for improvement.

Stopped for lunch

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spider:
The one that got away. I was scheduled to drive the Gallardo for the final session of the day, but unfortunately it picked up a puncture during the second session in the morning and had to be transported back to the DreamCarHire HQ on a lorry and didn’t make it out again. Not sure how much a set if rear tyres for a Gallardo is (sure it’s not cheap), but I guess that gives you a reality check on supercar ownership. However, I am going to be back to try this car at some point in the future to see if it can beat the mighty 911 Turbo. They also have a very tasty looking Porsche 911 GT3 RS which looks very tempting!

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spider

Which one would I buy if I win the lottery?
Overall, an amazing and very enjoyable day, but as you can probably image it was not a cheap day out, but for me it was easily worth the money. So if I win the lottery this weekend and I had to pick one, which would it be?

Well on the basis of today it would be the Porsche 997 Turbo (Mk2), closely followed by and Audi R8 V10. But with the new Ferrari F458, Mercedes SLS and McLaren MP4-12C coming soon you will have plenty of options if your numbers do come up.

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