300mph record broken, then Hammond crashes
Source: The Times
Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. PHOTOGRAPH: BBC
THE Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond was in a critical condition last night after a high-speed crash while filming for the BBC motoring show.
It is understood that Hammond, 36, had just broken the British land speed record of 300.3mph and was in the process of slowing down the jet-powered Vampire vehicle, with the aid of a parachute, when it overturned. He had to be cut from the wreckage. He was airlifted from the disused Elvington airfield in North Yorkshire to Leeds General Infirmary, which has a specialist neurological unit.
Dave Ogden, a firemen involved in the rescue, said that the presenter had been wearing a helmet and fireproof racing suit. He said that Hammond was “able to talk to us for a small period” while being cut from the car, despite being in “quite a lot of distress”.
Michael Harvey, editor of Top Gear magazine, told BBC News 24: “This wasn’t a high-performance car, this wasn’t a road car, this was a rocket-powered dragster which bears absolutely no relation to the kind of cars which are the main fodder of the Top Gear programme — this was a car that clearly contained its own risks.”
The Vampire is the same car in which the British record of 300.3mph was set at Elvington, by Colin Fallows, 54, from Northampton, in 2000. Mr Fallows failed to beat his own record in July.
The BBC confirmed that the accident had taken place during filming for Top Gear, but a spokesman said that he had little further information about the circumstances of the crash. “Our attention is on Richard at this stage,” he added.
Hammond has presented the BBC motoring show, alongside Jeremy Clarkson and James May, since 2002. He is known to his co-presenters as “Hamster”, owing to his diminutive height of 5ft 7in.
Last night Jeremy Clarkson said he was waiting for news about his colleague’s condition: “My fingers are crossed and I’m hoping to get up there. We are all massively concerned.”
Mr May was said by his agent to be absolutely devastated by news of the crash.
In an interview earlier this year, Hammond said: “I think I wanted to be on Top Gear from a fairly young age because I loved cars and I wanted to do something on telly because I loved TV. I know that I’m ridiculously lucky.”
He presented the Sky One show Brainiac until earlier this month, and has also presented Time Commanders and Petrolheads. He lives near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with his wife Amanda, 35, and their two young daughters, Isabella, 5, and Willow, 2.
Richard Noble, who led the team which broke the sound barrier in the Nevada desert in 1997, and still holds the world land-speed record, explained the dangers involved in jet-car driving. “I don’t know what happened but one thing I can say is that it’s nothing like driving an everyday car or even a high performance one,” he said.
“You can never have enough experience because the speed-to-weight ratios are so different. It’s almost as if your instincts and mind are too slow for the speed you’re going. There’s a much greater power-to-weight ratio, so drivers have to keep everything co-ordinated, which is not easy.”
Noble led the ThrustSSC Project. Driver Andy Green reached 763 mph, beating Noble’s record of 633mph.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
# Top Gear was first shown in 1978
# A production team member crashed a £140,000 Lamborghini Diablo in March 2000
# The show was cancelled in 2001 after ratings fell to three million but was resurrected by Jeremy Clarkson in 2002
# The team were branded a “bunch of joy-riding hooligans” after borrowing and damaging the Jaguar C-type that won the 1953 Le Mans 24-hour race
# Clarkson was hit by a custard pie when receiving an honorary degree at Oxford Brookes University last year