The latest episode of The Grand Tour saw Clarkson, Hammond, and May make a bit of a return to their Top Gear ways with an old-fashioned car-versus-airplane race. We won’t spoil the antics of that venture, but we will talk about another return of a slightly different nature – the show's new racing driver. Her name is Abbie Eaton, and well, she’s a racing driver. As weak as that introduction sounds, it’s actually more than we were given from Clarkson himself, who ushered in the new driver with a simple “and here she is!” Seriously, that’s exactly how it went.
Viewers weren’t even privy to her name until the end credits, which of course led us a to conduct a flurry of internet research. Fortunately, Eaton has a website of her own that chronicles her accomplishments in the motorsport realm, and they’re quite impressive. The 25-year old racer claimed the 2014 championship in the Mazda MX5 Supercup, then followed that up with a win and several podium finishes in the 2015 British GT Cup driving a BMW M3 GTR. Most recently she drove a Ferrari 488 GTE in the 2017 Blancpain Endurance Series, where she became the first female to score a podium finish. Oh, and she’s also a certified racing instructor. So yeah, she’s got serious game.
The way she was introduced on the show – or rather, not introduced – is the real head scratcher here and frankly, it opens the door to all kinds of speculation. If The Grand Tour is still facing legal repercussions by featuring a Stig-like persona in the role, a woman filling the racing shoes would be about as anti-Stig as one can get. But that doesn't explain the no-intro introduction and constant "she" references during the timed lap. The whole thing was extremely awkward, and that's putting it mildly.
There are certainly more questions than answers at this point, and we suspect The Grand Tour team expected as much the whole time. Will Eaton do more than just drive cars around the Eboladrome? Will she adopt a certain persona? After the very ill-received The American, is the show simply looking to have a very low-key person to just turn laps? If that's true, then why put out a bunch of cheeky videos showing the team auditioning terrible drivers?
In any case, Eaton has a daunting task ahead of her. The Stig, despite being a faceless, anonymous part of the original Top Gear team, was actually a very rich and endearing character in the program. The Grand Tour’s first attempt to address that elephant in the room was pretty much a disaster. Perhaps this time the show will adopt a wait-and-see approach – inject some mystery into the situation and see how the audience responds.
For what it’s worth, we hope the second attempt is a home-run. Eaton is insanely talented, and we suspect she could breathe some fresh air into a formula that some feel has become very stale.