The final episode of motoring series ‘Top Gear’ to feature Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May as hosts pulled in 5.3 million viewers for the BBC on Sunday evening. The special episode ran in an extended time slot from 8pm to 9.15pm and easily beat any competition, taking a 23% share of all TV viewers.

top gearJeremy Clarkson Richard Hammond and James May’s final ‘Top Gear’ episode has aired.

The episode was a cobbling together of footage which was filmed for the final two parts of the show's current series, prior to Clarkson’s firing following a ‘fracas’ with a producer. At it’s peak 5.8 million were tuning in to say goodbye to the trio who have fronted the show together since 2003.

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After the episode aired Jeremy Clarkson tweeted fans, ‘Many many thanks for all your support and encouragement over the years. So sad and sorry it's ended like this’. Hours before the show Clarkson had called out the BBC on twitter for not promoting the episode writing, ‘Strange that BBC News is talking down the last Top Gear tonight. Do they not want big ratings for some reason?’

Radio DJ and television presenter Chris Evans has since been announced as the show’s new lead host, beginning next year. The Radio 2 DJ has reportedly signed a three year deal to host a revamped version of the show along with two as-yet-unnamed co-hosts.

But bookmakers are already taking bets on wether the new presenter’s debut episode will beat Sunday’s viewing numbers, with William Hill offering 1/2 on Clarkson’s swansong winning and 6/4 that it will be beaten by Evan’s next year.

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“We think there is ever chance that a record number of Top Gear fans will tune in to register their disappointment that this is the end of an era,” William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly told The Mirror. However an insider also told the paper they believe Evans will attract a bigger number of female viewers, who were put off by the apparently sexist Clarkson. “Chris will definitely freshen things up,” the source said. “He loves his motors but also understands that you don’t have to be a massive petrol-head to enjoy cars.”