Perry McCarthy is a former racing driver from England who gained lots of experience in open-wheel and sports car racing, including Formula One and Le Mans 24 Hours, but he's the most known as the original Stig in world's famous BBC motoring show Top Gear. He acted as masked anonymous test driver in a black racing suit in 2002 and 2003.
Developing a career through the open-wheel competitions
Born in March 1961 in East London, McCarthy worked for his father's company servicing North Sea oil rigs before he started a racing career in 1985.
In the early years, he was developing a career through different open-wheel competitions such were Formula Ford, Formula 3 or Formula 3000. In a period between 1985 and 1989, his best result was the eighth place in the British F3 Championship in 1987 when he scored two podiums with Madgwick Motorsport's Reynard-Volkswagen.
Two seasons in the IMSA Championship
In 1990, McCarthy raced in the US, driving for Spice Engineering in the IMSA GTP and IMSA Lights Championship. The highlight of the season was his victory in Lights class at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course where he was sharing a Spice SE90P-Buick prototype with Mexican Tomas Lopez. In October, McCarthy also joined Manuel Reuter in Richard Lloyd Racing's Porsche 962 C GTi at Mexican round of the World Sports Prototype Championship, not finishing the race.
In 1991, McCarthy stayed with Spice Engineering, participating in five races of the IMSA Championship and scoring a couple of podiums. In 1991, McCarthy also tested F1 car for Footwork team but there was no free seat for him in the championship.
McCarthy experienced an interesting F1 season with Andrea Moda team
Tragicomic F1 attempt with Andrea Moda team
However, McCarthy had been invited to drive in the 1992 Formula One season for Italian team Andrea Moda, run by Andrea Sassetti who bough Coloni team with a plan to promote his shoe business through Formula 1.
The team was totally uncompetitive with their Judd V10-powered F1 car (Andrea Moda S921) which McCarthy tried for the first time at Spanish Grand Prix. He entered the pre-qualifying session but an engine exploded immediately after he left a garage. Later in the season, McCarthy was never in a contention to participate in a race because he was either to slow or technical problems stopped him. The team folded before the end of the season.
Le Mans 24 Hours debut in 1996
McCarthy's F1 career ended even before it started. In the following years, he made some tests with Benetton and Williams but he wasn't a candidate for a seat in a championship. In 1996, he returned to sports car racing by joining Lotus Racing in the BPR International Endurance GT Series. He was driving the #22 Lotus Esprit V8 in three races, sharing a car with Jan Lammers. They finished second at Silverstone 4 Hours.
In June 1996, McCarthy made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving the #51 Chrysler Viper GTS-R for Societe Viper Team Oreca. Sharing a car with Justin Bell and Dominique Dupuy, he retired after 96 laps.
David Brabham and Perry McCarthy, teammates in 1997, friends for life
1997 – FIA GT Championship season with Panoz
In 1997, McCarthy joined David Price Racing to drive a Panoz GTR-1 in the FIA GT Championship and at Le Mans. David Brabham was his teammate for most of the season. At Le Mans, Doc Bundy joined them as the third driver and they retired after 145 laps.
In 1997, McCarthy also made few starts with URD WSC96 prototype in the IMSA World Sports Car Championship, sharing a car with Marc Duez, Barry Waddell or Bill Auberlen.
Perry McCarthy (left) with Mika Salo and Frank Biela at 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours
Participating in great races only from 1998 to 2003
In 1998, McCarthy participated in just one race, the Daytona 24 Hours, driving a Riley & Scott MkIII for Dyson Racing. He joined Rob Dyson, Butch Leitzinger and John Paul Jr. in the #20 car, not finishing the race.
In 1999, McCarthy's schedule was limited to just two races in an Audi R8C with a factory team. At Sebring 12 Hours, he was sharing the #78 car with Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro, finishing in the fifth place. At 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours, McCarthy was sharing the #10 Audi with Andy Wallace and James Weaver, retiring after 198 laps.
In 2001, McCarthy tested with Team Bentley but he didn't race at Le Mans. He returned to Circuit de la Sarthe in 2002, recording his fourth DNF. He was driving the #22 Panoz LMP-1 Roadster for DAMS, sharing a car with Marc Duez and Jerome Policand.
In 2003, McCarthy was a member of Audi Sport UK team at Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing an Audi R8 with Mika Salo and Jonny Kane at Sebring (6th) and with Mika Salo and Frank Biela at Le Mans (DNF).
Black Stig's helmet from a cover of McCarthy's book
Perry McCarthy was the original Top Gear's Stig
Parallel to his occasional racing commitments in the early 2000s, McCarthy started to work for BBC's Top Gear show as the original Stig, the test driver under the black racing suit and masked with a full-face helmet.
He appeared in 22 episodes of Top Gear from October 2002 to October 2003. The original black Stig had been 'killed' in the first episode of the Series 3 and replaced by the white Stig in the next episode.
Perry McCarthy - the original Top Gear's Stig
McCarthy published an autobiography in 2002
Perry McCarthy published an autobiography 'Flat Out, Flat Broke: Formula 1 the Hard Way!' in 2002. He met Jeremy Clarkson at a launch party for his book and the story about Stig started during that meeting. In the second edition of his book, McCarthy revealed that he was the original Stig.
Today he works as a business and motivational speaker and a promotor of a road safety. He briefly returned to racing in 2019 by participating in the British round of the Titans RX rallycross series.