Friends star Matt LeBlanc to co-present BBC's Top Gear

(From left) Matt LeBlanc, Chris Evans and The Stig posing for a photo.
(From left) Matt LeBlanc, Chris Evans and The Stig posing for a photo.PHOTO: TWITTER/@ACHRISEVANS

(GUARDIAN) - Former Friends actor Matt LeBlanc will be the new co-presenter of Top Gear, the BBC has announced.

The actor, who also starred in the BBC series Episodes, will join Chris Evans, who took over after Jeremy Clarkson's exit. LeBlanc has previously appeared on the show as a guest.

"Matt's a lifelong fellow petrolhead and I'm thrilled he's joining Top Gear. Acting out our craziest car notions on screen is a dream job and I know we'll both be debating some epic road trip ideas. We can't wait to share what we've been up to on screen later this year," Evans said.

LeBlanc said: "As a car nut and a massive fan of Top Gear, I'm honoured and excited to be a part of this iconic show's new chapter. What a thrill."

The Golden Globe-winning actor is the fastest celebrity to-date to go around the Top Gear track in its reasonably priced car.

He will be the first non-British presenter of the show in its 39-year history when it returns on BBC2 in May, BBC said.

A BBC source said: "This takes Top Gear in a new direction. LeBlanc's presence on the show will also be a boost when selling it internationally, particularly in the US where it is due to air on BBC America."

The timing of the announcement is no coincidence with BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation, set to unveil the new-look show for the first time at its biggest annual event in a crucial pitch to more than 700 international TV buyers.

Evans, and now perhaps LeBlanc, is to front the official unveiling of the show later this month in a PR offensive that aims to secure sales of the show to maintain it as a crown jewel international franchise worth £50 million (S$102 million) annually to the BBC.

LeBlanc also presented the recent standalone spin-off Top Gear: The Races, where he led fans through some of the most memorable racing moments from the previous 22 series.

In a statement, the BBC said LeBlanc would join production immediately and that additional Top Gear cast members would be "confirmed shortly".

It is understood that the broadcaster is set to announce that German racing driver Sabine Schmitz and motoring journalist Chris Harris will also be joining the show.

Alan Tyler, the BBC's acting controller for entertainment commissioning, said: "Matt is a class act and a brilliant signing for Top Gear. He is a self-confessed car fanatic with a passion for the programme. I'm really looking forward to watching Chris and Matt bring the all new show to our audiences."