Tag Archives: Ford

Hollywood’s rush to the racetrack

Niki Lauda at Watkins Glen 1976

Can Ron Howard's Rush do the 1976 Grand Prix year justice? (Steve1828)

So motorsport is the current topic du jour in cinematic circles. Three documentaries are currently stoking tinsel town’s interest; Senna has been a global hit, TT Closer to the Edge was a stunning insight into the mortally dangerous side of racing and the Moto GP movie sequel Fastest is opening tonight in London. Meanwhile both Ron Howard and Michael Mann are dipping into the history of the sport for their latest projects. Good times.

Of course we with petrol in our veins have long known of the allure and inherent drama of racing. I distinctly remember sitting with my parents as Ayrton Senna delivered his monologue after the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix and declaring that it was as if we were watching a movie. Little did I know that it would become a part of one. Hollywood hasn’t always done the sport justice; Grand Prix looked and sounded the business but lacked the script it deserved while Sylvester Stallone’s Driven was pure drivel. The recent spate of racing documentaries, including a quartet on the small screen courtesy of the BBC, has quenched the thirst for racing stories but now it is time for the auteurs to fictionalise some of the greatest battles from the annuls of motorsport.

First up will be Rush, Ron Howard’s movie based on the 1976 Grand Prix season. As a topic I could barely imagine a better one. The set up? The first of many edgy championships contested between Mclaren and Ferrari, the battle was as much a clash of ideologies as it was a sporting contest. James Hunt the playboy taking on Niki Lauda the savvy professional, the earnest Brits taking on the passionate Italians. The confrontation? A championship that appeared to be going the way of the red team was shattered by Niki Lauda’s horror crash that signaled the end of Grand Prix around the Nordschleife. The resolution? Lauda’s heroic comeback, Hunt’s memorable championship. Sorry for the spoiler, but there is your three acts – and what a movie it will make.

Rush is due to be an independent film, albeit one with a healthy budget and a heavyweight director. Nonetheless it may mean that Ron Howard and company will be mooching around looking for distribution as the cameras roll which is not something he is used to. Howard has made the odd trip to a modern Formula One race for research which is about as useful as a fact-finding mission to a modern day Afghanistan when attempting to write a war movie set 50 years ago. It is more likely that this was a courtesy call on Bernie Ecclestone who is clearly backing the movie as the first in-depth interview with Ron Howard about Rush was a feature on the Formula One website. His stash of historic Grand Prix machines will come in handy too. This endorsement shouldn’t be taken lightly – Ecclestone not only rebuffed Stallone in the 1990s, he also rejected David Cronenberg’s Grand Prix movie that was due to film in the late 1980s after the director was inspired by the brilliant 1986 season.

Last week the first shots were filmed on Rush, although these were merely tests for the shoot proper. This involved the Nurburgring and some historic cars which will have been a fun day out for all, including British Touring Car’s rising star Rob Austin who tweeted that he was a part of the crew. Let’s hope Plato and Neal aren’t the other drivers, I don’t remember Hunt and Lauda giving each other the finger or moaning about turbos, although Hunt the Shunt was known to throw a punch in his early days…

On writing duty is Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan while the driving seats will be occupied by Thor star Chris Hemsworth and promising German actor Daniel Bruhl. Both exhibit a reasonable likeness for their characters, so that is reassuring. Ron Howard is adept at masculine emotion and has proven his salt by tackling real-life tales with no more embellishment than is needed.

I’m hoping that they look closely into James Hunt’s story, he fascinates me more than most racers. You often picture the hairy, lairy 1970s Formula One driver as being fearless but Hunt was not. While being the arch-party animal he was a man who would throw-up immediately before every race and quit the sport abruptly in the middle of the 1979 Monaco Grand Prix. Unlike the Mclaren drivers of today, Hunt was permitted to meet the great and the good in t-shirt, jeans and not-uncommonly barefoot. We are all unique, some of us just break out of the mould a little more than others. A movie about James Hunt was touted by Dreamworks earlier this year, but Rush has beaten them to the punch so it is doubtful we’ll ever see the English world champ’s very full life told in its entirety on celluloid.

Meanwhile there is Michael Mann’s Go Like Hell which was originally rumoured to be a movie for 20th Century Fox but could now appear as a drama series for TV. Sharing its name with AJ Baime’s book about Ford and Ferrari’s high-stakes duel at Le Mans in 1966, Go Like Hell could be quite a treat if and when it appears. Mann has long looked at filming a motorsport movie, his name has been linked with an Enzo Ferrari picture for years now. Let us hope that it gets the green light soon.

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Spot the difference

Looks the same to me... (pic Barry Adams)

You’d be hard pressed to spot the new generation of British Touring Cars during the first three races of the new season at Brands Hatch last Sunday. Aside from a couple of new marques it was business as usual with Jason Plato and Matt Neal winning in a Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic respectively.

The new turbo-charged NGTC-engined cars were slightly quicker in a straight-line than the normally-aspirated units, but again there is nothing unusual about hearing Plato moan about rivals blasting past him – LPG and diesels have been doing the same for the last couple of years. Ultimately it’s always a two litre petrol car that has taken the title and that could still happen this year as Plato once again leads the standings after some very accomplished driving from the old-pro. Jason’s first two 2011 victories also took his career total to 62, surpassing Andy Rouse’s 60 wins that were collected in a great variety of fire-spitting machinery through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

I was chuffed to see fellow scouse Paul O’Neill up there on the podium in race three, although not half as pleased as the man himself was! Speedworks were also representing my region as the Cheshire team ran their new Toyota Avensis which is still lacking the development it needs to put in a really respectable performance.

The new rules may have had little effect on the spectacle but teams like Speedworks are evidence that it could provide a lifeline to smaller teams which brings a spot of variety to the grid, always a healthy sign. It’s a lot better than watching half a grid of Vauxhalls knocking each other off the road back in 2001 when the BTCC last had a major rulebook rethink. This time around there is a welcome mix of old cars that have had new life breathed into them by the turbo engines and all-new machines such as the Toyota, the Audi and the new ‘global’ Ford Focus. TOCA have learned the lessons of the past choosing to evolve things a little slower than when they ditched the Super Tourers that the BTCC pioneered.

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A GT1 thriller? Yas please.

Say yes to Yas - the GT1 series thrilled the small crowds. (pic by Stuart Barr)


Although the start of a new F1 season always has the power to get me out of bed at the crack of dawn like a kid on Christmas Day, the Australian Grand Prix can’t really be called race of the week. Kevin Harvick’s last gasp battle with Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch was fantastic in the Sprint Cup at Fontana and the very welcome return of World Superbikes to Donington Park was a quality encounter, but bizarrely it was an endurance race on a track not famed for overtaking that rocked my yacht.

The GT1 World Championship got off the line in Abu Dhabi with less manufacturers but a higher standard of drivers. In the link below you will find the first and second race (if you skip the empty grid during the first 20 minutes) so I won’t go spoiling the results for you. It’s the second race where things get really tasty, even the pitlane was full of action. Enjoy.

Watch the 2011 GT1 Championship race from Abu Dhabi.

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Just add water

I’ve spent a few days away from the blog and the TV, so there was no race of the week from me last Monday. There should have been a Grand Prix to talk about of course, but the serious issues facing Bahrain put a stop to the fun and frivolity of F1. A week after the Grand Prix that never was and now the season is really kicking off with Moto GP, World Touring Cars and the new for 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup all bursting into life.

None of those international series provided the most entertaining racing of the weekend though, that was left to the good old V8 Supercars who were back where they belong on Australian soil for the Clipsal 500 around the streets of Adelaide. These famous roads were sprinkled with a little rain, the magic racing ingredient, making for a thrilling eight car battle for the first half of the 78 laps run on the Sunday.

The Ford of Will Davison started from pole and proceeded to fight with no less than eight Holdens, which hardly seemed fair. Big hitters like Courtney, Lowndes, Rick Kelly and eventual winner Jamie Whincup all ganged up on the blue car as a drying line began to emerge and Davison’s set-up slowly lost its edge before he suffered a poor pit stop. Door handle touched door handle, the wall got rubbed and there were all kinds of crazy racing lines being employed to find precious grip around the former home of the Australian Grand Prix. The racing was nearly all fair, unlike some other touring car series. This was a fine street fight if ever there was one.

Jamie Whincup drove as perfect a race as you could expect in such tricky conditions, eventually taking the flag from Rick Kelly by just over a second. During the early wet laps Whincup was spectacular yet controlled in his enthralling dice with Davison before dropping back a few places through the tightly-bunched pack. As the track dried he drove smoothly to regain the lead, though there was always the spectre of more precipitation quite literally hanging in the air. The hundreds of thousands of fans that flocked to see Australia’s favourite wheeled-warriors were treated to Race of Two World’s race of the week, let’s hope the streets of Melbourne are packed with this many thrills.

If you have the time then click here and check out the whole race. In the local parlance, it’s a ripper mate!

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Trevor who?

 

Yarborough won in a red and white Wood Brothers Ford wearing a Gold number 21 when Bayne was minus-23 years old (pic thehenryford)

After four hours of seriously intense racing the Daytona 500 was won by Trevor Bayne – a rookie who turned 20 the day before the race. The biggest question wasn’t how he’d done it, the question on the fans’ lips was who the hell is this Trevor kid? He had just snatched the biggest trophy in stock cars from under the noses of Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards – all drivers of some repute that are yet to tame all 500 miles.

 

The Wood Brothers, the oldest team in Nascar, ran the youngest driver in the field to the biggest moment of his life so far; quite a story. Jeff Gordon’s record of winning the Daytona 500 age 25 has been smashed and it wasn’t the only record to tumble at the beach today. A 17 car crash in the early going was just one of the record 16 cautions while 74 lead changes topped the previous best that was set way back in the 1970s.

 

The race started smoothly with two-car tandems quickly forming through the first 12 places while the rest raced as a pack. On lap three Daytona fell silent, except for the howl of 43 race cars of course, in tribute to the tenth anniversary of the loss of Dale Earnhardt. I proudly held aloft three fingers at home, shivers going down my spine as the 150,000 strong crowd did the same.

 

Plenty of bravery, nerve and speed were on show as the two-car tandems that have defined Speed Weeks led to nothing but bumper-to-bumper racing. The downside was that constant contact between cars allowed for very little flair to shine through as any hustling was often brutally punished, although Robby Gordon and Kyle Busch both dealt deftly with some serious cases of the oversteer blues. Still, it was fascinating hearing the drivers chatting to their rivals over the radio as they raced, the spotters on top of the stands who help the drivers avoid trouble were making deals from lap one right until the final restart.

 

In his early career Trevor Bayne ran the number 24 in deference to his hero Jeff Gordon, with whom Bayne teamed up with on Thursday in the Duels and in the early laps of the 500 before Gordon was caught up in the Big One, along with fellow Hendricks big boys Johnson and Martin, although the latter bounced back to contend for the win. During the course of his impeccable race there were plenty of elder statesmen who recognised Trevor Bayne’s potential and sought to lock fenders with him, in the end the youngster was pushed at the front on the final restart by old-timer Bobby Labonte – 26 years Bayne’s senior.

 

The race concluded with two green-white-chequers and it was the first of these that caught out Bayne’s drafting buddy David Ragan who was black-flagged for making his move across the track to team up with the 21 car before reaching the green flag. This left Bayne leading when a crash that took out fan-favourite Dale Earnhardt Jnr provided one more restart to contend with. Edwards and Gilliland pushed Bayne hard on these final, frantic laps and relegated Labonte to fourth, while Montoya and the Busch brothers were shuffled out at the last moment in a thrilling finish. All week we’d seen the leader passed on the final turn of the race but Bayne in his near-pristine motor held off the battered and bruised veterans that swarmed on his bumper.

 

After the race he was congratulated on the radio and replied by saying, “You’re kidding me? Am I dreaming right now?”

 

This new style of Daytona racing had drivers making friends with each other on the airwaves as they sought a buddy to draft with. Now everybody will want Trevor Bayne to be their best pal, although without a full-time ride for this new hero they may not get too many chances to dance with him.

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In the hot seat

 

Fancy a go at this? Hirvonen won in his Fiesta, but the star turn of Sweden came from a complete novice. (pic by Ford Europe)

On to happier matters. The new for 2011 World Rally Championship started its hopefully bright future on the gleaming white snow of Sweden last week. The big story was an incredibly tight final day that saw five drivers duking it out for the first victory of the new era, with Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen taking top spot, although the story that caught my eye was about a surprise interloper in this lead scrap – a chap called Chris Patterson.

 

The British interloper was thrust into the limelight at the end of the rally after Petter Solberg was caught speeding by the cops. A rally driver speeding, who’d have thunk it?

 

If you break the limit in Sweden you serve a driving ban that starts 48 hours after the offence, which seems like a pretty strong deterrent for the speedy. This fascinating forfeit for the fast left the former World Rally Champ and all-round nice guy with no choice but to hand the keys of his brand new Citroen over to his co-driver Chris Patterson. More used to looking into his lap than out of the windscreen, the raw rookie found himself needing to hold onto fifth over the final stage with non other than 7 million time champion Sebastian Loeb chasing them down. You can see Chris’ first experience of the driving seat here. It looks like a sterling job with only a little interference from his somewhat over-qualified driving instructor, just look how chuffed he is at the end of the stage!

 

This magic moment brings to mind Bernie Ecclestone in his Brabham days when he reputedly sent a message out on the PA system in Montreal back in 1980 asking if there was anybody in the stands who fancied being an F1 driver after Niki Lauda declared he was “tired of driving in circles”. Argentine driver Ricardo Zunino popped up and gladly took the seat, although it seems unlikely the reality of his appointment was quite so Hollywood. Zunino, a competent hand in F2, was already on Ecclestone’s radar and the ringmaster has always enjoyed a good story, but who are we to ruin such a charming tale?

 

A little more successful as an impromptu stand-in was John Boland. An Irish politician, he went to spectate at the Olympics revival in Athens in 1896 and came home with two gold medals. Unbeknownst to Boland his friend had entered him into the tennis competition where he excelled

by winning the gold in both the singles and doubles at the first modern Olympic Games. He never played competitive tennis again, it wasn’t going to get any better than that. Boland went back to politics, his Olympic golds becoming the world’s best ever holiday souvenirs.

 

The professionalism of sport today makes this about as likely to be repeated as the pilot on your Easyjet flight inviting you to land the plane yourself so he can take some time off and join the mile high club. The Solberg-Patterson car pool is about as close as we’ll see in motorsport to ‘one of us’ being thrust into the spotlight; Renault won’t even let its band of merry reserve drivers loose in its Grand Prix car, so we won’t be seeing Bernie asking the spectators to have a crack at driving any time soon.

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The 2009 BTCC title – it’s been emotional

Turkington and Plato tough it out into Paddock Hill

Turkington and Plato tough it out into Paddock Hill

Phew, did you see the final meeting of the British Touring Car Championship at Brands? It was quite something, the best championship finale for the British tin toppers since Cleland and Soper got acquainted at Silverstone back in 1992. Colin Turkington took the title, but boy did he have to work hard as he diced with fellow contenders Fabrizio Giovanardi and Jason Plato for the crown over the final three race meeting. It was like the good old days of the BTCC; there was even a Ford battling it out at the front and to top it off there was a crowd of nineties proportions with over 35,000 packing into Brands’ natural amphitheatre.

Before taking to the majestic Brands GP circuit it was nice guy Turkington who held a narrow lead in the drivers championship in his West Surrey Racing BMW ahead of the Vauxhall of the gloriously unhinged double champion Fab Gio and the unlikely lad Plato in his reasonably priced car. Watching from the pitlane were four generations of the Northern Irish Turkington clan; this was going to be emotional.

In race one Tom Chilton led away from his shock pole position in the aforementioned Ford, but Jason Plato in his Racing Silverline Chevy Lacetti was putting him under pressure the entire way. Plato was the surprise member of the three championship protagonists, he only got the drive with days to go before the start of the season, but he gamely went down fighting ’til the bitter end. Tom Chilton’s Team Aon Ford Focus dominated the race from lights to flag. Almost. With only one corner to go Plato pounced and scored the narrowest BTCC victory of all time as he pipped Chilton by a mere 0.015s. Team Aon were denied their first win, but the spiky coiffured Chilton wasn’t done yet and continued to figure at the sharp end all day. Turkington was down in eighth which allowed Giovanardi and Plato to close that gap.

Race two and the championship tightened up still further as Plato once again had to find a way past Chilton who gamely fought to keep a train of quicker cars behind him. Alas, they soon bundled Tom out of the way with Plato starting the Ford’s demise by nudging him wide at Druids. I can’t get over how Jason gets away with so much rough stuff, but this time it did have the effect of prolonging the title battle to the final round as Giovanardi and Turkington followed the Chevy home. It was great to see the top three in the championship proving their status by locking out the podium. It was clear that with Gio’s Vauxhall teammate Matt Neal on the pole for race three that Turkington would need to deliver the drive of his life to hold onto his slender title lead.

After a thrilling Nascar-style side-by-side duel between almost everybody on lap one, leader Matt Neal played the team game and held up Turkington to put him within reach of Giovanardi. This put Plato in striking range too though and the old fox wasn’t out of the championship chase just yet.

Eventually Colin Turkington made a move on Matt which ended in contact, an unusual sight for the BMW pilot in ’09. Although Colin now had the lead he was visibly slower and did an incredible job of hanging onto the top spot until lap 15 when, you guessed it, Plato snatched it from him. But a rare three wins from three races wasn’t quite enough for Jason as championship leader Turkington refused to give in and took his wounded car to second, enough for the title.

Colin’s first BTCC championship brought out the cheers and tears from the team, the family, the man himself and me. Yep, I got all emotional about it, which I think is about right. It took me back to the halcyon days when I was first watching touring cars intently and a nice bloke scooped the honours. Let’s hope next year delivers more of the same.

Well, things won’t quite be the same next year as Vauxhall are leaving the sport after 20 years on the trot. The marque gathered all their previous works drivers except race-a-holic James Thompson who was off racing whatever touring car he could get his hands on, as per usual. From Jeff Allam to Yvan Muller, they were all there to pose by a selection of Vauxhall’s most successful 2 litre touring cars.

Vauxhall were the last of the works efforts in the BTCC, it looks like it will be all privateers next year as the big boys tighten their belts. That makes it seem rather apt that two independent runners, Turkington and Plato, took the first two spots on the leaderboard by season’s end. I doff my hat to both for putting on a mighty show at Brands and bravo to Vauxhall for supporting the sport so loyally for so long.

Those in Britain can still catch all the action on ITV4’s website.

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