True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

Counting Blue Cars- Long Beach Preview: Will Honda Stay Strong?

Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series starts Friday in Long Beach.  This is my favorite street event on the circuit.  The entire community embraces the race, the fans are knowledgeable, and the amount of activities and displays are unsurpassed at any street event.  This race has a 40 year plus history, and it shows. They know how to do this event properly.  Every Indycar fan needs to go to Long Beach at least once.

The best advice for watching this year is get a spotter’s guide. Sponsor and livery changes abound.  Ed Carpenter Racing has Spencer Pigot sponsored by Loki the Wolf Dog and J. R. Hildebrand is in the Preferred Freezer Services livery this week. Scott Dixon’s car will look like Tony Kanaan’s carrying both carrying NTT Data colors.  Helio Castroneves is in the AAA car this week.  Simon Pagenaud has Menard’s livery and Josef Newgarden is wearing the Hum colors.  Graham Rahal’s car is sponsored by Mi-Jack this week. Last, Marco Andretti has switched to UFD, which will be his sponsor for 7 races this year, as H. H. Gregg is out as a sponsor.

If you like blue and white cars, don’t miss this race.  Eleven cars carry this combination in some form.   I can’t remember such a large change in two consecutive races.

This race will tell us more about Honda this year. Was St. Pete a fluke? Is Honda for real? I think the latter is true.  Do they have enough for the pole? Probably, but Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have to be the favorites.  For the race itself, there is an even more motivated Will Power after his race debacle at St. Pete, and Scott Dixon, hoping to build on his third place finish  in Florida. Dixon also wants to correct his qualifying error that cost him the pole.

Drivers to watch closely this weekend are Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, and Josef Newgarden.  After his convincing win at St. Pete, a good Long Beach result could put Bourdais in the thick of the title hunt. Rahal typically starts the season slowly, but could use a top 5 in the race after his collision in St. Pete. Newgarden, in his second race for Penske, looks to improve on his 8th place at St. Pete.  He has qualified on the front row at Long Beach before, so a crucial good starting spot is possible.

Passing is challenging here, so pit strategy is crucial. Only two drivers, Mike Conway, who started 17th in 2014, and Will Power,12th on the grid in 2012,  have won from outside the top 5 in qualifying..  I see this coming down to a race between Pagenaud and Dixon, like last year, with Dixon prevailing this time.

Bonus Coverage:  NBCSN is airing practice live tomorrow at 5 pm . The network did this several times last year.  Qualifying is at 6:30 pm Saturday, and race coverage begins at 4 pm Sunday.  Practice sessions not on TV are streamed.


Remember the good old days when Penske and Ganassi were known collectively as the red cars?  The only red left are the numbers on the 2 and 12.

I can’t remember the last time Fuzzy’s Vodka was not a primary sponsor on an ECR car.

This is the 34th Indycar event at Long Beach.  Mario Andretti won the first event in 1984.  Before Indycar ran here this was the venue for the Formula 1 US Grand Prix.

IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge also are racing this weekend.