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.

Movie Review- A Sicilian Dream

I have always enjoyed reading about the great races in Europe- Monaco, Le Mans, Monza, the Mille Miglia, a thousand mile road race through Italy. Another race that fascinated me was the Targa Florio in Sicily.  It did not get the attention of the other European races. Until today, I knew less about it than any other race.  Today I saw A Sicilian Dream, a documentary about the Targa Florio, at the Indy Film Fest. Another screening will be Saturday afternoon at 3:15 pm at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The story has former driver Alain de Cadenet, who nearly lost his life in a horrific fiery crash during the 1970 race, driving the 44 mile, 710 turn course with Francesco Motosco, who remembers watching the race as a boy. They drive a 1931 Alfa Romeo, rumored to be the car driven by Tazio Nuvolari in the race. The film interviews people who watched the race, last held in 1977, and still have fond memories of the event and what it meant to Sicily.  We also hear from a relative of the race founder, Vincenzo Florio, whose husband was the promoter in its final years. Vincenzo was a dreamer and impulsive. The youngest son of a shipping magnate, he was not involved with the family business and had time to pursue his ideas.

The first race was in  1906. During the previous year, Florio mapped out a course through the towns in the la Mondie mountains (only 92 miles long), built grandstands and a timing stand. The race distance was 276 miles- 3 laps. The course changed several times. For a few years it ran the perimeter of the island. Its last iteration was a 44 mile circuit with a distance of 484 miles- 11 laps. In the early days there were no pit stops. Drivers would tour the course before the race and hide cans of fuel in the woods at points where they thought they would need to refill. In later years, drivers marked areas of the track that they thought would give them the most trouble. They spray painted walls and rocks as a warning. Each driver did this individually. One of the most striking scenes was one of these trouble spots. each driver not only marked their trouble spots, but they each used a different color and a different symbol. Some of the rocks seemed to have hieroglyphs on them from the various markings.

The story of de Cadenet’s 1970 crash was told from a point of view I didn’t expect. The son of the spectator who watched his father pull de Cadenet from his burning car and drag the unconscious driver across the road reenacted his dad’s actions at the spot where the crash occurred. Brian Redman also had a fiery crash in that year’s race. One charred piece of Redman’s car remains on display in Sicily. There is a touching scene where he sees the piece and picks it up. You can just imagine what he’s feeling at the time.

After 1977, the race stopped. There were many factors.in its demise. First, finances. There was never any admission fee for spectators. Early on, the whole operation was funded by Florio. Second, safety. There never guardrails nor spectator protection.Crowds had grown to more than 500,00. The streets had become too narrow for the cars. Third, the cars themselves. Manufacturers began building special machines just for this race, reaching speeds up to 150 miles an hour on the long straight. The cars simply outgrew the track. The race continues as a rally now.

The film contains a lot of vintage footage of races gone by.  The passion shown by the citizens talking about watching the race was touching. You can feel the passion in their voices. It was fan ownership of the event. At the end, a British vintage auto club is set to tour the course in their own cars, many of which are relatives of the cars that once drove the great road race.

 

For more information about the film, visit the website, siciliandreammovie.com

Photo above- Stirling Moss driving the 1955 Mercedes he drove to victory  in the Targa Florio. Photo by Lothar Spurzem

 

Tracks on the Bucket list

My bucket list continues to shrink. Four years ago I checked off the first track on my list, Milwaukee. Last year kind scheduling  allowed the chance to cross off more places. This year it will shrink even more. I wonder what happens if I finish my bucket list. Maybe I don’t want to know. Fortunately, one of the tracks will be pretty near impossible for me to get to.

If Indycar races at a track, I want to go there. However, not all tracks have  historic significance. It is those tracks with a long history of Indycar and sports car racing that hold the most fascination for me. I have been to every track on the current Indycar circuit except for Texas.  Strangely, I don’t care if I ever go there.  One reason is timing. After an entire of Indianapolis and then Detroit, I need a break. Even though Texas is an oval, I think Indycar has outgrown the 1.5 mile cookie cutter ovals like Texas, Chicago, and Kentucky.  I loved Kentucky, but the DW12 can race better elsewhere.

The bucket list tracks I have been to since Milwaukee are Sebring, Long Beach, Toronto, and Phoenix.  A little bit about each one:

Milwaukee- Long before The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a gleam in Carl Fisher’s eye, cars raced at Milwaukee. History oozes from the track, very much like IMS. Flat urns and short straightaways make this a challenging track. I really enjoyed the racing here. It’s sad that there will most likely be no more racing here.

Toronto- Exhibition Place is a great venue for an Indycar race. The Prince’s Gate is a fantastic landmark as the drivers head for turn 1. The weekend has the same feeling as Indy. The fans are very friendly and knowledgeable. When the track closes, you get to spend the evening in Toronto. This race is a win-win.

Toronto 2013 202

Sebring- I had wanted to go to the Sebring 12 hour race since I was in 5th grade. I finally made it last year. This is not the place for a lot of the creature comforts many tracks have today. It is old fashioned in every sense. Most fans camp here, and the party atmosphere is evident all weekend. I have always found something romantic about endurance racing. Attending one in person only reinforced that feeling. Cell picsFloridaAZ 175

Phoenix- Next to Sebring, Phoenix was the track I had wanted to go to the longest. It had been off the Indycar schedule for years, and I thought I would never get to see a race here. I was overjoyed when Phoenix was announced as part of the 2016 schedule. The setting is beautiful. The oval with a turn 2 dogleg nestles at the foot of the mountains.

This year’s Indycar schedule also allows me to get two more tracks off of my list- Road America and Watkins Glen. These are two of the most historic tracks in The United States, and I was losing hope of ever getting to see a race there. I wll share my impressions after the races there.

The last tracks on my bucket list are in Europe- Spa, Le Mans, and Monaco. I am planning to go to Le mans in 2018. Monaco is most likely not possible unless the date does not conflict with the 500. I’ve got to keep my 50% ratio there. Spa is possible, though a bit of a  far-fetched fantasy. So, what happens when this bucket list is complete? I have other lists involving vacation travel. I should be around for a very long time.