Tinseltown's motor racing rush

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The success of the Senna movie seems to have sparked something of a feeding frenzy among Hollywood industry moguls. Suddenly motor racing appears to have become one of moviedom’s favoured themes with a number of projects either under active development or about to enter production.

Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard of Cocoon, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind fame is poised to start shooting in February 2012 a new feature film entitled Rush, which is based upon the 1976 Formula 1 World Championship rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Recently I spent some time with the Rush production team, being grilled about what racing was like back in ’76, how we regarded Hunt and Lauda, any ticks and nuances they should perhaps consider, and more and more and more. Ron Howard – who came across as a very pleasant cove – seemed particularly interested in why it is that a majority of confirmed enthusiasts seem to consider that a decent motor racing movie has never yet been made. One thing – apart from risible scripts – which sprang to mind was the habitual cutaway, whose frequent use in John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix epic whenever a following driver pulled out to pass the chap ahead would show us his right foot pressing down harder on the throttle. Explaining how corner exit speed, slipstream effect and impetus – rather than ‘extra’ throttle opening – really gets the job done seemed to fall on receptive soil. I could hardly imagine any proper racer ever leaving some degree of throttle opening unused.

In addition to Rush on 1976 and the Hunt/Lauda duel, there are a couple of still classified projects boiling up which feature some of their contemporaries as the star characters of new movie scripts. The old chestnut of Mon Ami Mate and the Hawthorn/Collins relationship of 1956-58 has had new life breathed into it, and the pre-war story of Dick Seaman and Erika Popp, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union Silver Arrows etc is also being actively promoted – though that would demand an immense budget, probably more than Rush’s alleged $60 million (£38m). And there’s also the 1961 season story of Phil Hill/’Taffy’ von Trips, written by Michael Cannell and being energetically promoted in Tinseltown.

Way back, the movie companies actually bought obsolescent racing cars to feature in their big-screen productions. MGM bought freshly retired 1½-litre F1 cars for its 1966 Grand Prix production, as did Warner Brothers for its still-born parallel production, what should have been Steve McQueen’s Day of the Champion. But with the current interest levels in historic and even modern-era F1 cars – and their commercial values – today the movie makers are leaning heavily on enthusiastic owner-drivers. There’s earning in the air, boys… and many regular runners are queuing up right now to participate.

Whether all of this will just result in another waste of good celluloid, or of good electrons, remains to be seen…