Five motorsport epics owed a Hollywood retelling
So last week I finally got round to watching Rush, the cinematic epic of James Hunt and Niki Lauda’s 1976 Formula 1 season. Yes, I realise it’s taken me a while, but with Rush, 1 and Senna, I’m now all caught up. And this got me thinking. Given the success of Rush and the rich tapestry of rivalries in motorsport across more than half a century, surely another Hollywood epic is just around the corner. And there are plenty to choose from.
And when I say ‘Hollywood epic’, I’m not talking about CGI-ed crap with a bucketload of cash and star billing thrown in its direction (yes, I’m looking at you Driven and Days of Thunder). The subject matter you’ll find below will have no ‘shake and bake’, but could well include the music of Mr Dark Knight himself, Hans Zimmer.
1. Colin McRae vs Tomi Makkinen vs Carlos Sainz
Three of the greatest World Rally Champions in living memory headed into the 1998 season as championship favourites: Carlos Sainz, the wily old campaigner with plenty left in the tank; Tommi Mäkinen, precision incarnate and the reigning champion; Colin McRae, the Gilles Villeneuve of the stages giving 110 per cent come what may. Heading into the penultimate rally of the season, just eight points separated the top three, Sainz the favourite to lift the crown, Mäkinen the perennial thorn in his side, and McRae – having fought his way back from the brink – now in with a shout of toppling the top dogs. Ironically, none of them would finish the season finale, Sainz’s retirement less than a mile from victory one of the cruellest blows motorsport has ever delivered.
A broken Corolla and a disconsolate Sainz on the final stage of Rally GB
Makkinen learns he is the champion, live on air, via phone call
McRae wins Rally Portugal from Sainz by 2.1sec, the then closest in WRC history
2. Michael Schumacher vs. Damon Hill (1994)
French Grand Prix, ’94. Two young drivers – British gentleman Damon Hill and brilliant German Michael Schumacher – usher in a new generation for Formula 1 in the mid-1990s, three-time Grand Prix winner Hill beginning his life anew as team leader at Williams following the death of teammate Ayrton Senna earlier in the season. Some 37 points down on Schumacher after seven races, Hill begins his fight back for the championship, finishing first or second seven times in the following eight races. In the interim, Schumacher and the Benetton team are disqualified and banned for two races owing to an illegal fuel valve, confirming suspicions up and down the pitlane of potential foul play. Then comes the season finale in Australia, the championship rivals split by just one point. Lap 36: Schumacher’s crippled Bennetton wipes out Hill’s unsighted Williams. The championship belongs to the German. A new era has begun…
Lap 36. Contact. A champion crowned
Hill learns that team leader Aryton Senna has been killed in Imola
Schumacher’s teammate Jos Verstappen bursts into flames during his pitstop
3. Alessandro Zanardi
Undoubtedly the greatest fightback in Alessandro Zanardi’s career was that made after his near fatal accident at the Lausitzring in 2001. That the force of Alex Tagliani’s Forsythe Racing Reynard slamming into the stricken Mo Nunn Racing single seater at nearly 300kph did not kill the Italian is nothing short of miraculous, but it still cost Zanardi both of his legs. Two years later, he returned to Lausitzring to finish the 13 laps he failed to finish on that fateful day. One year later, he was racing – and winning – in the World Touring Car Championship. In 2012, Zanardi won Paralympic gold at the London Olympics. What part of this story does not lend itself to a cinematic saga?
The fateful crash, and medical crew recovery, at the Lausitzring, 2001
Zanardi’s rehabilitation and coming to grips with his new prosthetic limbs
An emotional first win in a WTCC BMW at the Osterreichring, 2005
4. Dan Wheldon
Somehow the British boy from Milton Keynes dragged his way into the American big leagues at a time when American single seater racing was arguably at its most segregated. Having battled the likes of Jenson Button (2009 Formula 1 world champion) in the lower formulae, Wheldon would replace IndyCar giant Michael Andretti at the latter’s eponymous outfit in 2003, going on to win the prestigious Indianapolis 500 – which he proclaimed ‘ the greatest race in the world’ – as well as the Indy Racing League title just two years later. After two largely unsuccessful years with Panther Racing, Wheldon would take on just three races in 2011: the first was the Indy 500, which he won after long time leader J. R. Hildebrand crashed on the final lap. The last was at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway season finale, which boasted a 34-strong grid on the short oval and a $5 million prize pot for any none regular driver who could win the race. On lap 11, Wheldon went airborne into the catch-fencing at 350kph, and died from his injuries. Aged just 33, the boy from Britain was already a legend in American motorsport.
Wheldon drinks victory milk at the Indy 500 for the second time in 2011
The aftermath in the Las Vegas paddock when the announcement is made
Losing his Panther Racing drive in 2010, and coming close to ending his single seater career
5. Sébastien Loeb vs. Sébastien Ogier
Two Sébastiens, two French rally drivers, one goal. One is a nine-time World Rally Champion and a king of the sport. The other – arguably the most talented of his generation – is a precocious newcomer, keen to topple the reigning champion rather than play the team game. After several standout performances in the junior World Rally Championship – in which he not only outpaced Citroen teammate and former F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen but led on a shock debut WRC works outing with Citroen – Ogier got his shot at the big time alongside Loeb. Wins pivoted between the teammates, and as the title hung in the balance, relations started to deteriorate. By season’s end, Loeb had claimed his ninth (and final) title while a disillusioned Ogier – after several bust ups on-track – headed for the door. Fast forward to 2013. Loeb, in his final ever WRC rally. Ogier, already champion with VW. The French Rally. Feuds to settle, nothing and everything to lose in equal measure. One last time to prove who was the best…
Ogier’s first ever win in Portugal 2010
Ogier’s ‘role’ in helping Loeb win the title in 2011
Loeb rolls on his final ever rally, Ogier takes the victory
– Stirling Moss vs. Juan Manuel Fangio
– Gilles Villeneuve vs. Didier Pironi
– Foyt family vs. Andretti family
– Jeff Gordon vs. Dale Earnhardt