Saturday, 8 November 2014

Medium gear: "Journey to Le Mans"

After the 3D sensation TT: Closer to the Edge and the current DVD hit Road, our motorsport docs have evidently hit upon a certain formula for success, more evident in the new release Journey to Le Mans than it was behind its predecessors' compelling stories and archive footage: set up your recording equipment in some scrappy/scruffy underdog's garage, get a sense of the personalities involved as they scrape themselves off the track and back into contention, wring hands a little at the spectacular 200mph carnage incurred en route, before finally pressing home the need for speed, the better to send your assumed audience of petrolheads home with a heady whiff of diesel in their nostrils.

This pretty functional entry in the canon mostly plays as an extended promo for Jota Sport, the team of Brit privateers who were hardly setting the world of endurance racing alight - at least until a change of fortunes earlier this year. There's a strong feeling that the company's chairman enlisted one of his golf buddies' camera-toting offspring to tag along with the team over what would eventually prove a most dramatic season. As a film, though, Journey to Le Mans proves banal. Previous motodocs gained from centring on such outliers as Guy Martin and the Dunlop brothers - individuals every bit as compelling off-track as they are on. Jota's drivers, on the other hand - experienced Simon Dolan and rookie Harry Tincknell - are clearly committed but unexceptional pros; their interviews come in on or around the level of any other post-race chinwag with Suzi Perry.

Obliged to boil down long-distance competitions into neat segments within a 90-minute movie, there isn't much feel for endurance racing, either: you'll look in vain for any real dramatisation of the shifting phases of these events, the fatigue they must induce in competitors and onlookers alike, how many hours of sound tactical racing can be destroyed in a matter of seconds by driver error. We just about get the start and finish of last season's qualifying rounds; in between, the film's interest lies in such technicalities as telemetric displays, wheel changes, and what happens when the safety car comes out. Between awfully literal songs - carrying us on the blandest of lyrical journeys, from (yes!) "I feel the need for speed" to "We've made it/Our time has come" - Patrick Stewart, perhaps another golf buddy, strives to give the voiceover some gravitas, but it all seems as much fan fare as those World Superbike Championship round-ups that crept into cinemas a little while back.

Journey to Le Mans screens with a Q&A in selected cinemas this Tuesday.

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