Kiwis back on top at Le Mans

By David Thomson on Sat, 24 Jun 2017

The motorsport side of my brain must have been on standby mode last weekend, as I made it all the way to Sunday night before realising the Le Mans 24 Hour Race was on.

Thanks to live commentary on Autosport magazine's website, I was able to quickly discover that two Kiwi drivers, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber, were (along with Germany's Timo Bernhard) making an unlikely charge for victory in the No 2 Porsche 919 hybrid.

As history now records, the trio turned an 18-lap deficit, incurred after a mechanical failure just four hours into the race, into a winning margin of more than a lap. Such comebacks are only possible in endurance racing, which is one of the reasons races such as Le Mans have such a unique appeal.

This was Le Mans victory No 2 for Bernhard and Bamber, but for Hartley it was his maiden win in the French classic. His best previous result was runner-up, when Bamber was part of the winning crew in 2015.

Hartley will savour his success all the more as a long-time admirer of the late Chris Amon, who won Le Mans with fellow Kiwi Bruce McLaren way back in 1966. The success of Bamber and Hartley - the first by two Kiwis at Le Mans since Amon and McLaren - gave me the motivation to head to the movies on Monday night to see Roger Donaldson's latest motorsport movie.

McLarenis a documentary similar in its approach to Asif Kapadia's outstanding movie on Ayrton Senna. While it doesn't scale the same cinematic heights as Senna(for which far more high quality contemporary footage existed), McLarenis a well-crafted look at one of New Zealand's greatest racing drivers and our top racecar designer and engineer.

Great use is made of period footage (both professionally shot and home movies) and excerpts from the audio tape recordings McLaren sent to his parents in Auckland. Insightful interviews with those who knew and worked with McLaren in the 1960s are nicely woven into the mix, and Donaldson deserves special congratulations for his timing, as a number of those who feature in these interviews are no longer with us.

Amid scenes from racing in the glamour spots of Europe and North America, there was a rare gem of racing footage from Dunedin's Oval circuit in the early 1960s, and, as coincidence would have it, I drove down that very same stretch of road on my way to the theatre.

It would be fair to say that McLarenwill likely appeal to a specialist rather than general audience, but it builds to a quite emotional climax even for those who, like me, know the story well. If you haven't seen it yet, McLarenis screening at Rialto and Metro cinemas in Dunedin. It gets the thumbs up from me.

David Thomson