“Really? You weren’t already flat out? Come on.”
That’s the reaction IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti has when the shot in a racing film cuts to the driver’s right foot stomping his gas pedal to the floor as he attempts a pass, usually for the lead.
And, he’s also the reason movie goers won’t see any such unrealistic portrayals of racing in the upcoming animated film Turbo, which opens July 17.
“The racing sequences in Turbo are so accurate and they’ve done such a good job and then they go with the fantasy part of it and the story of the snail,” said Franchitti who one of several IndyCar drivers at a special Toronto screening of the film last week.
“It was funny to see the drivers’ reactions – I think they all loved it. The kids loved it, but the drivers really enjoyed themselves too.”
Turbo is the story of an ordinary garden snail who dreams of racing in the Indianapolis 500. The film follows two pairs of brothers, one snail and the other human, where one in each is a dreamer while the other is a realist.
Without giving away the story, the dreamers end up winning over the realists and Turbo goes to Indianapolis to try to qualify for the 500 after a freak accident makes him as fast as an IndyCar.
One of the drivers at the screening in Toronto was his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, who brought his two daughters Poppy, 4, and Tilly, who will be two in September, to see the film.
“Poppy being biased – she loves racing anyway because that’s what dad does – but she absolutely loved the movie and wanted to see it again,” said Dixon, who won both ends of the doubleheader IndyCar races in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday.
“I don’t know how kids do that, you play a movie and then you play it again and they’ll watch it straight again.”
Although kids will love the story and the fun effects made possible by the 3D format, racing fans will marvel at the intricate animated recreation of the famed Brickyard and the gripping wheel-to-wheel action in the film’s Indianapolis 500 scenes.
Keeping things real was one of the first things the four-time IndyCar champion talked about with the film’s writer and director, Toronto’s David Soren, when he signed on as a racing advisor to the production two years ago.
“I actually gave them a list of racing films and said ‘Look guys you can watch these’,” he said.
“I don’t know if they actually did but Grand Prix and Le Mans I thought were first class – there wasn’t much of a story to them but as a racing fan they were amazing – and then you get ones like Driven, which were god awful in everything.”
Franchitti got a call from former IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard about two years ago to help with the film, which was being made by Hollywood giant DreamWorks Animation.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion was initially hesitant about being an advisor on the film.
“When he told me they wanted to do an animated film about a snail racing in the Indy 500 I went ’huh?’” Franchitti said, furrowing his brow.
“But as soon as I heard DreamWorks, there was a big level of comfort there because all their films are fantastic. In the first meeting with them, I did say that this is something that’s very close to my heart but a lot of other people’s hearts too, and it really has to be treated with respect.”
He wasn’t disappointed as the filmmakers quickly showed that they would do things right.
For example, Franchitti came on board just after the 2011 Indy 500 where J.R. Hildebrand crashed on the final turn of the lap while leading the race and handed the win to Dan Wheldon.
When the filmmakers asked question after question about the rubber “marbles” that caused the Panther driver to lose grip and slide into the wall, Franchitti knew they were serious.
He also came up with a novel idea to help the animators recreate them on screen.
“I started trying to explain it and I sucked at it to be honest,” he said.
“So, I told them to call [former Bridgestone executive director of motorsports] Al Speyer and get him to send some. So, literally, a bucket of marbles showed up at DreamWorks. Because he is only two inches high, from Turbo’s point of view when these marbles are in the way, they are pretty realistic – so little things like that.”
Marbles are the by-product of the tires rubbing on the surface of the racetrack. The movement produces rubber pieces to scrape off the tire surface. They are called marbles because if you happen to get off the racing line, the driver loses control of the car as if it were riding on a bunch of them.
The filmmakers also went to great lengths to get the Indianapolis Motor Speedway exactly right, even down to the diamond grind of the track.
“The surface of the track there is all serrated, and they got it dead on,” Franchitti said.
“There’s a bit in the movie when Turbo is doing a passing move and he’s up beside the wall in Turn 2, and we were talking about and I said there’s a gate there. So, when the final animation came out, there was the gate. It was like talking to the engineers here (in IndyCar): They wanted detail, detail, detail.”
Although the kids watching the film might not pick up on the attention to detail that Franchitti helped to create, there’s no doubt that the movie will play a huge role in introducing a new generation of fans to racing.
And happily for the parents, there are many jokes aimed at them too.
“I think it be a fantastic thing for the sport and bring it new, younger fans, but also the adults – I think it is massive for the sport,” Franchitti said.
“I think it appeals to everybody and it will bring IndyCar to a younger audience but also the parents too, who might watch a race now. And, when they get that passion for it, it’s big.”
Wickens wins – eventually
Canadian Robert Wickens scored his maiden pole in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship on Saturday and then followed it with his first career victory, albeit hours after the chequered flag flew.
The Guelph, Ont., native originally finished second in the race but was promoted to the top step of the podium when winner Mattias Ekström was excluded from the results after his Audi crew filled his pockets with water in parc fermé before the post-race weigh-in.
“It was a close-fought race,” said Wickens, who drives the STIHL Mercedes AMG C-Coupé.
“There were two safety car periods, and we changed strategy after the second safety car phase, which my team and I thought would be good tactics. I started from pole, was in 14th place for a time and ultimately won the race – I overtook a few cars and enjoyed the feeling.”
Unfortunately for Wickens, the Audi driver’s team has made it clear that an appeal is forthcoming, so the result remains provisional until the case is heard.
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone