I hope by now everyone has seen Rush, the brilliant Hollywood-style movie about James Hunt battling Niki Lauda for the 1976 Formula One championship.
Even better is a documentary on the same subject done by the BBC and titled Clash of the Titans. If you want to see the real Hunt and Lauda, rather than actors, click here to view this doc on YouTube.
The championship came through Mosport that year for the Canadian Grand Prix. Lauda, still defending his 1975 World Championship and barely recovering from his near fatal crash in Germany just two months earlier, was on the starting grid.
I watched this excellent documentary recently and there at Mosport, face-to-face (briefly) with Hunt was a teenager with look-alike long blond hair. That awestruck teenager is now one of Canada’s most successful car retailers – Chris Pfaff. Pfaff sells Audis, VWs, Porsches, Toyotas, Hyundais and even McLarens. That’s appropriate – Hunt drove a McLaren in 1976.
“Back then,” Pfaff says, “my father had the one dealership and we were always doing things around motorsport at Mosport. For years, he drove drivers in the drivers’ parade. Dad always made sure he got the pole-sitter which was James Hunt for that 1976 Grand Prix.”
The other drivers in the race that day included Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Clay Regazzoni, Jacky Ickx, Jochen Mass and Jody Scheckter. Hunt won the race and Lauda finished eighth.
”What amazed me,” Pfaff says, “is that James Hunt’s pole time was a minute and twelve seconds. Today, the fastest car that has driven a lap at Mosport is 1:04.5 with all the sophisticated equipment. How does a guy turn a 1:12 in those cars?”
In Rush, Hunt is portrayed as a glamorous English playboy while Lauda is methodical and humourless. “You’re just a party boy,” Lauda says to Hunt in the film. The documentary shows that the characterization of both people was extremely accurate – although they did come to respect one another as time went on.
Pfaff was only in the documentary for a second or two but it is unmistakably him – only the haircut has changed.
“Were you imitating James Hunt with the long hair?” I asked.
“That was just the look in those days,” he replied. “But James Hunt was incredible. The fastest I’ve ever done a lap at Mosport is 1:30 – that’s more than 30 years later in a very sophisticated car. Hunt was doing 20 seconds a lap faster. Back then! It’s crazy.”
Some car dealers I’ve met would be just as happy selling refrigerators or life insurance. Dealers who are enthusiasts are “real car guys.” Standing face to face with Hunt in 1976 and getting it captured in a documentary – well, that’s a good start on your car cred.
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