“Turbo” is IndyCar’s best chance to hit mainstream, new fans in a dozen years

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There’s one very important thing I’ll say up front about DreamWorks Animation’s latest animated film, “Turbo:” It’s not about “us.”

By “us,” I mean racing insiders, veterans and observers who are already hooked on IndyCar racing, or have followed the sport for generations, through any and all peaks and valleys, management turmoil and political unrest.

No, “Turbo” represents IndyCar’s best chance in the last dozen years to re-enter the mainstream consciousness, and attract new, particularly younger fans. It’s a rare chance that can’t be squandered, given the last film attempt trying to pump open-wheel racing out to a broader audience was “Driven.”

A dozen years later, the film starring an aging veteran (Sylvester Stallone) coming out of retirement to help develop a talented rookie (Kip Pardue, better known as the guy who played Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass in “Remember the Titans”) is still a running joke in racing circles.

It’s with that as a backdrop that I’ll say that DreamWorks has managed to make a movie about a snail entering the Indianapolis 500 – an unrealistic premise in anything other than an animated film – more realistic than “Driven.”

Of course, “Turbo” aims much higher than that. If the social media and marketing tagline at this year’s Indianapolis 500 was “Indy 500 or Bust,” “Turbo or Bust” might be an appropriate one for this film.

The visionary on the project is director, co-writer and story creator David Soren, a Toronto native who came home to see an advanced screening this past weekend ahead of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader.

Soren said ahead of the screening that the inspiration came from his children’s love of speed and his own snail infestation problem in his front yard. He was one of several who spoke to the Associated Press for a preview piece.

The idea was one of dozens he’d submitted to DreamWorks, and it got approved after years of trying.

Without giving anything plot-wise away, the concept behind the film is simple: your all-American dream of rags to riches, except in this case, it’s a snail (Theo, who becomes Turbo, voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who gains supernatural speed in a freak accident and escapes the drudgery of his home to attempt to race in the Indianapolis 500.

Objectively speaking, the film starts out great for the first half hour or so, with perhaps a slight lull in the middle, and a build to the climax at the finish. At barely 90 minutes, if that, it’s short enough to keep an attention span without dragging.

One of the things I was impressed with from the screening was the attention to detail. If you’ve ever been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, either as a fan or working, you’ll appreciate every little observation that has been perfectly adapted.

They’ve ensured it’s not some generic IndyCar in the film, but that it is the current Dallara DW12 in low-downforce speedway configuration. Plus the legendary/notorious “Yellow Shirts” appear, the Pagoda and the scoring tower are depicted accurately, and other elements along the way immediately strike a chord that DreamWorks “gets it.”

Dario Franchitti’s presence on the film as a technical consultant clearly helps the racing sequences. The super-imposing of a snail racing in-between 32 other cars shouldn’t have been as seamlessly integrated as it is, but it looks promising.

The thing I was most impressed with on Thursday night? The laughter. The actual engagement for the kids of drivers Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Carpenter, who were either rolling on the floor laughing or had their eyes so big because they were captivated.

Yes, these kids already have the internal workings of IndyCar at least somewhat tattoed on their brains. But if they’re anything close to a representative sample of how younger kids who have no idea or concept of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 might react, that’s going to be a benefit for all parties.

My advice going into the film? If you’re currently involved with the series, remove yourself from the internal day-to-day workings of IndyCar and how race weekends tend to go. Sit back, relax, and appreciate the detail that’s on offer.

And if you’re not into IndyCar, or racing, it seriously has the potential to convert you. I walked out and heard a couple kids asking questions about IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, and that was all I needed to hear.

“Turbo” opens nationwide July 17. See the trailer above and see a list of other “Turbo” related stories we’ve done on MotorSportsTalk listed below.

Porsche ready for final LMP1 outing in Bahrain

Photo: Porsche
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At the conclusion of this weekend’s Six Hours of Bahrain, Porsche’s four-year run in the LMP1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship will come to a close. The pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids will roll off from first and third after Friday’s qualifying, and will look to add one more win to their final tally.

Despite its short stint, Porsche more than made its mark on the class and the championship, immediately jumping to the fore and challenging young hotshots Toyota, race winners in 2012 and 2013 and LMP1 champions in 2014, and long-time stalwarts Audi, which introduced its first LMP1 entry in 1999 and quickly became the predominant force in the LMP category.

The 2014 season saw Porsche score four poles and a race win before embarking on a remarkable three-year stretch from 2015 to 2017, in which they scored three straight 24 Hours of Le Mans wins and three straight WEC driver and manufacturer championships (they wrapped the 2017 titles at the previous race in Shanghai.

Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of the LMP1 effort, detailed that the early days of the program were a little rocky, given the complex hybrid technology they were working with, but that they were able to find their stride relatively quickly.

“Back then (in 2014), we developed from zero a highly complex hybrid racecar on a Formula One level. The early days were extremely demanding, especially as we had to set up the infrastructure, including new buildings, at the same time, plus assembling a team of 260 excellent people. The timing was really tight and the 2014 Le Mans race came way too early for us. But since then, we have managed maximum success. I’m incredibly proud of this team and I hope that we can conclude the era of the Porsche 919 Hybrid with a good race in Bahrain.”

Team principal Andreas Seidl added that having the championships wrapped up will make the final weekend more enjoyable, as they won’t have the pressure of racing with the championships in mind.

“I feel a big relief that the pressure of defending the manufacturers’ and drivers’ world championship titles is resolved before our last race. The emotions of the farewell under the stress of the title battle would have been extremely hard for the team,” Seidl revealed.

Further, he added that Toyota’s TS050, which debuted last year, made their task all the more challenging as they worked to developed the Porsche 919 Hybrid –  the same basic car that they launched in 2014.

“In Toyota this year, we are facing a competitor who developed an all-new car for 2016. We, instead, kept developing our existing car. That we still won Le Mans as well as both championship titles is thanks to outstanding driver performances, many detailed improvements and the operational strength of our team,” Seidl asserted. “Now we have to get ourselves together and focus on this last race. We want to leave the stage not only as world champions but also with a performance that is satisfying for all of us. Six hours of reliability and faultless work are big challenges of men and machine. Safety has the highest priority. Only after the checkered flag can we allow our reflective feelings to break through.”

In terms of approaching Porsche’s LMP1 swan song, some drivers are taking different approaches. For example, Nick Tandy, driver of the No.1 entry with Neel Jani and André Lotterer, isn’t putting much thought into the farewell and is focusing entirely on the race.

“I prefer not to think about the farewell yet,” Tandy quipped. “The Bahrain race is very interesting anyway because we are racing from day into night. It is normally very hot for the car, the drivers and especially the tires. It is a challenging race to finish the season at. I haven’t been there since 2015 but I was on the podium back then when I came second in the LMP2 class. So this year’s target is to make it onto the LMP1 podium.”

Conversely, newly crowned champion Brendon Hartley, driver of the No. 2 entry with fellow champions Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard, freely expressed his emotions about the end of the Porsche LMP1 program.

“Going to Bahrain will be emotional for all of us. Especially as we arrive as World Champions with less pressure now,” asserted Hartley, who has also endured a busy stretch since the Petit Le Mans on October 7 that has seen him racing every weekend across the WEC, Formula 1, and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “I have so many incredible memories and experiences with the 919 Hybrid, teammates and all the boys and girls from the Porsche LMP Team. We shared something very special together. After developing the Porsche 919 for more than four years, it’s an absolute dream to drive so we will all be enjoying every last lap with this awesome machine. On one side there will be a lot of sadness, but on the other hand we will be giving everything to give this project the ultimate send off it deserves.”

Porsche’s LMP1 effort won races in each of its four seasons, totaling 17 victories between it’s entries.

Follow @KyleMLavigne