“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.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.