Michelle Rodriguez, Debbie Evans’ bond helps create ‘Furious’ stunts

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The fun behind the wheel Michelle Rodriguez has in the Fast and the Furious series? That isn’t really her.

Thanks to her longtime stunt double, Debbie Evans, it’s Rodriguez who’s among the stars of the franchise but Evans who’s getting to have a lot of the fun.

“If anything happens to her, the movie’s down. If anything happens to me, they get someone else!” Evans laughs.

It’s that immediate chemistry between the two that has allowed them to work together over several films throughout the Universal Pictures’ Fast and the Furious franchise, continuing with the eighth installment of the series The Fate of the Furious, which opens today in theaters nationwide. F. Gary Gray directs this film, which besides Rodriguez also features stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron and Tyrese Gibson leading the cast.

Evans is one of Hollywood’s top stuntwomen with a resume that sparkles. She’s been Rodriguez’s lead stunt driver for six films in the series and been inducted into the American Motorcyclist (AMA) Hall of Fame and The Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, among others.

The two also collaborated on another fun feature to help build anticipation for the movie, a Castrol EDGE Titanium Trial video called “Titanium Ice,” a virtual reality display.

“The performance was amazing. I pushed that car to the edge! It performed flawlessly. I thought the engine might blow!” Evans laughed.

Virtual reality is one thing, of course, but the appeal of the Fast and the Furious is the visceral reality of driving. The car connection that has permeated throughout the previous seven movies has appealed to a primarily young audience, but has made waves to such different demographics.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – MARCH 12: Actor Vin Diesel (L) and actress Michelle Rodriguez arrive at the premiere Universal’s “Fast & Furious” held at Universal CityWalk Theaters on March 12, 2009 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Rodriguez has played Leticia “Letty” Ortiz from the start, with the franchise having been an integral part of her career almost straight from the start.

“It was more of an interview than anything, and it was Vin (Diesel) saw me in Girlfight… and the director sought me to cast him as his girlfriend in the franchise,” she told NBC Sports.

“It was my introduction into Hollywood, and it was really my third film as I did another indie in-between. For me it was an introduction to Hollywood features… and I thought I would be having the same kind of fun Debbie does! Little did I realize that insurance says no!

“So half of the cool stuff, working in action movies, which was the realm that as a tomboy, that I just dreamed of, jumping out of windows, doing gun tactical training, racing cars, yeah… no. Debbie has all the fun!”

Since Evans has done the majority of the stunt work, it’s up to her to recap some of her favorite stunt scenes she’s performed. In this series, Evans said one from the original film was best.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 20: Stunt woman Debbie Evans arrives at the 7th Annual Taurus World Stunt Awards at Paramount Pictures on May 20, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

“My favorite stunt was on the first one, driving the car underneath the semi-truck and then flipping it! Today to this day I have people ask that was CGI. No, I was in the whole thing. That was all real,” Evans said.

Rodriguez laughed and responded, “I’d love to feel what it’s like to flip a car and land in the roll cage. (I bet) It’s like being in a laundry machine!”

As the Furious franchise isn’t Evans’ only series, there’s been other stunts she’s loved to perform.

“Another one was I turned my car over in a tunnel in What Dreams May Come, a Robin Williams movie,” Evans said. “I had a Porsche 911. The coordinator said it’d be nice if you could hit the top of the tunnel. It was about 18 feet high.

“So we figured out just where I needed to hit the ramp, broke the light at the top of the tunnel, flew 95 feet, then hit the ground.

“I was in the air so long, I’m like, the ground’s coming…”

Evans though, it seems, was destined to drive from birth. Her professional accolades come as she started as a kid, only progressing from there.

“I grew up riding motorcycles; I started riding when I was 6, competing when I was 9, rode against the men, rode for Yamaha, factory-sponsored and all that,” she said. “So I’ve always been into motorsports. I’ve always loved cars. I am just the luckiest person, most fortunate person to drive an Enzo Ferrari, the Jag F Series.”

Rodriguez brought some humor to that description when discussing her own interest in cars and racing, piqued by her role within this franchise.

“I think when Debbie was born, she came out in a Ducati!” she laughed. “Mom gave birth and there was a motor sound… then a cry after the liquid came out!”

It’s that witty banter that has allowed the two to flourish together over the length of the franchise, continuing with today’s release of the latest installment.

Norris made to wait for F3 title after final lap crash in Austria

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Rising British racer Lando Norris has been made to wait to secure the FIA European Formula 3 title after a crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring ensured the championship battle will go to the final round of the season.

Norris, 17, became part of Formula 1 team McLaren’s junior program earlier this year, and enjoyed his maiden test in a grand prix racer in Hungary over the summer, putting in an impressive display.

Norris has been racing in the highly-competitive FIA F3 series in Europe this year, a championship that has proved crucial in the careers for drivers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After finishing second earlier on Sunday, Norris needed to simply finish ahead of chief title rival Maximilian Günther in the final race of the weekend to clinch the championship with three races to spare.

Norris started second and retained his position throughout the race, only to come under pressure from Ralf Aron in the closing stages, the two drivers making contact on the last lap.

Norris was sent off the track and into the gravel, forcing him to retire from the race, and with Günther finishing fifth, the points gap was reduced to 72 with three races remaining at Hockenheim in three weeks’ time.

While a title win is still likely for Norris given just 75 are on offer, to have come so close to sealing it early will nevertheless come as a blow to the talented youngster.

Norris is set to be placed in Formula 2 by McLaren in 2018, but is poised to be a name that is spoken about for many years to come in F1.

Marquez fights to Aragon MotoGP win, opens up points lead

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Marc Marquez fought through to his fifth win of the 2017 MotoGP season in Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, extending his lead in the riders’ championship to 16 points over Andrea Dovizioso.

A fall in qualifying meant Marquez started only fifth at Motorland Aragon, and failed to make any inroads at the start of the race, running only fourth in the early stages as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo hit the front.

Marquez was able to slowly rise up the order, passing title rival Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and finally Lorenzo, taking the lead of the race on Lap 16.

Marquez ultimately crossed the line less than one second clear of teammate Dani Pedrosa, who continued his good record at Motorland Aragon to complete a one-two finish for Repsol Honda.

Lorenzo held on to take his second podium in Ducati colors in third, finishing ahead of Yamaha pole-sitter Maverick Viñales, who dropped to fifth on the opening lap and never recovered.

Rossi’s remarkable return to racing a little over three weeks since suffering a double leg break ended with a run to fifth at the checkered flag, having spent the early part of the race battling at the front before dropping back.

Aleix Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Dovizioso, who slipped to 16 points behind Marquez in the title race by only finishing seventh for Ducati.

Alvaro Bautista crossed the line eighth ahead of Tech3’s Johann Zarco, while Pol Espargaro completed the top 10.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time with the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.

Palmer calls breakthrough F1 points ‘a weight off the shoulders’

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Jolyon Palmer has conceded that his march to his first points of the 2017 Formula 1 season last time out in Singapore was “a weight off the shoulders” as he looks to gain momentum for the remaining six races of the season.

Palmer recorded his best finish in F1 under the lights at Marina Bay, crossing the line sixth in the first wet night race in the history of the sport.

The result came at the end of a tough weekend for Palmer that saw Renault confirm it would be dropping the Briton from its F1 line-up for 2018, drafting in Carlos Sainz Jr. from Toro Rosso.

Even without an F1 seat to save, Palmer hopes the result can mark the start of a strong run to finish his time with Renault through the final six races.

“Finally we had a smooth race, which is ironic given what was going on with the safety cars and the tricky weather conditions,” Palmer said.

“We made a good start, and the move on [Valtteri] Bottas was fun; a lot happened in the two hours. It feels
like a weight off the shoulders to get some points.

“I hope to push on now and get some more. I know I can do it.”

Should Palmer wish to remain in F1, his only realistic options lie with Williams and Sauber for 2018, although both teams are understood to be looking elsewhere.

A report from Autosport claims Williams has narrowed its shortlist to partner Lance Stroll next year down to existing driver Felipe Massa, reserve driver Paul di Resta and recent Renault tester Robert Kubica.

Ferrari youngster and runaway Formula 2 points leader Charles Leclerc looks nailed on to take one of Sauber’s seats next year, replacing Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein.

Marcus Ericsson is expected to keep his seat with Sauber for a fourth season, with Leclerc’s fellow Ferrari-backed youngster Antonio Giovinazzi seemingly the only alternative for the Swiss team.

Renault F1 expecting to be ‘best of the rest’ in Malaysian GP

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Renault Formula 1 bosses Cyril Abiteboul and Nick Chester are confident of being the ‘best of the rest’ behind the front-running teams and leading F1’s midfield in Malaysia next weekend.

Renault enjoyed one of its strongest weekends of the season so far last time out in Singapore, with Nico Hulkenberg qualifying fifth and Jolyon Palmer picking up eight points for P6 in the race.

The result saw Renault move up to seventh in the constructors’ championship, and Abiteboul wants to keep the momentum going as part of its bid for a top-five finish come the end of the season.

“A positive we can take from Singapore is that we have moved up a position in the constructors’ championship which means a step closer to our end of season goal of fifth place overall,” Abiteboul said.

“Reliability remains our main focus, maximum effort and flawless execution is required by all in the remaining six races to achieve that target.

“Sepang will be about negotiating the unpredictable climate and getting the best out of the whole package in the heat and humidity. As we continue to develop the chassis side, we will introduce a new engine on Nico’s car at the start of the weekend, his fourth, engine of the season.

“We fully expect to have both cars in the top 10 as we have shown our capability on a number of occasions to be the best team behind the top three.”

Technical chief Chester echoed Abiteboul’s thoughts, believing the strengths of the R.S.17 car will put the team in good stead at Sepang.

“We ought to go quite well in Malaysia with the mixture of low, medium and high-speed corners – we should be the fourth quickest car again. The car has good pace and it looked strong in the wet in Singapore,” Chester said.

“The wet running we had in Singapore is useful information for us, given Malaysia is known to throw up a few surprises with its changeable climate.

“Overall the car is working reasonably well at this stage in the season.”