New Leonardo DiCaprio film targets Formula E, environmental awareness

And We Go Green

Fisher Stevens originally thought Leonardo DiCaprio just wanted to have lunch.

When the world-renowned actor asked to meet him at a racetrack in Brooklyn, Stevens began to laugh.

“I said, ‘Dude, there’s no racetrack in Brooklyn,’ ” said Stevens, a producer, director and actor who just had finished “Before the Flood,” a 2016 documentary about climate change, with DiCaprio. “And he goes, ‘Um, yeah, there is. There’s this Formula E race.’ ”

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So Stevens took a short ride on his Vespa to Formula E’s U.S. course, which was located on the west side of Brooklyn near the ferry, shipping yards and warehouses of the Red Hook neighborhood.

“There was a racetrack, and I had never heard of it,” Stevens said with a laugh. “And I live 7 minutes away in Brooklyn.”

That’s the unlikely origin story for “And We Go Green.”

The documentary, which premiered on Hulu earlier this month, tracks the 2017-18 season in Formula E, which served as a backdrop for DiCaprio’s latest sustainability-focused project. The fully electric circuit is in the middle of its sixth season, which will resume in August after a delay for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Racing on metropolitan street circuits, Formula E has attracted several high-profile manufacturers (such as BMW, Nissan, Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, Porsche and Audi). It’s the brainchild of Alejandro Agag, who founded the series as a pathway for automakers to road-test new electric vehicle components and technology.

It was Agag’s friendship with DiCaprio that led to the involvement of Stevens (who also was executive producer with DiCaprio on a Ulysses S. Grant documentary for the History Channel).

“I get to the race, and Leo was with this crazy Spaniard, Alejandro Agag, and he’s like, ‘Fisher, nice to meet you, I love ‘Before the Flood,’” Stevens said. “Leo takes me around the paddock, and these cars are really amazing and electric and quiet, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’d heard of Lewis Hamilton, but I know nothing about racing.

“I thought Leo was just inviting me to lunch, and then he said, ‘Hey, man, let’s do a documentary about this. It’ll be great; we can do another environmental film through sport.’ ”

Sam Bird and Felix Rosenqvist (who now races in IndyCar for Chip Ganassi Racing) race in Formula E at the start of the July 16, 2017 race in Brooklyn (Steven Tee/LAT Images).

Stevens, whose primary passion is Premier League soccer, was skeptical until he called Malcolm Venville, a Formula One and car enthusiast who is an accomplished commercial director. After a trip to Europe to meet with drivers and explore the series, Venville and Stevens agreed to co-direct the movie with DiCaprio as a producer.

“I was concerned about making a sport about privileged white men, really, in a time like this,” Stevens said. “That was like literally my first thought. There’s no women. There’s no Black people. There’s no people of color. These are spoiled white guys. Rich guys, most of them.

“I went around and interviewed everybody, and including some team owners, and I realized quickly that there are three or four of these guys that are absolutely fascinating that I think I can crack and open up like you’ve never seen in a sports film.”

Jean-Eric Vergne (Dave Benett/Getty Images for Jean-Eric Vergne)

Some of the principal characters/drivers in “And We Go Green” are two-time Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne (whose first title was in 2017-18) and rookie teammate Andre Lotterer.

The movie also features 2016-17 champion Lucas di Grassi and 2014-15 champion Nelson Piquet Jr., the son of a three-time Formula One champion who also has driven in F1 and NASCAR.

“Malcolm and I both can say it was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives; we had an amazing time making it,” Stevens said. “It was not easy. We never knew who to film at what time, but we did key on Jean and Andre right at the top, which was lucky, and Nelson because he was a Piquet, and Malcolm had told me his Formula One story, so we knew we had to have him. And then we knew Alejandro was going to be an open book.”

Agag also allowed Stevens and Venville unfettered access.

“We told him you cannot ever tell us what to film or what we can keep and what we can’t,” Stevens said. “We have full reign. And that was an agreement with Leo. That’s when his muscle stepped up and said, ‘Fisher and Malcolm have final cut,’ and that was it. We were literally off to the races.”

Here’s what else Stevens had to say about the movie during a recent interview with

Q: Looking at the traditionally large carbon footprint of motorsports through the internal combustion engine, climate change activism in racing seems unconventional. Did you have your doubts that it can be used as a platform for being environmentally conscious?

A: “Yes. Yeah, I was completely skeptical of that. But here’s the difference is a guy like me, who’s never watched a motorsport in person in his life. I saw people in Paris, in Rome, in Hong Kong – young kids who don’t know Formula One – they were so into this thing. And I knew it was the future because this sport comes to the people. It’s not like they drive out to a racetrack and spend all this money to watch these cars. This sport is bringing motorsports to the cities, and you can play it on a video game as well. And I just felt young people are going to relate to this much more than Formula One, which is why Formula One is dying.

“And We Go Green”

“So I saw an opportunity. Part of the point of this movie is we watch sports because we love the players. We know the players. People love Formula One because they knew Senna, they knew Hamilton. I was trying to make the drivers celebrities because that’s why we watch. I remember being a little kid and watching A.J. Foyt and Richard Petty.

“But I think once you realize this is the future. And we made a big point of showing that Formula One transformed the cars we drove yesterday, and Formula E is transforming the cars we drive today. That was another theme of the movie, and that’s what made me feel like this is relevant to what’s going on. And the planet is burning, so obviously, that was an issue. I purposely didn’t pay attention to motorsports before because it seemed about spewing carbon in the air. As soon as I was aware of climate change and Al Gore, it was over for all motorsports for me. It was like, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

Q: Do you think the Formula E drivers understand the overall purpose of what Agag and Formula E are trying to do in raising awareness?

A: “Not all of them. For sure, no. No way. A lot of them are there just because they need a gig. And then some of them are way into it.

Lucas Di Grassi (Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Like di Grassi, that guy’s like a professor. He can explain everything from climate change to being into making his own series with autonomous electric cars. In the time I filmed (Jean-Eric Vergne) to now, (Vergne) completely has dug in deep about climate change. He’s learning all about it. To a certain extent, he’s changed a bit of his lifestyle. It all depends on the person. And also a lot of these guys are Europeans and are very aware of what’s going on. But then there’s others, who are just like, ‘Oh man, I don’t care. I just need a job. I want to drive. I want to win.’

“I really wanted to get some well-known person to talk shit about electric cars and Formula E. And I really went out there, man. I couldn’t get anyone who would speak on camera. I’d read an article and a famous driver would say, ‘Oh, it’s bullshit. Blah, blah blah.’ And then I’d call their people and try to get them to talk on camera. No one would talk. They are politically correct. Like the drivers in that Formula One documentary. Yeah, it’s beautiful, but you don’t get to know those guys. There’s no real.”

Q: You produced the Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove”, which race car driver Leilani Munter helped promote in a Daytona paint scheme. Did that have any connection to your involvement with “And We Go Green”?

A: “No, and I was in two movies with Leilani. She was in another movie I produced called ‘Racing Extinction.’ I know Leilani really well. She’s wonderful. I actually called Alejandro and said, ‘Why don’t you give this girl a tryout?’ And I think they did? I don’t know. Listen, it’s really hard to get a seat in Formula E. But that actually had nothing to do with it. It was a different formula altogether. The one thing I can say about Leilani using sports to promote environmentalism is we have the same goal, for sure.”

 Q: With Leonardo DiCaprio being instrumental in spearheading the project, was it his relationship to Alejandro Agag what drove a lot of this?

A: “Yeah. Leo is into anything that’s electric or solar or using non-fossil fuels, whether or not it’s racing. I directed Leo in a commercial for Allbirds in China. Leo loved Allbirds because it’s the most sustainable shoes. That’s really what he looks for and wants to invest in, and he wanted to promote this series. Because literally every year, it’s the lowest carbon footprint sporting event since it’s been in existence. So he knew Alejandro socially and got to be friends, and he’s like, ‘This would be a cool movie.’ And then he called me.”

The podium celebration after the Formula E race July 16, 2017 in Brooklyn (Sam Bloxham/LAT Images).

With fierce racing, IndyCar found redemption and rebirth on the streets of downtown Detroit


DETROIT – A lap in the IndyCar Grand Prix had yet to be turned on the streets of Detroit, and race drivers were doing what they sometimes do best – expecting the worst of a new race course.

It was the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, and some of the top drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, including pole winner Alex Palou, were questioning the nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit. Even after he won the pole on Saturday, Palou had said the Indy cars were too big, the race course was too small, too tight and too bumpy for the series to put on a competitive race.

It was Sunday morning, five hours before the race, and the IndyCar morning warmup session just had ended. Penske Corp. president Bud Denker, the Detroit GP chairman, was talking to NBC Sports as the Indy cars were being wheeled back to the paddock following the warmup session.

Instead of his trademark smile and optimism, Denker was determined and stern. As Palou’s No. 10 Honda was being pulled by the team’s tire wagon into the paddock, Denker expressed his feelings.

“I’m really not happy with some of the comments that driver has been making,” Denker said.

Denker’s team had spent the better part of two years envisioning and developing a street course that could create a major racing event without shutting down the Detroit business community.

Jefferson Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the city’s business district, remained open thanks to some creative track design (because the race course crossed Jefferson over a bridge and also couldn’t impede the adjacent tunnel that was an international crossing to Windsor, Canada).

Alex Palou leads into Turn 1 on the start of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

From an event standpoint, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was already electric with a vibe that brought tens of thousands daily to this revitalized urban center known as “Motor City.”

But would the actual race prove to be worthy?

Fast forward to Sunday late afternoon and – wouldn’t you know it – the winner of the race was its most vocal critic leading up to the green flag.

Alex Palou.

It was a chance for Denker and Palou to speak.

“Alex and I actually had a conversation after the race on the way to pit lane,” Denker told NBC Sports. “I congratulated him because he was a worthy champion, did a great job, great win, great run, pole qualifying also.

“His comment to me was, ‘This track proved very worthy.’

“I’ll take that from him.”

The race itself exceeded expectations. It may have been the best street race of the season on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

The racing was fierce, the competition phenomenal, and the restarts brought even the most jaded motorsports observers to their feet.

“Oh yeah, myself included,” Palou admitted to NBC Sports. “The event was amazing. The crowd we had was unbelievable. The energy was great. It was a really great race.”

Palou’s complaints entering the race were from his frustrations in finding a clean lap during qualification sims in practice and the actual qualifications on Saturday.

With 27 cars on a 1.645-mile street circuit, just do the math – it’s hard to get a gap.

But the race course proved to be a much better “race” track than a qualifying layout.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Palou said. “I like to go fast. I like to race. When you have traffic every single lap, you don’t like it that much, but for the race, it was great. It was a great event for the fans, for the teams and for the drivers.

“The energy we had here was amazing.”

The drivers’ worst fears never developed in the race. There were no blocked corners. No red flags. Plenty of passing zones.

Denker and his team could feel vindication and a strong sense of redemption.

“It is ironic,” Denker said of Palou winning the race. “I think a lot of the comments early on was because of the first practice. There was no rubber on the track. A new track for them. A lot of cars going into the runoff and stalling their cars in the runoff, not turning the cars around fast enough. I think a lot of perceptions were created in that first practice.

“Some of our turns look tight. Turn 1 for instance, the apex is 27 feet, much larger than some other tracks where it is tight. The issue going into the race was, are you going to have two cars block the entire track and then you have to go Red Flag.

“We never had that situation today where you had a car block the track, even in the tightest turns. We never had an issue where cars could not get around you.

“The corners were wide enough to support the fact that when you had an issue, cars could get around and continue moving around without having a red flag.”

Will Power enters Turn 3 during the Detroit Grand Prix (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

It also proved that in an actual competition, the teams and drivers in IndyCar can figure out how to adapt and put on a good race.

“We saw them figure it out in the Indy NXT race on Saturday,” Denker said. “It was a great race. We saw so many IndyCar drivers go off into the runoff on Friday that there were concerns. Many of them were stalling their cars and couldn’t get them spun around.

“That led to, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have caution after caution after caution because we aren’t going to be able to get our cars stopped to make a turn, or slowed down to make a turn, and the runoff will happen continuously.’ “Guess what? We had seven cautions for 32 laps and very few of those were for a stalled car in the runoff. It was for a mistake on the race track made by a driver.

“We proved the thoughts that came out on Friday, we proved them very, very wrong in the race on Sunday.”

Fans watch from the Franklin Garage parking deck near the GM Renaissance Center as safety workers attended to David Malukas after he hit the wall out of Turn 9 during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

As the president of the Penske Corp., Denker is a man who understands business and decorum. He is one of Roger Penske’s most valued executives, practically his right-hand man.

The impeccably dressed Denker is never rattled, and he backs up his style with substance.

IndyCar racing, however, is a highly competitive game and in the heat of battle, the energy level tends to increase.

That is why Denker was more emphatic than usual once the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix had concluded.

“Eighteen months ago, it was an idea that Michael Montri had after the success of the Nashville Grand Prix and what it did for that city,” Denker said. “The businesses coming together, the community coming together and the city just glowing.

“We came back in August of 2021 and asked if that could ever happen in downtown Detroit and off Belle Isle. We found a great circuit that was worthy of that, that wouldn’t compromise business or the international tunnel in the middle of our race track. That was a dream at the time.

“It’s a cliché, but dreams really came true this weekend. We saw the success of great racing, competitive racing, safe racing and very importantly, fans that we haven’t seen came out in a very diverse way and enjoy this sport.”

It was certainly a major weekend for Detroit as the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was the lead story on seemingly every TV newscast in the city. The business community of the city flourished – something that didn’t happen when the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was held 4 miles up Jefferson at Belle Isle Park from 1992-2022.

“One hundred percent,” Denker agreed. “The fact of the matter is most of the people that come to our race are within a four-county area. Just like Indianapolis, one state for them.

“I think the fact is Belle Isle you came down, you parked in the same parking deck where the sponsors parked that had been there for 13 years, get in a bus, come back, get in their car, they go home.

“Here you had to park somewhere. You had to come downtown. Took the People Mover, the Q Line, all these different places and you came downtown. That was the difference for us.

“Belle Isle in my mind, it’s 50 miles away from Detroit in some respects because we didn’t see the benefit the city would get. We saw the benefit this time because of how busy it was. You saw it. You were staying here at a hotel somewhere and saw it.

“We know we made a big impact on the city. Why? Because the hotels were all filled up. They weren’t filled up when Belle Isle was there.”

Already on its way to have a dramatic economic impact to Detroit, on Sunday, the competitive level of IndyCar was on full display.

“The facts are there were 189 on-track passes at Detroit, 142 of them were for position,” Denker said proudly. “At St. Pete, great race this year, 170 on-track passes versus Detroit’s 189 and 128 for position versus Detroit’s 142.

“Long Beach, great race this year, had the same for position passes as Detroit had. I think we had a pretty good race.”

Although Palou won the race, it was Team Penske’s Will Power that put on the show. He was a master on the restarts, going full throttle into the end of the long straightaway, pulling out from behind Palou and taking the lead by diving to the inside in the turn.

That move worked throughout the race until the final restart, when Palou was able to protect the inside line and make Power go to the outside.

The Team Penske driver (whose race weekend highlight was hanging out with Flavor Flav) was unable to use the high line and then proceeded to get into a street fight with Scott Dixon and others for second place in the closing laps.

“The restarts were great because we have this long straightaway,” Denker said. “We started the restart between coming out of Turn 1. Those that got a good jump, like Will Power did on Alex Palou on the second-to-last restart, could make a good pass. Those that had push-to-passes left later on could make a good pass.

“The fact we had this seven-eighths of a mile straightaway where the restarts were coming into was a great place to start the race versus an area not as long. We had the benefit of having a straightway as long as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and speeds that were just unbelievable going down through this track.

The view down the nearly 1-mile Jefferson Avenue straightaway that separates Turn 2 and Turn 3 (USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“I thought the restarts were great because of the positions Kyle Novak (IndyCar Race Director) and his team made for that.

“The other thing was the dual pit lane. This was really interesting because it hasn’t been done before to have 13 cars pitted on one side and 14 cars pitting on the other side and have six lanes merging to one in 315 feet. How is that going to happen?

“This time, because of the yellows, we never had a situation with 27 cars coming in at the same time. It was sporadic. That issue we thought would happen to create a calamity on pit lane never happened.”

Two of the Arrow McLaren drivers got into their own shoving match on the track with Felix Rosenqvist getting the best of Alexander Rossi for third place.

But none of the Chevrolet drivers were able to catch Palou at the end as the No. 10 Honda took the checkered flag.

“When you have Chevrolet as the backdrop, and them being the key partner and sponsor of this thing, you want to keep them happy,” Denker said. “They also know competition drives this sport. We saw some great action. Will Power made a great move late, some great action there. The competition between the Arrow McLaren cars were unbelievable the last 10 laps. Will Power made a great pass of Alexander Rossi to get position to take over second place. I loved the competition.

“We saw some passes late between Turns 8 and 9 and Turns 1 and 2 that I don’t think anybody thought would happen. This turned into a very, very competitive race track.

“Once this track rubbered up, the drivers said this track was very worthy.

Indy 500 winner Joef Newgarden enters the Turn 3 hairpin during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (USA Today Sports Images Network).

“It’s a new place. They have to learn new things. There are some bumps in certain corners. Guess what? We’ll fix those things.

“No one got to test here because we couldn’t close the roads down a week ahead of time or a month ahead of time or two days ahead of time. I got some feedback from drivers who did simulation. I ground some track areas they wanted fixed. I put new pavement in Turn 3 to drivers right because of feedback.

“I got no feedback to repaving drivers left. If I had, I would have repaved that, also. It shows that I will make those changes because I made those changes to driver right, but I never got that feedback.

“It goes both ways. Provide me the feedback, I’ll make those changes. But now that we’ve had the race, we have a lot more opportunity to make changes based off of what actually happened.”

There were accolades and plaudits from some of IndyCar’s most accomplished drivers afterwards, including six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon.

“It was wild,” Dixon said. “I had a lot of fun. The car was super difficult. The track was difficult. It had a lot of character. It was interesting but very difficult on the restarts.

“These things aren’t meant to be easy. I had a lot of fun, just frustrated with how my day went and not getting the most out of a really good car.”

From both an event and race standpoint, team owner Dale Coyne believed it was a blockbuster.

“This is a really big event,” Coyne said. “We’ve brought Long Beach to a major city like Detroit. This is the type of event that we should be doing in IndyCar.

“I would rather be in Detroit than in Milwaukee. Events like this one in Detroit are IndyCar’s future. Milwaukee is IndyCar’s past.”

While that comment may not resonate with some of IndyCar’s older fan base who long for the days of The Milwaukee Mile as the first race after the Indianapolis 500, that distinction has belonged to Detroit since it returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2012.

Now that it’s back on the streets of downtown Detroit for the first time since 1991, Denker predicts even bigger events to come for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

“Our city was showcased to the world in ways that people had probably never thought,” Denker said proudly. “The riverfront, you couldn’t tell if you were in San Diego, or even Monaco, these boats that were out there harbored. We couldn’t be more proud of our team.

“We are already planning for next year.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500