The rampant successes of Formula One, Nascar and TV shows such as Top Gear and The Grand Tour tell us that people not only adore cars - they’re bonkers for racing them too. It might not be an excitement shared by everybody. After all, motor-related competition in its most common form still boils down to stupid-fast machines fulfilling the menial task of going round a loop of tarmac for hours on end. But it is a love that attracts a dedication unseen in followings for other sports, and that might also explain why it’s good fodder for the odd documentary too. Those who have seen Senna, a feature detailing the life and career of a certain Ayrton Senna, Brazil’s (and debatedly, F1’s) greatest ever driver, will testify that it isn’t just a great sports documentary, it’s a production that defines the entire genre. It’s also one that is just the tip of an iceberg - dig a little deeper, and you start to find that Senna is just one flick dedicated to the world of motorsports, among many.
From Roman Polanski (Weekend of a Champion) to Steve McQueen (Le Mans), and all the way up to the current-day likes of Idris Elba (King of Speed), fast cars and the drivers in them have been the on-camera muse of many a race nut. You can now add that sell-everything corporate juggernaut Amazon to the list of admirers, too. With Le Mans: Racing is Everything, Amazon Studios has its own tribute to the world of motorsports: a six-episode docu-retelling of the 2015 Le Mans race. It also happens to be quite an enjoyable excursion into the drama of France’s biggest motorsporting event too - even if, ultimately, such enjoyment can only be savoured by those whose status as petrolheads was already confirmed.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans, is France’s biggest motor-sporting event, and it’s definitely not your average motor race. Like the name suggests, it’s a contest lasting a full day and night, involving trios of drivers running separate solo shifts in insanely revved-up supercars in order to get their team across the finish line before any other. With eight hours of race time per driver, and cars clocking over 3,000 miles in distance come the end, it’s also a gruelling, physically punishing endeavour. And then there’s the engineering aspect: keeping any kind of car running for a 24-hour period, supercharged or otherwise, is no mean feat. Anything and everything can go wrong - and usually will. Thus, it’s just the kind of sporting event that comes packed with tales of grit, determination and high-speed drama. It’s the perfect formula for a short, sweet documentary series, and Amazon doesn’t treat it like anything less.
YouTube: Amazon Video
If you’re a racing fanatic, then you also likely know Le Mans like the back of your fender. You probably also know every corner of the sprawling Circuit De La Sarthe racetrack, situated around the confines of the idyllic town of the same name, and you most definitely know how the 2015 race ended, too. Irrespective of your knowledge going into this though, you’re still this documentary’s target audience. This is Le Mans as told from the paddock, and it’s your ticket to a good time. It’s 180 minutes of high-definition footage involving very fast cars bombing around beautifully Gallic surroundings carried by dramatic orchestral strings and Suitably Intense™ voiceovers. It’s packed full of interviews and fly-on-the-wall coverage of the top race teams vying to win the event - specifically Audi, Porsche and Toyota - as well as their drivers, whose illustrious collective include F1 vets such as Mark Webber and Sebastien Buemi. It also has plenty of fascinating one-on-ones with team owners and former Le Mans competitors discussing their experiences with the legendary contest, putting full focus on its vaunted history. And lastly, it has that critical underdog element too, with the likes of the independently-owned (i.e not a major car manufacturer) race team Rebellion, and the return of Nissan to the top level of endurance racing - complete with former Gran Turismo Academy graduate Jann Mardenborough heading one of their fleet.
It’s a lot of content to cram into such a short series, but it’s also content that the show treats with incredible respect. Particularly, Racing is Everything excels at explaining the reasons why the Le Mans event, by now over 85 years old, continues to pull in so many car brands and famous drivers to compete - even if the chance of victory is tight. For the sake of brevity though, it’s mostly for the love. As anyone who has been to a ‘race day’ knows, going to watch a motor race isn’t just a case of turning up and sitting in a stand to watch an endless flurry of cars go by. It’s a full-on festival for motor enthusiasts. Tailgates are a fervent ritual, fan fever is matched only by the exuberance of the cars they themselves have brought, and getting a good trackside view outside the grandstand is often a challenge solved only by overnight camping. So it goes with Le Mans as well, and Racing is Everything extols on the essence of that spirit wonderfully. Its extensive use of commentary from Radio Le Mans, a fan-created local radio station dedicated to covering the event, to drive its own narrative, is one prominent aspect that underpins this deference. But it’s present in so many other little details as well. Sweeping shots of camping tents by trackside, interviewees talking at length of how they found their own love for racing, and unflinching looks at Le Mans’ history - both the glory and the frequently-fatal danger - all combine to make Amazon’s treatment of the contest an affectionate one indeed. This documentary often isn’t just a recollection of a race - it’s a celebration of motor-sporting in general.
The meat of the race itself is just as much a delight for the fanatic as well - if a fleeting one. The cars are flabbergastingly beautiful, the drivers given focus by the documentary are *gasp* actually interesting, and the whole series flows in compulsive fashion from one episode to the next. This is quite an impressive achievement considering just how much ground it covers, given how each team featured is given its own narrative thread. The favorites, Porsche and Audi, predictably get the most screen time. With Audi the defending champions (and their main trio, led by three-time Le Mans champion Andre Lotterer, being given the top dog treatment here), the documentary has its invincible ‘team to beat’. Then, there’s Porsche - their closest competitor. Led by the charismatic Webber and depicted as the gallant challenger to the crown, it’s a main that rivalry sets up tantalizingly well. Other teams meanwhile are given markedly less time, or positive light, for their stories to shine. Toyota’s tale takes a more sentimental route, focusing on flagship driver Sebastian Buemi and his relationship with grandfather (and one-time Le Mans competitor) Georges Gachnang. Nissan’s maverick car design choices meanwhile give us a figurehead in team director Darren Cox - a man whose love for quoting cliches and idioms provide an entertaining, if mildly buffoonish, outlet for the team’s own rocky performance. Still, no team has quite an unfortunate time as Aston Martin - the British car company whose continued troubles are symbolized by showing up midway through the series, if only to highlight their pit crew’s absolute despair at none of their cars finishing, and then never being mentioned again. It’s a series that might capture the atmosphere of a big racing event, but it definitely short-changes some of the individuals in it - which, critically, means it doesn’t quite tell the full, honest story.
A lot of this is definitely down to Racing is Everything’s meager format. When condensing a 24-hour race into a mere six episodes of 30 minutes each, there is bound to be some corners cut and some worthy content left discarded. In the case of this series, there’s a lot more attention given to the preparation of the race - from team introductions and race qualification - than there is to the race itself. Crucially, the overnight section of the contest is covered in what feels like a blur, and the conclusion of it all arrives at a speed nearly as fast as the cars themselves. Thus, as excellent as the interviews are and drama being present throughout, the final execution feels brief, and results in a bit of an anti-climax. Racing is Everything is therefore a bit of misnomer. it promises much, but ultimately doesn’t cover everything it needs to. Even if the promising early episodes set things up nicely, it ultimately fails in showing us ‘everything’ - and that’s enough of a flaw to keep those without an interest in racing from seeing this documentary through.
Still, those with the love for all things fast and furious will lap this up. Even if it fails to perfectly condense its subject matter down, Racing is Everything’s fascinating insights into the world of endurance races, and its passion for the people and craft behind it, are enough for this to be essential viewing for any motorhead. Don’t expect to set your carburetors on fire - but do expect it to entertain.
Le Mans: Racing Is Everything is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
Media utilized in article is property of: Amazon Studios