Charlotte Fantelli’s debut documentary, Journey to Le Mans, charts the story of Simon Dolan and his Jota Racing Team. Through the most successful season in the team’s history, which culminated in a class victory at the 2014 Le Mans 24 hour race.
Narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart and Tiff Needell. Journey to Le Mans follows the Jota team from early testing sessions, before Simon Dolan’s horrific crash at the opening round of the European Le Mans Series at Silverstone (from which Dolan was lucky to survive with relatively minor injuries), right through to the top step of the LMP2 podium at the greatest race on earth.
There’s little doubt that the star of Journey to Le Mans is Jota Sport co-owner and racing driver, Simon Dolan. Dolan, a self-made man of considerable wealth, makes the point that if you have the money you can buy a drive. If you’re super rich you can even buy a team, but you can’t buy a Le Mans win. Winning at Le Mans doesn’t just take hard work and professionalism, as Dolan himself puts it, only perfection will win them the race. Journey to Le Mans does a great job of conveying this ethos and by doing so gives a rare insight into what it takes to truly succeed in the sport.
This is not to say that Journey to Le Mans is about Simon Dolan alone. Great care is taken to show the team effort that goes into Jota’s success. Drivers Harry Tinknell, Marc Gene, Filipe Albuqerque and Oliver Turvey are all hailed as co-stars of the show, especially Tinknell and Turvey who (along with Dolan) triumphed at Le Mans. The loss of Marc Gene (who is recalled by Audi to replace the injured Loic Duval) just days from the start of the 24 hour race, is shown as a massive blow to the team which the documentary captures with dramatic effect.
Of course, drivers are just part a wider team and Journey to Le Mans is at pains to point out that without the support of other team members, including mechanics and engineers, it’s not possible to compete, never mind win a race.
Although I feel that the documentary’s single minded focus leaves little for those without an interest in the sport to engage with, this can’t be regarded as a criticism, as Fantelli’s wish to create a documentary “for the fans, by a fan” is clear to see. However, I personally felt that more focus on inter-team rivalry would have added a little more of a dramatic edge, which would still have been in keeping with the film’s authentic vision.
Journey to Le Mans comes across as an honest representation of the sport of endurance racing. Refreshingly, Fantelli makes no attempt to over-glamourize the sport, or to inject suspense where none exists for dramatic purposes. The story of a small, tight-knit team of professionals grafting their way to success is well conveyed and compelling to watch. The documentary also scores highly for its cinematography, with some superb footage of racing action.
For fans of endurance racing, or even for those who have a passing interest in the sport, Journey to Le Mans should be considered as a “must see”.
A shorter version of Journey to Le Mans will be broadcast on ITV4 (in the UK) on December 4th at 8pm, and the full-length film will be released on DVD on November 24th.
Director, Charlotte Fantelli:
SRN: Why did you choose Le Mans as your first major project?
CF: I have always had a passion for motorsport, since I could walk. First it started with bikes, then it went into cars and Le Mans to me is just the pinnacle of that. The pinnacle of human endurance and also motor sport.
SRN: Did you make Journey to Le Mans specifically for fans of endurance racing, or were you looking for a wider audience?
CF: I think for me, I wanted to bring something that touches the hearts of the motorsport fan and yes, of course there’s something in there for the wife, girlfriend or the family. But for me it was really bringing to life the passion that the motor sport fan has. That really is my main core audience and I would be very happy if I’ve done them proud.
Jota Sport co-owner and driver, Simon Dolan:
SRN: How do you think you will feel when you watch your victory on the big screen? Do you think it will bring back all of the emotion?
SD: I think it will be, in an ironic way, more fun than it was at Le Mans. Because at Le Mans we didn’t know we were going to win. Now we know the ending I think we can have all the enjoyment and the excitement with the comfort of “yeah, we won”, so that’s alright!
SRN: Can you let us in on your plans for Jota Sport in 2015?
SD: Nothing’s ever decided until the last minute, so more than likely going to be doing ELMS and we will be more than likely to be in a Zytec chassis. I’d really hope to have the same driver line-up, but then on the flip-side of that I’d like to see Harry (Tinknell) in a (LM) P1 car, because I think he deserves it, so mixed feelings there.
Jota Sport driver, Oliver Turvey:
SRN: How did it feel to win your class at Le Mans?
OT: It was an amazing feeling. Le Mans is such a big race. It was only my second year there with Jota. To get a last minute call up as well, as the week before it didn’t look like I was even racing and I was absolutely gutted not to be there. To get the last minute call-up to go, I was so excited just to be competing and I knew that the team was a good strong team and I knew we had a chance. The race was phenomenal from start to finish. It was so close, a real battle, and it came down to the final few stints. Harry came in, in P2 and I was able to take the car over and put in a good stint to take the lead with just over an hour to go, so it was phenomenal. It came down to seconds in the end and it was one of the best experiences of my life to cross the finish line at Le Mans with all those people and the history of the race. It was a phenomenal experience.
Cinematographer, Stuart Keasley:
SRN: Tell us about the technical challenges of filming the 24 hours of Le Mans?
SK: At Le Mans the main challenge is, of course, endurance. Getting a coherent team to work for that span of time, keeping them safe, keeping them alert. Not just to be able to see that the camera is in focus, but to stay out of danger. When you are out on the track itself, obviously you’ve got to be careful there.
Also the technology itself, we’re running cameras for 24 hours a day. The batteries we went through in 24 hours, carrying the batteries around what is a massive track. You need big shoulders, big packs on your backs. A Good AC (assistant camera operator) helps, we had a brilliant AC that, bless her cotton socks, she ran around after me and kept pace with me, which is great.
Pacing yourself to enable yourself to focus. You need to know how to pace yourself, to keep yourself full of fluids and food. Trying to find food is a hard thing at Le Mans. You need to make sure that you get to your tent on time, because they don’t serve after time. We had Smoking Dog Catering looking after us, they were brilliant, but if you get there at half past two and they stop serving at two, you don’t get any food.
Technology wise, keeping track of the race itself when you’re out on the track filming. You sort of loose grip of where the race is. So trying to find out if we’re doing well, or are we not doing so good. There was one time; we were running between spots, I think we were third when we got on the mini-bus, when I got the other side we were twelfth, because you had the rain and then the crash and they (Jota) dropped so many places. I thought “shit, where are they”?
Trying to focus on one team when you have that big of a lap time, we only have one chance (to film the car) per lap. That’s your chance. You think “that’s the car”, you film your shot and then you realise “shit, it’s the wrong car, better try again”. Trying to get the right car into frame as well, and get the other cars as well. It’s not just about the Jota Team.