10 Racing documentaries that will sate your need for speed

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by Stephen Dobie | Apr 5, 2020

1) Road (2014)

The blurb:Road is the heartbreaking and adrenaline-fueled tale of a family who has dominated road racing for over 30 years.”

What we say: One of the very best motorsport documentaries out there, with Liam Neeson on narration duties to attest to its calibre. It’s all the more poignant since one of its stars—William Dunlop—passed away competing in the sport he loved in 2018, but Road does a sublime job of portraying just why he and his ilk end up so dangerously addicted to racing away from the health and safety of regular circuits.

Where to get it: Buy or rent via YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Google Play; free with Prime membership

2) McLaren (2017)

The blurb: “The story of the New Zealander who founded the McLaren Motor Racing team. A man who showed the world that a man of humble beginnings could take on the elite of motor racing and win.”

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What we say: Far from hinging around Bruce McLaren’s sad passing, the film focuses on his dramatic back story. As well as being a talented driver, McLaren was a mechanical genius. You’ll reach the end of the film mourning not just the man, but his latent potential that was never properly fulfilled. If you really like to geek out on motorsport, it’s arguably better than Senna. Even if you don’t, it’s a very worthy addition to the growing collection of films devoted to the most glamorous sport on Earth.

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Where to get it: Buy or rent via YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Google Play

3) TT: Closer to the Edge (2011)

The blurb: “An examination of what motivates those rare few, this elite band of brothers who risk everything to win the race.”

What we say: The film that catapulted Guy Martin into the mainstream, Closer to the Edge follows from start to finish the 2020 Isle of Man TT, a year with perhaps more drama and even bigger headlines than normal. Narrated by Jared Leto, it’s a disarmingly honest look into the highs and lows of one of the most infamous races on Earth. Enthralling viewing whether you like bikes or not. Just try stopping yourself perusing ferries for TT 2021 afterwards...

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Where to get it: Available on YouTube

4) Senna (2010)

The blurb:Senna unfolds a remarkable story in a remarkable manner, eschewing many standard documentary techniques in favor of a more cinematic approach that makes full use of astounding footage.”

What we say: A seminal moment for factual rather than dramatized motorsport movies, this was the moment they landed in the mainstream. Mind, the dramatic nature of Ayrton Senna’s life means its plot still twists and turns like Interlagos, but archive footage—including from family camcorders—as well as the masterful direction of Asif Kapadia (the Diego Maradona and Amy Winehouse documentaries are his, too) ensure this is so much more than an Formula 1 history lesson. Arguably a little one-sided in its depiction of the Brazilian legend, but still brilliant.

Where to get it: Buy or rent via YouTube or Google Play

5) A life of speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio story (2020)

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The blurb: “Juan Manuel Fangio was the Formula 1 king, winning five world championships in the early 1950s—before protective gear or safety features were used.”

What we say: If you’re of a certain age, you’ll have heard of Fangio—and understand the legend—but not really know exactly how good he was. A Life of Speed aims to explain exactly why he’s the greatest ever F1 driver, with a little science and a lot of personal anecdotes. It takes a short while to get going, but it’s well worth sticking with; just be ready to read a lot of subtitles.

Where to get it: Netflix

6) Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs story (2020)

The blurb: “This documentary profiles a defiant driver who challenged racial barriers in American auto racing, becoming the first black man to race in the Indy 500.”

What we say: A great telling of one of the most dramatic motorsport tales no one really knows. And one we all really ought to know. There’s a Senna-esque one-sidedness to some of its coverage, but it’s nevertheless an informative and occasionally chilling look at how recently race has unjustly played part in blockbuster sports.

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Where to get it: Netflix

7) Williams (2017)

The blurb: “Charting the story of Formula 1’s most celebrated family, Williams is a thrilling account of how one man built a racing empire and a vivid, heart-rending portrait of the aftermath of a tragedy.”

What we say: Completed Netflix’s Drive to Survive and want more? This is a great way to go, the film brilliantly and brutally honest in its portrayal of Frank Williams.

Where to get it: Buy or rent via YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Google Play

8) The 24 hour war (2016)

The blurb: “When Enzo Ferrari said no, refusing to allow Ford to buy his company, Henry Ford II was furious and vowed to build a racecar that would dethrone Ferrari.”

What we say: If you’ve seen Ford v Ferrari, this is the perfect follow up material: one of the most famous 24 Hours of Le Mans races of them all, but retold with facts and footage rather than Hollywood razzmatazz.

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Where to get it: Netflix

9) Shelby American (2019)

The blurb: “Carroll Shelby started out from humble beginnings as a chicken farmer in East Texas and went on to become one of the winningest drivers in the history of American motorsports.”

What we say: Again, if you watched Ford v Ferrari and found yourself craving more backstory on Carroll Shelby (aka Matt Damon), then there’s two hours of it right here. Occasionally annoying background music aside, it’s an enthralling documentary on of motor racing’s most evocative names.

Where to get it: Netflix

10) Hitting the apex (2015)

The blurb: “The battle for supremacy in the MotoGP world championship. What are we really witnessing when we watch the world’s top motorcycle racers fighting it out at over 200mph?”

What we say: Narrated by Brad Pitt, it follows six of the biggest names in motorcycle racing’s premier class. And yes, of course Valentino Rossi is among them. Think of it as a two-wheeled, feature-length equivalent to Drive to Survive, with backstories of the riders to contextualize their friendships (and rivalries) on track.

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Where to get it: Buy or rent via YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Google Play; free with Prime membership

NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: McLaren Automotive on YouTube
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