'Real cars, real sound, real engines': Audi vs Lancia film recreates epic 1983 WRC battle
Motor racing movies are in vogue. This Christmas, Michael Mann’s Ferrari will finally be released after a 30-year gestation, starring Adam Driver as Enzo. Much more on that to come from Motor Sport. But there’s another film set for release on January 5 that I’m a little more excited about, partly because it tackles a far less obvious subject.
Can you think of a movie focused specifically on the World Rally Championship? I might have missed something, but I’m not sure one exists. That’s changed now. You might have spotted the trailer, which has been released this week. It’s called Race for Glory and is centred around the battle that raged between Audi and Lancia in 1983 during the beloved Group B era. As I say, not exactly an obvious choice – and the prospect looks promising.
Now, Motor Sport hasn’t seen the movie yet. But in the summer of 2022 I was invited on to the set for a day to watch the filming of the final scenes, just off the sea front in Sanremo. The movie concludes with Lancia achieving its against-the-odds ambition of beating the might of vorsprung durch technik and Audi’s game-changing four-wheel-drive Quattro, with its achingly pretty but only two-wheel-driven 037 – the last time a car limited to rear traction alone claimed a WRC crown. The production crew had recreated the Sanremo service park and finishing ramp in the precise location the rally finished back in 1983, with genuine period cars and fantastically recreated service vehicles.
Originally the movie was to be called 2 WIN, which I always thought was an awkward title. It made me think of the transportation company of the same name and its silver articulated lorries. The producers have presumably had second thoughts too, because the trailer has launched under the new moniker. Race for Glory is rather generic and a little uninspiring, but it’s probably easier to market than the original choice.
The movie is a truly European effort created in collaboration between Italian and English producers. It can also be described as a personal passion project driven by friends, mutual car enthusiasts and co-producers Riccardo Scamarcio and Jeremy Thomas. Englishman Thomas is a titan of the movie industry with a long string of critically-acclaimed credits behind him – including the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor from the 1980s. Scamarcio is a charismatic and well-known actor and producer in Italian cinema, with a face that reminds one of Benicio del Toro mixed with Gian Maria Volonte, the depraved villain from spaghetti westerns A Fist Full of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Scamarcio plays another Machiavellian character, in this case the hero, in the form of scheming Lancia sports boss Cesare Fiorio on whose memories this story is based. Scamarcio wasn’t specifically a rally fan, but met Fiorio and was inspired by his tales. As well as playing the main role, he co-wrote the screenplay with Filippo Bologna and director Stefano Mordini, another respected figure in Italian cinema.
Between takes, I met both Thomas and Scamarcio on set. “I love making films and I love cars,” said Thomas of his motivation to get involved. “They are my two passions. When I heard about this incredible story and the subterfuge within it the stars aligned. The more you dig into it as someone with an understanding about cars — the two-wheel-drive Lancias versus the four-wheel-drive Audis — it was a miracle that Lancia won this championship. Then all these wonderful people came to this film, the director Stefano and Riccardo who turned me on to the project. ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
“It’s a wonderful story,” said Scamarcio. “A very small team with less power beats a big company with a lot of money and technological supremacy. They lose because the most important power is friendship, humanity, sensitivity. This is our subject.”
The most familiar face in the movie is Niki Lauda, who plays Audi team chief Roland Gumpert. I jest, of course… it’s Daniel Brühl, the well-established Hollywood star who was by far the best thing about the James Hunt/Lauda movie Rush. In his second racing turn, the only challenge we might face as an audience is forgetting Brühl isn’t playing the great Austrian this time, such is his physical resemblance.
In terms of drivers, the main focus here is the legendary Walter Röhrl, played by Volker Bruch who at least carries a passing resemblance, even if he inevitably lacks the beanpole imposing physical presence. The story revolves around Fiorio convincing Röhrl to join Lancia and rally its outdated 037 following the reigning champion’s fall-out with Opel. From the trailer, it appears the screenplay taps into Röhrl’s glorious eccentricity, given the scene between the pair while the two-time WRC king is tending to his bees. Röhrl of course takes the bait and inspires the title charge, even if he (somewhat maddeningly) chooses not to chase a third drivers’ crown for himself. Much like Sébastien Ogier and now Kalle Rovanperä in the modern world. As I witnessed, the movie ends with Markku Alen’s victory in Sanremo to secure the constructors’ title, with Röhrl having played his part. Presumably it will also acknowledge Hannu Mikkola’s drivers’ title for the Audi camp – but the point here is the 037 defeating the Quattro in the manufacturers’ standings after a David and Goliath-style duel.
So is it true to history? There are bound to be points of dramatic licence, because there always are with racing movies. Thomas made it clear to me he had no interest in re-telling history via a docu-drama. But both producers emphasised how important authenticity was to them. “Before we wrote the script we had a long discussion over many days with Cesare Fiorio, who is our mentor,” said Scamarcio. “He told us all the secrets about what happened in that 1983 championship. From his real voice we built the script. Of course, it’s cinema and we know how to put the pieces together. But the script in the movie tells exactly what happened. We are very respectful of that. We didn’t invent things that didn’t happen – apart from small adaptations for a cinematic story. But the real story was already so cinematic.”
And the action? I only witnessed Alen’s winning 037 being driven at speed past a chequered flag, then up on to the ceremonial finishing ramp surrounded by cheering Lancia mechanics. Immediately I can sense hardcore rally fans blanching at that description. I know, that’s not how rallying works. But come on – it’s a movie. Let’s give them some rein.
Pleasingly, I was told the use of CGI has been limited to filling in or changing background detail rather than artificially interfering with physics-defying car dynamics – which is a departure from the approach seen in Ferrari, Ford vs Ferrari and Rush. The action scenes, captured in part from helicopters, were filmed in various locations in Italy to recreate the dense forests of Finland, the dusty and rocky terrain of Greece and the picturesque asphalt stages of Sanremo.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of original machinery,” says Thomas. “When I first arrived on set I thought ‘Wow, I’m back in 1983.’ I still find all these cars exciting, and the individual cars have incredible history. It’s the opposite of modern electric vehicles. It’s an analogue past, the road-racing of the day. I wanted to show we are striving so hard to be as authentic as we can, primarily with all the machinery, the logos and what it looked like in 1983.”
“Real cars, real sound, real engines,” said Scamarcio. “We even used the real Lancia 037 chassis number one for when Walter Röhrl first tries the car. We also have real mechanics here who are now 75, but were in their prime in 1983.” I was introduced to them: the celebrated Baldi brothers, Elio and Giovanni, who were engineers for the factory Lancia rally team during the 1980s.
From what I saw, the movie has certainly nailed the right look. And given that Scamarcio has taken inspiration from the 1970s Italian B-movies that also influenced Quentin Tarantino, we can expected a spirited film high on pace, entertainment and humour. This film is supposed to be fun. I’m optimistic that’s exactly what it will be.
Well, at least it's reassuring that they're trying to keep artistic liberties to a minimum.