Niki Lauda. File photo: AFP

Award-winning American director Ron Howard believes his new film “Rush”, inspired by the dramatic 1976 Formula One duel between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, will appeal to more than just Grand Prix fans.

Howard, the man behind Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and The Da Vinci Code, told AFP at the recent US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, that production was “95 percent” complete and that “early test screenings were going very well” in what is the 58-year-old's first foray into the arena of motor racing.

The 1976 campaign was overshadowed by Lauda's serious crash at the German Grand Prix, in which he suffered severe burns, only to make a remarkable comeback six weeks later in the hope of retaining his crown.

The Austrian great was ultimately pipped to the title by the flamboyant British driver Hunt, losing by a single point after retiring early from the season's final race due to safety concerns.

But such bravery - along with three F1 World Championships - has assured Lauda a place in racing annals.


Asked what type of film fans could expect, Howard responded from his position in the paddock at the brand new Circuit of Americas track: “We're not a documentary, we're like Apollo 13 or Cinderella Man or a Beautiful Mind,” brushing off comparisons with “Senna”, the acclaimed 2010 release that documented the life and death of Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna.

Better renowned for his keen baseball interest Ä he even admitted possibly pursuing a coaching role in the sport had he failed in the film indsutry - Howard said it was talks with British screenwriter Peter Morgan that inspired him to produce “Rush”.

Howard revealed that Morgan, whom he knew from working together on “Frost/Nixon”, was doing a story based on F1 and his account of the 1976 season instantly appealed to the director.

“(Morgan) knew Niki but at some point he discovered the rivalry of that '76 season and that competition and all the drama surrounding that and he told me about it.


“It's really the characters that drew me to it and my curiosity with the world, and I also believe that, as a director, new technology was now there for us to recreate it in a very authentic way,” recounted Howard.

“People can't tell the difference between what's an archival shot and what's something that we've created,” he added.

Spurred on by YouTube footage of the '76 campaign, Howard explained his latest motion picture was designed to “really present and use the flexibility of the camera” and capitalise on his “ability to tell a story in a very powerful way to make it even more meaningful to an audience”.

“I had to simplify (the facts)...the reality is that I could do five seasons of a television series on the '76 season.”

“We collapsed it into two hours and what we're discovering is people who know nothing about the sport find it really entertaining and exciting and emotional and so far people who do know the sport also find it very authentic.

“Audiences are looking for something fresh and interesting. I don't know that the success of 'Chariots of Fire' was about track and field. It's not really a movie about the sport, it's really a movie about these characters and what they went through.”

Asked whether the American public is ready for a F1-based film, Howard replied: “I know I've had a lot of very commercial movies, but I'm not a marketing guy, I don't think that way.

“I didn't think Apollo 13 would be very commercial and it made the top 10 that year. I do my best to try and make it an experience for the audience so that the majority of people who go will come away feeling that they got something out of the movie.”

With a release date set for next September, only time will tell if “Rush” becomes another of Howard's box-office successes.

Spanish-born German actor Daniel Bruhl, best-known for his role in Goodbye Lenin, has been cast as Lauda with Australian Chris Hemsworth playing Hunt. -Sapa-AFP