“How do we open the boot?” We were trying to act all cool when picking up our Toyota GR Supra from the Toyota Vilvoorde studio on the outskirts of Brussels. We’d caught an early flight from London Heathrow – smooth, no queues, Belgian stamp freshly adorning our passport – but we’d fallen at the first hurdle with the car. But what a rental car to make the trip to Spa-Francorchamps.
We’d been entrusted not only with an impressive car (1 of only 200 in Europe may we add), but we were on a secret filming mission to capture exclusive content for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and the ACO’s Le Mans promotional content. No biggie, no pressure.
We’ve been working with Toyota on their FIA World Endurance Championship since the beginning of the project in 2012 , providing comms and content support to the in-house PR team led by supremo Alastair Moffitt. We’ve been there for the highs and the lows, the celebrations and the heartbreak, so this was a mission we’d gladly accept.
The drive to Spa was a deliberately cautious one, not wanting to cause any damage to the car which would be used by Alex Wurz for filming the following day, filming that we’d be directing. We arrived in good time, checked into our hotel, and then promptly headed over to meet the team. Face to face. A convivial evening with Al, photographer James Moy, Simon Strang and new TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Europe Marketing, Events and Communications Manager Thomas Heidbrink was just the tonic.
We were due to meet Alex at 8:30am, promptly. The camera crew was primed and ready to go, and the Austrian proved to have impeccable timing – no surprise for a two-time Le Mans winner. Fist bumps all round as we ignored the Spa weather. Hot springtime sunshine had turned into more typical Ardennes mist overnight, but that didn’t detract us.
Instantly putting us all at ease with his calming aura and professional nature, Alex was effortless to work with. In his own words, “This is what I’m here to do, I’m in no hurry.” Excellent, just what we needed to hear as we had plenty to get done with him! Arguably, when a trip to Spa was mentioned, Alex and the film crew driving down country lanes while we stood in the hotel car park wasn’t quite what we had in mind. But the best directors often take a back seat role… is what we convinced ourselves anyway.
Following numerous trips back and forth to the car park, and plenty of opportunities to chat to Alex while the film crew set up (a few cracking stories that we couldn’t possibly share here) we made our way to the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit. While Alex took the wheel of the GR Supra, we got a different ride altogether, in the film crew’s Renault Espace rental car. Wheel hub caps missing, interior having seen better days, and an engine that echoed through the Ardennes (but not in a good way) we set off.
If you’ve never been to the Spa circuit, it’s a bit of a motorsport haven. Tucked away amongst luscious green trees; you wouldn’t know it was there just a few kilometres away, but once you arrive you are treated to the sight of one of the most fearsome and respected sections of track anywhere in the world – the Eau Rouge / Raidillon combination. Far steeper than the cameras make it out to be, you stand looking at it in slight bewilderment to begin with. Nonetheless, we didn’t have much time to do this as we had to complete our Alex Wurz Part 2 filming.
We found our location… in another car park (you can see a theme here), but this time with the pit lane and circuit as our backdrop. Cameras set up, Supra parked nicely in the background, and Alex looking presentable in the foreground, we were ready to roll… well until the sound of the number plate falling off the Renault Espace interrupted us. Quickly bashed back on with a trusty tool known as the fist, we cracked on with our filming.
Able to easily switch his charm on, and work the cameras perfectly, Alex gave us the answers and content we were looking for. You could tell he was the consummate professional as he’d quite often request that he start again if he knew he hadn’t delivered what he was aiming for, even if we thought he was doing a great job. Even the combination of noise from passing cars, work in the pit lane, and those annoying whining golf buggies didn’t put him off. A cool customer until the end of our 2.5 hour filming stint, even setting off on the fairly lengthy walk back to the paddock in his own time without once asking if someone could give him a lift.
The paddock was also our next destination, so we moved the Supra and trusty Espace closer to the paddock entrance, and off we set with all the camera equipment towards Toyota’s rather impressive and spacious hospitality unit. Once we had become reacquainted with a few familiar faces built up over a number of years of working with the team, our next aim was clear… fuel ourselves up for the rest of the day courtesy of the brilliant team catering.
Following a quick peruse around the two-layered paddock, we returned to our film set-up in the hospitality unit where we briefly waited for our next interviewee, none other than Le Mans winner and Team Principal Kamui Kobayashi.
Our designated driver expert on all things surrounding Toyota and hydrogen power solutions, his knowledge, insight and passion came across superbly. He didn’t even let a stray fly distract him from his flow, despite landing on top of his head several times. Given Kamui’s in-depth answers, our 30 mins passed by quicker than our ability to capture and remove that fly. So with a slight height adjustment to the camera equipment, we welcomed our final interviewee, two-time Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley.
Having just come over from New Zealand, he was understandably a little jet-lagged, but once we had shared a few brief conversations about his young daughter and his love for the GR Yaris (he has two of them!), he was ready to go. Covering his reflections on a decade of hybrid WEC racing, his passion for Toyota’s road cars, and a brief nod to future power solutions, Brendon was seamless throughout and made our life super easy by providing engaging and astute content.
Alex done. Kamui done. Brendon done. With that, our filming work was complete! A little self-congratulatory moment between ourselves and the film crew, off we trudged with all the equipment back to the cars. Surprised at seeing the number plate still in horizontal position on the Espace we captured some final on-road shots with the Supra (we may have lost a GoPro to the middle of the road, but we’ll pass over that).
A return journey that consisted of a migraine, some debatable radio choices and the devouring of far too many butter-based biscuits, saw us arrive back at the Toyota Vilvoorde studio in good time. Beyond the relief of returning the white GR Supra back in one piece, we had become quite fond of the car. Fun, easy and comfortable to drive… oh, and looks rather good on the eye too. Perhaps though, a true reflection of how far we had come with the car was that we were able to get our bags out of the boot first time. And with that, we wished it farewell.
After a couple of weeks of editing, finding suitable b-roll footage, and pulling out the appropriate interview footage from the hours collected, we created three videos that went live on schedule and with approval and commendation from all parties involved.