Monday 11 December 2017

Irish F1 driver put fear of God into Senna and Lauda

Aimee Woods

AS a native of Dundalk, Co Louth, it is difficult to remain unbiased towards Crash and Burn - the documentary film that depicts the life and career of our own sporting legend Tommy Byrne.

As a family friend, I have had the privilege of socialising with Tommy on a few occasions as well as picking his brains on his exceptional book Crashed and Byrned - published in 2008.

It has always remained a mystery to me how the world was oblivious to this enigmatic man, especially having listened to the stories about him from my parents.

I almost felt relieved that the film would finally remind the world just how talented Tommy is.

When Eddie Jordan said, "Tommy Byrne was the best of them all", this film proves him absolutely right.

The film opens with Tommy explaining how he believes the world sees him as the man with a chip on his shoulder - and why wouldn't he have that attitude?

He famously achieved the impossible by climbing the elitist ranks of racing all the way to F1 in four short years, along the way blitzing his way through the Formula Ford and Formula Three series.

We begin Tommy's journey with precious footage from his past, and explore his humble world through a series of home videos. He also reminisces on film with family and friends.

The nostalgic anecdotes are extremely effective in setting the scene for the young "bad boy", who was starting out on his journey to glory. His friend Maurice describes him as an "absolute brat".

Despite his supposed lesser-loved characteristics, we gain a genuine insight into just how loved Tommy was as we watch his family and friends race around (excuse the pun) in the hope of assisting him on the way to achieving his dreams.

We then delve into Tommy's rise to the (almost) top with all of the sheer desperation and sacrifice, his own and that of others, that lead him to racing in the UK championships.

It perfectly encompasses Tommy's wit and cockiness and you cannot help but fall head over heels for him.

The world - myself included - bowed down to inspirations such as Ayrton Senna and James Hunt, whether for likeability or talent, but Tommy will make you demote them both.

Tommy doesn't need an edge, angle, or a sob story - he is the living embodiment of success through adversity.

Watching him filled with self-belief and determination as he clambered his way through the ranks with no financial backing will send shivers down your spine and fire through your belly.

The nail-biting scene detailing Tommy's fight for the Formula Three championship, having missed four races to test with F1's Theodore team with the aim to win the ultimate test with McLaren, is illustrated with the most phenomenal footage.

Even knowing the outcome won't stop you from tensing up through the battle.

The documentary, of course, turns toward sadness and despair. Even though Tommy continuously demolished his competitors - including Niki Lauda and Senna - it wasn't enough to land him a coveted seat in F1.

The harsh reality that money equates power and talent will not always carry you when your identity is firmly rooted within working-class circumstances.

As a member of the motor sport community, we feel this plight all too often. Tommy never allowed his background to define him, but this time he wasn't given that option.

His subsequent descent was accompanied by alcohol and drug use, and family breakdown. You really have to wonder how he kept it relatively together before it all came to a head during his time in Mexico.

Each scene, whether modern, illustrated, or from the past, perfectly recreates the cruelty of Tommy's fate. Public opinion has focused on how the film fills you with a sense of depression, anger towards an unjust world, misery, and sympathy towards our cheated protagonist.

I feel completely the opposite. Crash and Burn filled me with that infectious determination, self-belief and a new arrogance about myself towards my own racing journey, however insignificant by comparison.

Tommy makes you want to go faster, try harder and never apologise or excuse anything that you are.

We live in a world that tells us every day to reach for the stars, that we have opportunities, and if we try our best we will succeed.

Crash and Burn proves that there are exceptions to the rule, but Tommy makes you want to try anyway.

The man with nothing did make it to Formula 1 - and isn't that something?

As a true Dundalkian, this film is pure class.

Aimee Woods is a racing driver and instructor at Mondello Park. Crash and Burn opens in cinemas nationwide on December 2.

Sunday Independent

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