of sitting around waiting for things to
happen, so when we did get out on the
track, we wanted it to be fun.”
Tales of the 12- week filming period on
the Circuit de la Sarthe have become the
stuff of legend. Most of them are true,
and McQueen is central to nearly all of
them. Yes, he really did lie in the middle
of the track at the fast Maison Blanche
corner with a camera to get a shot of Bell
The rewards for drivers working on
Le Mans were not to be sniffed at.
Solar Productions, the McQueen-owned
company behind the movie, paid well.
So much so that British driver Jonathan
Williams turned down the chance of a
decent seat for the race, opting instead
to drive the production company’s
camera car and then take part in
the 12 weeks of additional filming.
Williams had a seat with the Scuderia
Filipinetti Ferrari team lined up for
Le Mans when he received an offer to
drive McQueen’s Porsche 908/2, which
would be equipped as a camera car
during the race (BELOW) and not
feature in the general classification. His
fee would be $1,500 – the equivalent of
$10,000 today – but as part of the deal
he would also drive the Ford GT40
camera car during shooting in the
weeks after the race. It was estimated
that he would earn more than $10,000,
plus expenses, for up to 12 weeks’ work.
The likes of Derek Bell, Brian Redman
and Gerard Larrousse were paid $100
a day, though there was an additional
$100 for filming a dangerous sequence.
What’s more, Solar was also generous
with the payment of expenses and
not particularly thorough in checking
the validity of the claims. Gerard
Larrousse was living in Paris at the
time, but maintained he was based
in Marseilles to up his expenses.
Jurgen Barth remembers
sometimes being paid as much as
$1,000 in expenses when he had to
leave Le Mans to compete elsewhere
over a weekend. The money he saved
up during that time helped his career.
“That money meant a lot to me,”
says Barth. “I managed to save up
enough to buy the first racing car
of my own. I bought an ex-rally
Porsche 911 in which I did hillclimbs.”
A LUCRATIVE SIDELINE
PAID TO PLAY
and Siffert race past either side of him in a
Ferrari 512 and Porsche 917, respectively.
“It’s all absolutely genuine,” explains
Bell. “We went through the right hand flick
and then went left around Maison Blanche,
and there was this cameraman lying on
the white line in the middle of the road!
“Steve said that it would make a great
shot, but Jo reckoned it was lunacy and
couldn’t believe he’d put a cameraman at
risk. Then Steve said, ‘It was me!’ That
was Steve: he wanted it to be real.”
Gerard Larrousse remembers the
drivers being instructed to undertake the
filming sequences at near racing speeds.
“We were always asked to drive at the
maximum for reality,” says the
Frenchman, who would go on to win the
race on two occasions with Matra.
“Everything was done to make it look
real, but that also meant a lot of waiting
around. The director would have to wait
for the right color sky for continuity.”
Bell remembers another sequence
which involved himself, Siffert and
McQueen at Maison Blanche. This time,
however, McQueen was driving as Michael
Delaney, the central character in the film,
(LEFT) Filming a pit
stop and driver
change for the No. 20
Gulf Porsche. Team
Townsend (played by
but based on the
imposing John Wyer)
looks on. (RIGHT) The
camera car was
driven in the actual
1970 race by
and Herbert Linge.
The professional drivers drafted in for Le Mans
were a who’s who of sports car racing in 1970.
But whatever their star power, the likes of
Jo Siffert, Gerard Larrousse, Jean Sage,
Masten Gregory and Derek Bell had to pay
attention and listen to teacher when it came
to planning for the complex on-track scenes.
“We were always asked to drive at
the maximum for reality. Everything
was done to make it look real”