The problem sequels will always face is the challenge of living up to the standards set in the first one. Conceivably though, if the sequel's script is penned well enough, and if the same people who brought the first one to a level of excellence are brought back, it's got potential.
Fortunately for anyone who's a sports car racing fan, if not just a general motorsports observer, Truth in 24 II: Every Second Counts does not disappoint on any level. As they did with the first one, the joint Intersport/NFL Films production and Audi of America brainchild does a phenomenal job of going deeper than simply recapping how Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but capturing the emotions and “why” behind it.
The original documentary about Audi's triumph in the 2008 midsummer classic at Circuit de la Sarthe was widely praised and heralded for its keen attention to detail. From every pit stop, camera angle and strategy choice that went into the Audi veteran car of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello en route to their victory, the first Truth wasn't really distorted in any way, shape or form.
In some respects, the star of the initial one wasn't the drivers themselves but in fact the car's engineer, Howden Haynes, better known from that point forward as “H.” From the pit box, the exposure of Haynes' decisions, sharp accuracy and most importantly, his final call to switch from dry slicks to intermediate tires to override Kristensen's input showcased his talents and exposed what the Audi team already knew to a broader audience. In addition, it's basically cemented his status as a cult hero within the sports car community, cigarettes and all.
Fast forward to Truth in 24 II, which looks at the 2011 win, and the torch has been passed in two ways – from the Audi legends to their youngest but ultimately winning lineup of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler, and also to their engineer, Leena Gade, in her first 24 Hours of Le Mans in a lead engineer role. Gade was Haynes' understudy for several years, and some of her moments within the sequel are just as captivating.
Had someone written a script the way last year's 24-hour race actually played out, it would have been tossed. Everything came naturally and dramatically, and Truth in 24 II captures all the moments: The build-up of the Peugeot-Audi battle from the last two years since 2008; the shock, heart-wrenching drama of the two in-race accidents incurred by McNish and Mike Rockenfeller, and the final crescendo as first Treluyer and then Lotterer put in absolutely barnstorming stints the final third of the race (some eight hours) to secure the victory.
Much of the foreshadowing is done properly and tactfully. For instance, when the construction of the manufacturer's new R18 TDI coupe is explained at the outset of the film, it's noted that to maximize aerodynamic efficiency to offset a smaller engine displacement (5.5-liter V10 to a 3.7-liter V6), the survival cell around the cockpit was still built both stronger and lighter. The point there being, although the car was still relatively lightweight, the monocoque was built up enough to withstand horrendous impacts.
Rockenfeller's Le Mans history with Audi is played out next – from his crash on debut with the team in 2007 all the way to his win in the 2010 edition – as if to note there was something big that might happen to him of either of those in this running.
Lastly in the introductory 20 minutes, which also includes a brief overview of the first two rounds of the season at Sebring and Spa, the reason the starting drivers are picked is explained. Haynes explains why he chooses McNish to start, because he tends to set the tone for the race.
“Allan's like a Scottish terrier, biting at the French,” “H” says here. “He sets the tone, not just for us, but for the opposition.”
Basically on cue, a mere 23 minutes into the film, we see the McNish accident (it was within the first hour of the race). The tone was set – whether it was visibility issues or just an over-eagerness to pass a slower Ferrari F458 (Anthony Beltoise driving and essentially a sitting duck), McNish's gamble came up snake eyes, and he skated across the gravel trap as if on ice before slamming into the tire barriers and basically over before ricocheting back onto the gravel.
At the moment of impact, the McNish crash fades to black, with the visuals off and the dialogue shifted to the radio transmission.
“That split second, you really don't piece it all together,” “H” explains.
Despite McNish initially not replying, once the car was upright, he made it out under his own power, proof the monocoque had done its job. It was only at that point, after the shock of the near-disastrous crash and its potential impact on the photographers, fans and corner workers nearby, that you stopped to breathe and realize that Audi's leading bullet was done.
Both Haynes and McNish explain what that all meant, and the good thing for the other two engineers – Gade and Kyle Wilson-Clarke – was that they had the veterans available from that point if need be.
A great transitional shot from light to darkness helps set the scene for the next incredibly dramatic, and much scarier moment – Rockenfeller's crash on the run down to Indianapolis after contact with another Ferrari F458.
Same dramatic effect – the moment of impact, fade to black, then the radio transmission. As no one was able to see where exactly all the hundreds of carbon fiber shards had gone once the No. 1 Audi had contacted the guardrail, given it was at night, the concern was much greater for the German's condition.
For Gade and Lotterer, who was now driving the sole remaining Audi (No. 2), a mere three-word exchange between them sends chills down your spine. As Lotterer drove through the wreckage, and had the bad feeling associated with wondering who it was, Gade responded to his question, “Andre, it's Rocky” over the radio.
“At that point, I'm thinking, 'Will I be the next one?'” Lotterer asks.
Again, though, despite the crash's severity, Rockenfeller was largely unharmed, and described his take shortly thereafter. He said he didn't know where he was, and only remembered having a headache.
We learn a bit later following the several-hour caution that the sole remaining Audi, the No. 2 car, had a nickname, and its young driver lineup had the necessary support from the entire team to focus on taking down a phalanx of Peugeots.
With the accidents behind them, the story now shifts to accurately explaining and describing the strategy. Audi's goal was to run flat out and do fewer full service pit stops (fuel, tires, driver changes) compared to Peugeot's fewer overall pit stops, but more full service stops, which would now decide the outcome.
Fassler, who's largely overlooked in the film, not for anything he did wrong as much as the way the race played out, admitted the overnight portion was difficult because it was a challenge for the Audi to get enough heat in the tires. From the morning stages, the Treluyer/Lotterer efforts were highlighted.
It's only with the benefit of a few months hindsight and the job the film does in chronicling Treluyer's morning stint that you see just what a job the Frenchman did. I didn't know when covering on site Treluyer had woken up a mere 10 minutes before being called to get in the car – for what eventually turned into a five-stint, four-hour run behind the wheel.
Audi was able to make its Michelins last five stints, this despite a couple hairy moments from Treluyer including a “pass of the race” contender, three-wide on the outside around a Peugeot and a French Corvette at the left-hand sweeper exiting Porsche Curves.
Treluyer's stint over, he handed back to Lotterer for the finish – and the film does a great job here of noting just how close Audi was to disaster on this car, as well. A slow puncture of the left rear could have eliminated them, but Lotterer drove steadily and smoothly for five laps before his ultimate final stop.
This is Gade's moment to shine. Much as Haynes' snap decision in tire choice helped win the 2008 Le Mans, Gade had the option here of going with changing merely the punctured tire or all four. After consulting with both Haynes and Kristensen, who'd stuck around still some 22 hours after his car's accident, the decision was made to change all four. Haynes had a rather colorful comment describing Gade's tension on the pit wall near that stage in the race.
Lotterer, who emerged 7.8 seconds clear of Simon Pagenaud in the chasing Peugeot after they had both pitted, had fresher tires for the final stint and pulled out another 6 seconds to win by 13.854 seconds over the talented Frenchman.
“Every second counts” accurately describes both the close finish and the degree of entertainment in this documentary.
• Truth in 24 II: Every Second Counts premieres Saturday, May 5, at 4 p.m. ET on SPEED. A trailer of the film is below.