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RR Sport launch: behind the scenes

  1. Great movie actors can communicate everything with their eyes. Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Robert De Niro: one close-up is all it takes. You can add Daniel Craig’s steely blue orbs to that roll call. The moment he checks the rear-view mirror of his Range Rover Sport, the penny finally drops for the crowd assembled in this sprawling warehouse annexed to New York’s midtown Post Office. They’re usually too cool for school in this city, but the whoops and hollers confirm that, yes, it really is him…

    Land Rover didn’t need the combined firepower of Craig - whose most recent foray as James Bond in Skyfall has netted over £1 billion at the global box office - or Manhattan to launch the new Range Rover Sport. But confidence is so high right now that rather than soft-pedalling, they decided to super-size it: make a film called The Delivery, shoot it in New York, close off a tunnel, bridge and four blocks of Midtown, secure the services of one of the world’s most sought-after actors, premiere the resulting mini-epic in front of an A-list crowd the night before the NYC motor show. Then sit back and let the plaudits flow.

    Words: Jason Barlow
    This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine

  2. Except that it’s not quite that simple. Rewind a few weeks, to 23 February, and TopGear finds itself in a dark hole under the teeming streets of Gotham - Park Avenue tunnel, to be exact - one of the main shooting locations for the film. “I run, I jump, I fall over and sometimes I crash,” says Jarrod, who’ll be doing the precision driving today, but is currently engaged in the business of simply staying warm. “Sometimes I get more involved, but mainly I’m just Johnny Stuntman.”

    The level of activity down here is mind-boggling. Today’s shoot will run to almost 18 hours, start to finish, for a sequence in which the Range Rover Sport dodges city gridlock by zooming down a tunnel, scampering across some sandbags, and powering through a flooded section to underline the Sport’s robust credentials. The finished sequence will last all of 45 seconds, but that translates to a six-hour set-up time, followed by a six-hour shoot.

  3. In order for that to happen smoothly, factor in a 50-strong crew, working out of a temporary production office a few blocks south in a church anteroom on East 38th St. There are huge lights, lots of cameras and plenty of action, chunky electrical cables all over the place - a tricky scenario, given the volume of water needed - all topped off with a generous slice of Noo Yawk attitood from
    various grips, gaffers and runners.

    Presiding over all this militarily precise chaos is the director, Jonathan P.B. Taylor, a Napa Valley-based English expat fresh from overseeing the second unit on the recent A Good Day to Die Hard. “We wrote off 140 Mercedes on that one,” he says, a little sheepishly, “brand new cars with their entertainment systems still inside. The big challenge here is shooting in New York, which is never easy, never mind with a car that is still obviously under wraps. But the Sport photographs well, because its basic shape is good. It’s a bit like working with a beautiful actress. If her features are right, you don’t actually have to do that much work.”

  4. The Sport’s design is a proudly tailored, almost metrosexual affair. Land Rover’s urbane design director Gerry McGovern, whom Taylor met for a full briefing, is unusually fashion-conscious for a car designer, and the Sport arguably has as much in common with modern architectural trends as anything else. It also has rather a lot in common with the wildly successful Evoque. McGovern points to a ‘faster’ windscreen angle, to its more rounded shape with plumper volumes - especially in profile - and a dramatically lower roofline. At a stroke, it makes the outgoing Sport look very old hat. A bit like an old hat, in fact, especially when you see the new Sport on mammoth 22-inch wheels.

    “The previous model was a huge success for us,” McGovern says, “but it was rather rectilinear and dates from a time when the company was still really establishing itself. The new model has killer proportions, and moves on from the Evoque, which put design at the core of our business. Design is the main differentiator these days.”

  5. There’s also the small matter of its ‘aerospace-inspired’ aluminium monocoque, the same chassis architecture that transformed the full-size Range Rover. “Engine to engine,” vehicle line director Nick Rogers tells TopGear, “the Sport is between 420 and 513kg lighter than the previous car. It’s like six people have gone missing…” The clever design totally disguises the fact that it’s 62mm longer than the outgoing Sport and 149mm shorter and 55mm lower than the Range Rover. So while this is still an undeniably big car, it sidesteps the obnoxiousness that blights many of its rivals.

    Day two of the three-day shoot sees Manhattan Bridge closed at either end so the Sport can cross the East River undisguised, tailed at some speed by a $750,000 Ultimate Arm tracking car - a matt black Porsche Cayenne with a colossal roof-mounted camera rig - and surrounded by an NYC Crown Vic taxi and other vehicles. It’s more than a little ambitious.

  6. “Honestly, we don’t know how it’s going to work,” chief stunt co-ordinator Ian McLaughlin admits. “The mayor’s office has allowed us to shut the bridge down, we’ve got the car on there undisguised, we’ve got a helicopter above, now I need my guys to go really steady on the gas pedal, and we need that camera lens in exactly the right place. Basically we have two minutes of mayhem with a 40-second ballet at the heart of it.”

    We follow the shoot across the bridge, watching a live feed from the camera car in a minibus along with about 20 other people, numbering assorted agency creatives, grand advertising cheeses and Land Rover’s PR Richard Agnew, the man responsible for up-selling this multi-million-pound, ostensibly crackpot scheme to his bosses. Film a new model, undisguised, driving over Manhattan Bridge? The stakes are on the high side today, and there are moments where the tension among the competing interests is palpable. This is how it is on film sets, where art and commerce co-mingle, not always comfortably.

  7. There’s a bit more full-blooded action the next day, during which the opening sequence will be locked down. This shows the Sport arriving at Red Hook docks, emerging from its container, and driving off into the city. Jarrod the stunt driver gets to weave between a wall of shipping containers, and we get to observe the Sport’s body roll, or lack of it, at close quarters. With wide-spaced double wishbones at the front and a trick multi-link rear, made mostly of aluminium, this is clearly a Land Rover that really handles. Various bits of chassis and suspension cleverness govern the Sport’s handling repertoire.

    Choose Dynamic mode, and we might even be talking about a Range Rover that doesn’t feel like a mobile tower block on a circuit. There’s also a torque-vectoring system, which trims the Sport’s attitude via braking and yaw sensors, adaptive damping, and the usual array of electronic stability programmes. Two engines will be available initially: the 503bhp, 5.0-litre supercharged V8, and a 287bhp, 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel. The options will grow next year to encompass a 254bhp V6 petrol, a 4.4-litre 335bhp V8 diesel (with a useful 516lb ft of torque), and a diesel hybrid (just 169g/km of CO2 for that one). The transmission is ZF’s fantastic eight-speed system, though a new nine-speed one is waiting in the wings. Brembo supplies the brakes, with 380mm/360mm-diameter discs front-to-rear on the punchiest Sport models.

  8. The pay-off to the film is pure magic. Three weeks in post-production has delivered a gleaming, graded, hi-def final cut of The Delivery, which segues perfectly into a ballsy 45-second live conclusion during which Daniel Craig navigates four blocks of New York, tracked by 11 cameras and flanked by a camera bike and a Steadicam, before coming to a halt in our midtown warehouse. If not quite as nuts as parachuting out of a helicopter with Her Majesty, it still moves the game on in a big way.

    The VIPs inside go mad; the worldwide audience watching the live web stream initially crashes the servers, such is the demand. This is not, it has to be said, a shabby way to launch your new car. But how was it for the man himself? Inside his trailer, a bottle of whisky has appeared, the cobalt eyes are agleam, and the mood is upbeat.

  9. “I don’t think I’ve actually done anything quite like that before,” he says. “I’ve done plenty of driving in movies, and we’ve closed streets off, but not a live event… you suddenly think, ‘Do I know how to drive?’ But it seemed to go off OK.”

    You could have had a momentary brain fade and turned left instead of right… “Actually, what I wanted to do was put my foot down. The new Sport is 450kg lighter or something - I’d really like to throw it around a bit more. Sadly, I couldn’t get it going too quick out there on the streets, but this one has a much sportier feel. It doesn’t feel aggressive but feels like it really wants to go.”

  10. Given that he could presumably be an ambassador for any number of companies, why choose Range Rover? “Several reasons. I like the cars. We’ve had a connection at Bond with Land Rover for a number of years, and they’ve been very generous. If you’ve seen the films, you’ll know that lots of Range Rovers and Land Rovers are scattered all over them, particularly the Bonds I’ve been in.

    “Anyway, I said, ‘Look, if you’re feeling generous, you could give my mate a Defender, because he really needs a car,’ so they did. And these cars are literally saving lives. When this came up, I said, ‘Yes, but only if you give my mate another Defender…’”

  11. The mate in question is Nick Reding, an actor who stunned his agent when he turned down a major acting job in favour of moving to Kenya to help set up an Aids clinic. Since then, his organisation SAFE (Sponsored Arts For Education) has used theatre to spread the safe-sex message in Mombasa, Nairobi and among the Masai community. “We can’t work without being mobile,” Nick says, “because we go to places no one else travels to. Having a Defender has been a genuine lifesaver, on many occasions.”

    “Nick is one of the bravest people I know,” Craig adds. “If he says he’s going to do something, he does it. Nothing ever surprises me. So now I just help in any way I can.”

  12. He claims not to be a helpless petrolhead, but admits that he is working with Aston Martin’s design director Marek Reichman on a bespoke Vanquish, to go with the Range Rover Sport that is part-payment for helping launch the thing to the world. There’s also a 1959 Land Rover Series II and a 1978 Jaguar XJC in the garage back in England, so ‘007’ is definitely doing his bit for the old country.

    The last time I met him, on the set of 2006’s all-conquering Bond reboot Casino Royale, there were two surprising admissions. Firstly, that he was too hungover to make his first driving test so bailed. Secondly, that the first car he owned once he had passed it was a Datsun Sunny. “I lied!” he laughs. “No, it’s true. I spent 5p on the car, and another 5p putting skirts on it…”

    Bond in a Datsun. Not MI6 standard issue, but everyone’s got to start somewhere.

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