Matt Butler: Idris Elba's rallying call that might even make us lay off the new year chocolates
View from the sofa: Idris Elba: King of Speed, BBC 2
It is hard to make, let alone keep, activity-based resolutions for the new year. It’s cold. It’s dark most of the time. You’re incapacitated by indulgence. And as far as televisual inspiration goes, aside from the gluttonous amount of football or the masochistic exercise that is the Ashes, there is nothing doing.
The former Olympic rower James Cracknell’s attempt to rekindle his bromance with Ben Fogle by bickering their way across a desert with camels in tow doesn’t count. Neither does the darts.
But just as you are about to give up and have another handful of comfort chocolates, up pops a gem that captures the essence of sport: Idris Elba: King of Speed. It was a show where the actor who is currently playing Nelson Mandela in cinemas reveals himself to be a massive petrol head. And one where he delighted in the idea that motor sport’s roots lie largely in illegality.
It avoided the feel of being a vanity project (take note, Fogle and Cracknell) by actually teaching us things. Like the fact that the origins of Nascar, the wildly successful American racing formula, lay in whiskey bootlegging. Or that drifting, the art of sliding a car round a corner at high speed without spinning out, is a sport recognised by the international motor sport federation.
The first episode was spent with Elba looking into the roots of speed in the US. He spoke to ex-bootleggers, street racers and legitimate drag-race drivers and got to thrash about in a 1934 Ford V8 – the hooch deliverer’s choice of ride. It was entertaining stuff.
In the following evening’s episode Elba gave himself the goal of experiencing what he termed the pinnacle of motor sport: rallying. He wanted to drive a fiendishly difficult course in Finland and he spent the first 45 minutes of the show gearing up for that task, by throwing a hideously overpowered Mini Metro around a track, learning to corner at speed in a Japanese supercar and getting the gist of throttle control on a motocross bike.
Then he spent a weekend with Ari Vatanen, a Finnish former world rallying champion and bona fide legend of the sport. Vatanen, whose son Max is also a rally driver, was a no-nonsense mentor. After Elba rolled his machine – with Max in the co-driver’s seat – Ari gave him a pep talk: “You didn’t get to play Mandela overnight, so you won’t be a rally driver after one day.”
Vatanen Snr’s pithy nuggets of philosophy, added to lavish shots over the Finnish countrysidse and evocative piano music made for great television. And it was a fitting climax that a clearly relieved Elba stepped out of the car to give his take on why Finland has produced more rally champions per head than any other country: “They have no fear. They don’t look at rally driving as risking your life, they look at it as maximising it.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Ari, who summed up his life thus: “I have tried to maximise each corner in my life, braking very late – in real corners and symbolically. It means I make a lot of mistakes but I live a very intense and meaningful life.”
Words to make you want to get out and do something. Which, at this time of year, is a massive achievement.
England vs Lithuania: Wayne Rooney rules out repeat of boxing celebration after son Kai repeats it at school and focuses on goalscoring record
Paul Scholes: Frustrated Steven Gerrard should have started crucial game between Liverpool and Manchester United
Paul Scholes: It's amazing Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick has so few caps for England
New kits for 2015/16: Have the Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Barcelona strips been leaked?
England vs Lithuania: Theo Walcott 'at risk of being left behind' in Three Lions pecking order
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
- 3 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Jeremy Clarkson calls on trolls to leave producer Oisin Tymon alone: 'None of this is his fault'
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest