“It’s just phenomenal. These guys are so poetic and beautiful, and yet they’re on the edge of complete and utter destruction. And it’s that line they have to negotiate the whole way. It’s incredible, incredible, incredible.”
Brad Pitt, it seems fair to say, likes MotoGP. You may not have known that about Brad Pitt. You’ll know ‘actor Brad Pitt’. You’ll know ‘humanitarian Brad Pitt’. And you’ll know ‘husband of Angelina Jolie Brad Pitt’. But ‘celebrated MotoGP fan Brad Pitt’ is a new one on us.
But in a world that sees a portion of Hollywood’s elite spend their time believing in immortal spirits called thetans, the object of Pitt’s obsession is refreshingly normal. Even if he does follow the sport “religiously, like a maniac”.
“It comes from my love of the bike,” he tells us, calling from California to promote, handily, his new MotoGP documentary Hitting The Apex. “I’ve always loved the bike. Over a car any day. Although I love me some cars as well. But these bikes are the ultimate – the space shuttles of the motorcycle world. I started watching a bit in the Nineties, the Mick Doohan years – the great Australian racer. But it wasn’t until [Valentino] Rossi’s time around 2001 that I became maniacal about it. And I don’t think I’ve missed a race since.”
That’s some going. Over the past 14 years, Pitt has filmed all over the world – and not everywhere has the round-the-clock sports coverage we enjoy in the UK. “When I first started,” he remembers, “wherever I was, I had to find an outlet, who was going to broadcast it, and at what time, including in the middle of the night. Now you can just go to motogp.com to watch it live.”
And the worst place? That may surprise you. “In the US, we’re only just catching up. It’s a bigger sport in Europe – you can see it on all the major networks. It used to be on the Speed channel. It’d be in the middle of lap four, Rossi just about to pass Biaggi, and they’d cut to commercials, and you’d be going crazy. They’d do that five times during the race. It’s different now.”
Indeed it is. And not just in terms of coverage – Pitt has a family now, with six children to look after. “They enjoy it,” he says. “They know who the riders are, and like to pretend – they each pick the rider they say they are. I’ll watch with whoever wants to watch with me, my wife, my kids – everyone’s welcome. But I’m definitely watching.”
A vintage year
This season in MotoGP is shaping up well. Last year, Spain’s Marc Márquez won the first 10 races (of 18) and never looked like being beaten, but the 2015 season is very nicely poised. In the unlikely case you’re not up to speed, we’ll summarise. Nine races in and there’s a tie for points at the top between another Spaniard, Jorge Lorenzo, and Italy’s Valentino Rossi. Lorenzo is in the lead, having won five races to Rossi’s three. Both have been world champion before – Lorenzo twice (in 2010 and 2012), and Rossi six times (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009). Rossi is the big story. Should he win it, he’ll equal the record set by fellow Italian Giacomo Agostini set in 1975. But can he do it?
“It’s tough, man. He’s been in the lead all season, but lost it in the last race. Silverstone is next week – it’ll be a very important race.”
Some context: as you can see above, Rossi’s last title was in 2009. At the time he was racing for Yamaha. Then, in the 2011 season he started riding a Ducati. Billed as a homecoming of sorts, a union between the great Italian bike racer and the great Italian bike-maker, anticipation was high. It was a disaster. In the two years Rossi spent with Ducati, he finished lower in the riders’ championship than he had before or has since. A return to Yamaha in 2013 saw an upturn in fortunes, but he’s yet to win. This season is his big chance.
Does Pitt want to make a call on who’ll win the championship?
“No way. Couldn’t do it. Anything could happen right now. It’s really fun at this particular moment. Both Lorenzo and Rossi could drop their bikes in a race and if Márquez was to win that one, suddenly it’s a whole other bag of potatoes. But I’ll tell you – whoever does get it, earned it, deserves it. It’s been a thrilling season.”
So who would he like to see win? Again, he’s torn.
“I love Lorenzo, because his focus is absolute – this fighter pilot focus. He’s incredible. And then Rossi is just a great. There’s a mythology around all the riders. They’re gladiators to us. These guys have to make decisions at 200mph in milliseconds that will determine if they stay on that bike, or smash into the guy in front of them. It’s just thrilling to watch.”
So… Brad Pitt, it seems fair to say, likes MotoGP. And if you didn’t know that about Brad Pitt before, you certainly do now. His passion for the subject as he talks about it, and the reverence he pays to the riders who compete in it, is obvious from the moment he opens his mouth. If MotoGP isn’t your sport, whatever you follow – be it football, rugby, cycling, anything – you can understand what he means when he says, “You attach your life to it, and either it goes the way you want it to, or it goes against you. The gods are with you or they’re not. The millions of us who follow sports have had that experience. That ride of heartbreak and success, heartbreak and success, heartbreak and success. It’s hard to pull yourself away from that.”
And why would you want to?
Hitting The Apex is at cinemas on 2 Sep, on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on 7 Sep. It premieres at Silverstone on 28 Aug