‘Ford v Ferrari’: How They Filmed Those Fast and Furious Racing Scenes

Ford v Ferrari recreated the 1966 Le Mans, and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon)’s development of the GT-40 which Ken Miles (Christian Bale) drove to win that race. Only actual Le Mans drivers know what it feels like, but the film is the closest you can get as a spectator. 2019 filmmaking captured what it must have felt like for Miles and Shelby.

Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari | Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

Ford v Ferrari is on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD, including a 60-minute behind the scenes feature. Director James Mangold, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael and stunt driver Allan Padelford explain the new camera rigs and filming techniques. Here’s how they made Ford v Ferrari faster and more furious than the fictional racing franchise

Why ‘Ford v Ferrari’ had to film real cars

A lot of racing or car chase movies these days can film in front of green screens. They can create the action with visual effects. Mangold insisted on finding a way to drive real cars at Le Mans speeds for the viewers. 

“We wanted the high of being on the road and not a movie digital simulation of it, but the reality of it. I think the way it’s going to feel like a movie is if the coverage of the race feels like nothing you ever saw. You’re much more with the driver, breathing with the driver, feeling the road, feeling every decision they’re making with the gear shift, with the steering wheel, feeling the weather pressing against you and all the other oppositional forces against their vehicle and their success.”

James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari Blu-ray bonus features

Papamichael agreed.

“There’s no way you can create or fake somebody going through the G-forces of pulling a car around these tracks at 2Gs or 3Gs and feeling the vibration on their faces and the helmets and the interactive lights and kicks off the chrome,” the cinematographer said. “You can do a lot of things on stage but there’s nothing like that.”

‘Ford v Ferrari’ cameras on the road 

The camera department of Ford v Ferrari utilized the latest in camera rigs to follow the race cars on the track. They could attach an elevator rig to a camera car and raise or lower the camera as it followed Bale’s car. Or they mount an edge crane on top of a vehicle for a greater range of motion.

Ford v Ferrari Blu-ray
Ford v Ferrari Blu-ray | 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

“With Christian in the car, we’re doing probably about 120 with those kind of scenes,” Padelford said. “That’s a good safe speed for that piece of equipment. The jolting and the cornering and all that kind of stuff really helps him have it be more real than just him sitting in a car on stage.”

Driving the cameras

For some shots in Ford v Ferrari, the camera and the vehicle it was photographing was one and the same. The GT-40 or competing Ferrari could sit on a biscuit rig. The rear tires would touch the ground and actually steer the camera car. 

For closeup shots, a pod car had a mounted camera, and only the front of the GT-40 with Bale and/or Damon in the driver’s seat. That’s how they got the shot of the yarn test, for example. 

Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari | Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

“The pod is mounted at the back and hte front half of the car is real,” Padelford said. “All the shots from over the shoulder or looking in the side are done from the pod. They’re both carrying actors and getting the shot of Christian in the car while he’s racing. One’s a forward shot and one’s reverse.”

Padelford was also in charge of a high speed camera vehicle.

“I’m also driving a rig called Frankenstein which is a race car that’s had tubing put all the way around it so it’s protected,” Padelford said. “[I’m] doing a lot of the high speed shooting with that.”

The race team behind the race team

Bale, Damon and costars played the Ford racing team in front of the cameras. Mangold and his crew trailed close behind them.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari | Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

“For Phedan and I, we’re running our own race team,” Mangold said. “We have all our gear, our cameras, our cranes, our camera cars, all the rigging. In many ways, the movie is the technology you see on the front of the lens and there’s a tremendous amount of assembled technology behind the camera.”