Hitting the Apex is a 2015 movie that chronicled the season of the premier class of motorcycle racing, MotoGP.
It was narrated by Brad Pitt and it covered the ups and downs of a MotoGP season in exquisite detail.
It did what the best movies do. Made a movie that was custom-made for the subject matter. It didn’t follow a successful formula. It made its own.
Like any MotoGP season, the narrative unfolded over several continents over an 8-month period. Mark Neale and his crew had the task of boiling this rollercoaster ride to a film of just over 2 hours.
I’ll be covering the Hitting the Apex movie locations where the story of the season unfolded.
But it would be an incomplete post without mentioning this movie’s predecessors first.
Here’s a list of great merch related to the people and places we’ll cover
Merch for Hitting the Apex movie locations
The 2003 movie Faster was crucial in making MotoGP, the F1 of bikes, the elite sporting property it is today.
Prior to this movie, MotoGP simply did not have the draw it has today. Although it was where the best riders in the world raced the most advanced motorbikes on the most revered racing circuits around the world.
But despite all that it didn’t have the attention, that say, F1 enjoyed. But this Mark Neale changed all that. Especially in the US.
I say the US, because MotoGP was noticeably unpopular in the US and it is a market that you must make a dent in to be considered a global sport.
And Faster made a dent. A big one. What should’ve been an insignificant addition to the action movies/documentaries list of that year, became ‘the’ movie to introduce this sport to a newcomer.
Faster went in and went deep. It covered the 2001 and 2002 seasons of the MotoGP premier class.
Now you have to remember with a sports documentary of this kind, a filmmaker is on some seriously slippery ground. Especially when it is motorsport.
Unlike, say, Senna, which used footage of the racing legend from decades back, Mark Neale had no narrative to apply. It hadn’t played out then.
It was unpredictable. Would there be drama, would there be tension? Will a single rider be able to distinguish himself from the rest to play the hero?
Someone did. Someone riding a Honda bike, with a number 46. Enter Valentino Rossi.
There’s a reason why he features on every movie poster image for this franchise.
These 2 seasons would later be known as the rise of a modern racing legend. One of the 2 absolute biggest in MotoGP along with Giacomo Agostini.
And call it fate or destiny or pure dumb luck. The movie captured his rise in glorious detail.
Narrated by Ewan McGregor and using real race footage, background footage from the paddock, interviews with the riders their families, team officials and even the doctor (not THE Doctor), Faster took viewers on a breathless ride through the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
Imagine you just decide to film a documentary on basketball (I’m so out of my depth here) and you happen to capture the rise of a LeBron James or a Stephen Curry.
Faster and Faster 2004
Mark Neale followed this absolute bonkers movie with a sequel. This one covered the next two seasons.
And VR-46 fans will already know how it played out. More Rossi domination. In fact, along with the last movie these covered 4 of Rossi’s 5 successive championships.
It also covered Rossi moving from the dominant Honda factory team to the struggling Yamaha and then keep on winning. Proving once and for all, it was the man and not the bike.
This was the absolute height of domination and it was at a level similar to that of Michael Schumacher in F1.
The difference being that Schumi almost made it a procession towards the end of his spell. While on the two-wheeler side, Rossi made each qualifying session and race a must-watch thrill ride.
All the while, the races were captured in intense detail with great editing to boot. Taking a viewer into the midst of the action and sometimes into the riders’ minds.
With these two movies, Mark Neale managed to do what the ruling body of the sport couldn’t do. Take the sport to the elite level of TV coverage and create a sporting icon in the process.
After a lengthy break, Neale returned with a bang. In 2011, Fastest came out with the best look (outside of watching it live) in the 2010 season of MotoGP.
To give some context, Rossi had won what would be his final world title. Ninth overall, and seventh in the premier class.
There was Casey Stoner, who was considered the most talented by his peers. And that meant they believed him to be better than Rossi, a 7-time racing god.
There was Rossi’s teammate Lorenzo also challenging this racing god.
It even scaled up in its visuals. The images were sharper, editing more intense resulting in a more visceral experience.
It took us through the season where Rossi was made to seem human in many respects and new riders were challenging the throne.
The Doctor, The Tornado and the Kentucky Kid
In between the 2004 Faster & Faster and the 2011 Fastest movies, Mark Neale covered one race for this movie. It was to be a sub-plot of sorts.
It was a look at the battle between the dominant genius Valentino Rossi (The Doctor), the grizzled veteran Colin Edwards (The Tornado) and the rising talent Nicky Hayden (The Kentucky Kid).
It was a departure from the usual Mark Neale feature. Looking at a single race gave the film a whole new look. They could concentrate on these three players more acutely.
Giving context using the season so far and the place in their careers these three gladiators were at.
It let the riders talk about the unique circuit they were racing at, the Laguna Seca, for the US Grand Prix.
Hitting the Apex 2015
This leads us nicely to the movie we’re focusing on. Hitting the Apex.
Unlike the last 4, which were narrated by Ewan McGregor, this one had to be saved from production hell by uber-cool person Brad Pitt.
He also took over narration duties from the sexy Scotsman. I’d also credit this movie and its predecessors for illustrating the fear surrounding the sport.
If you had to adapt the sport into a game, you’d assume it would be a simple third-person racing game.
But after watching these movies, you’d think a survival game with no checkpoints would be more accurate. That’s a good movie review.
Hitting the Apex covered the events that transpired in the 2011-13 MotoGP seasons. It featured some of the characters from the earlier movies. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo for example.
It also featured some newer faces, a certain Marc Marquez included.
Somehow, twice in his filmmaking career, Mark Neale managed to capture in minute detail, the rise of a racing legend.
In Faster, he had shown us the rise of Rossi. A new champ and a future racing legend.
Then 12 years later, he would show us the rise of another one. Marc Marquez.
2013 would be the year the super-young Spaniard would capture his first premier class MotoGP title. As a rookie!
And at the time of writing, he is striding closer to his sixth! One away from the mark set by the man he faces down in this film. Valentino Rossi.
Rossi is now firmly in his twilight years. Struggling to fight off Lorenzo, Pedrosa and the new kid on the block, Marquez.
All the while knowing that his fans still hold him to the standards he set a decade ago.
It is a brutal look at the fall (slide?) of a legend from his lofty highs set against the meteoric rise of a future legend.
It also showed us the untimely retirement of a once-in-a-lifetime talent and 2-time champion, Casey Stoner.
It is essential viewing for a racing fan and great for someone like me, who isn’t.
The demise of Marco Simoncelli was also covered in the movie. A piece of film that takes the viewer right back to the harsh reality of motor racing. The mortality of riders.
The events of this movie are locked to the grand stages built for the races. The racing circuits. Spread over 5 continents, these circuits are great spots for racing fans to visit.
Hitting the Apex movie locations
This section will cover the racing circuits where the dramatic events of the movie play out.
The Circuite de Valencia or Circuit Ricardo Tomo plays host to one of two, sometimes three, races held in Spain. It has recently been considered a pivotal race.
This is owing to its position on the calendar. It tends to be the penultimate race and so plays host to a lot of drama every time there is a close championship.
The venue for the other Grand Prix in Spain. This iconic circuit in Barcelona is an absolute legend when it comes to circuits.
It has seen legendary races, drivers and riders across decades. It is one of the oldest. The circuit layout is very familiar to racing aficionados everywhere.
One of the most popular races in the Asian legs for racing leagues, Sepang in Malaysia is also known for being very hot and humid.
This coupled with the width of the track leads to some memorable overtaking lunges, car or bike.
The track has seen more than its share of iconic wet races thanks to the climate generally seen in these parts. Best of which is probably my man Schumi and Rubens Barrichello spinning out early in the race and the driving the races of their lives to finish 1-2.
I also remember a rather controversial clash between Rossi and Marquez, or as I call it Super-powers collide and then flip each other off for comic effect.
Laguna Seca, USA
One of the most unique tracks on the MotoGP calendar owing to its literal highs and lows.
It has seen many-a-champion in Rossi, Stoner and Marquez especially do some truly physics-defining stuff and a lot of very inevitable crashes too.
It’s best known for the Corkscrew. A left-right combo with an incline that looks bonkers when bikes take the turn.
From the twisty, up-and-down Laguna to the flattest track (probably).
Of course, it’s in the Netherlands. The country is known for two things. For being flat, and being high. No, I’m not reconsidering keeping that in there after reading it back.
It is also a strong race for Rossi, having won it 8 times in 16 years.
Very memorable for being held at night and excellent main stand, but not much else. It’s long, dry and utterly dreadful when it comes to personality.
Most of the overtaking is done down the straights and not through corners. I remember it as the place where many F1 processions happen.
It is hardly the only reason for F1 processions, but it certainly doesn’t seem to mind.
Heavily favors powerful engines. Unless your name is Marquez. Then, you simply win.
The venue for the Japanese Grand Prix. A huge event considering long-time top dogs Honda and Yamaha call it their home race. Heck, it was built by Honda.
I know it as not-Suzuka. How is Suzuka not the venue?
Located in a very picturesque part of Germany, Sachsenring has, easily the grooviest track layout.
Also known as place-where-they-put-Marquez’s-name-on-trophy-before-race track. The man has won the race 9 times in 9 attempts here.
It is the very definition of dominating a specific race. Not many racing achievements better Schumi’s domination of the Spa in Belgium or in France or Rossi in Assen.
But Marquez has been perfection on this anti-clockwise track.
Another very old, very iconic race track that has seen numerous champions and unforgettable races.
Known for very long, undulating turns it is one of the best places to watch a wet race on account of it being in England. The place where sporting events go to die.
Alright, so maybe the events of the recently concluded Cricket World Cup brought that comment on. But motor-racing is one of the few sporting events where I don’t mind a bit of rain.
No better occasion for the truly gifted to shine.
That should do this post. I think I’ve done a fair job of introducing you to the world of Mark Neale films.
A series of movies where a filmmaker successfully sells his passions to his audience. I was certainly converted.
A friend of mine is an avid MotoGP fan and until he recommended these to me, I didn’t even bother giving fake responses to his long-drawn-out monologues on a recent race.
Now I pretend to listen and repeat some of the words he said back to him.
But these movies are must-see films for racing and even sports fans. I would even argue for movie fans in general.
There is something wonderful, sometimes horrifying, about watching these modern-day gladiators putting their bodies on the line going 200 mph through circuits designed by madmen for the express purpose of causing harm.
And then return the next year, success or failure, with more or less the same passion one more time.
I for one will definitely watch whatever Mark Neale comes out with next. And maybe lightning will strike thrice. Maybe he’ll be track-side when the next racing legend comes along.