Newsgroups: Organization: MNI - Motorsport News International Approved: From: Followup-To: Date: Fri, 2 Oct 1998 19:34:19 -0400


HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Oct. 2, 1998) - The new John Frankenheimer action film, "Ronin," is thrilling audiences with its heart-stopping chase scenes. Michel Neugarten, who did much of the stunt driving in the film, will be thrilling the crowd at the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex when he competes in the Nov. 16-18 FIA Grand Touring Championship Presented by Mercedes-Benz.

Neugarten will be behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 fielded by the independent Elf Haberthur Racing team. The 39-year old Belgian will be in hot pursuit of the Oreca Dodge Viper of World Champion Olivier Beretta and American David Donohue, in quest of the GT2 victory.

The GT2 class plays a supporting role in the 500-kilometer race on the demanding 2.21-mile road circuit, with the action dominated by the factory Mercedes-Benz and Porsche teams in the GT1 class. The weekend also includes the Barber Dodge Pro Series and Motorola Cup in a pair of Saturday races, and the Spec Racer Pro Ford Series on Sunday morning.

Frankenheimer made the classic racing film, Grand Prix, 25 years ago, but was not happy with the stunt work in the early filming of Ronin, which was being filmed in Nice and Paris.

"He wanted a driver who was quick and skillful, with precision yet safety," Neugarten explained. "Safety was very important, because many scenes required the actors to be in the car during filming."

Neugarten won the GT2 category at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1997 driving with Jean Claude Lagniez, who is the proprietor of a large company that provides stunt men.

"I was contacted by Lagniez on behalf of Frankenheimer, and I agreed to have a go," Neugarten recalled. "I was asked to help for one week, but I ended up working on the set for four months. The stunts required precision, detail - and very fast driving!

"I gained the confidence of the actors very quickly and enjoyed my involvement very much," Neugarten continued. "Eventually, the stunts became more dangerous and very crazy. I was impressed that the actors took part in some of the very scary stunts. (Co-star) Jonathan Pryce was very nervous for the first few weeks. We had one stunt where I had to drive through a fish market at high speed with people diving out of the way. In another, I had to drive at 140 kilometers per hour along a highway with cars coming at me at 120 kph. It was a great experience to work with such talented actors. (Robert) DeNiro was DeNiro, the character we've all seen so many times on the screen. He is a true professional."

Neugarten worked his film schedule around his hectic racing schedule, which saw FIA GT events in Germany, England, France, Hungary, Japan and Austria. He placed in the top six points-paying positions in four of the eight races to date, with his best finish second at Silverstone, England.

"If winning at LeMans was my greatest achievement on the track, this was one of my most memorable achievements off it," Neugarten said. "It's difficult to describe the adrenaline rush when you are about to start a shoot. You have up to 500 people relying on you. It may take only 15 seconds, but that feeling is like the feeling when you start a race. Your heart pumps, the concentration is intense, and the work begins. It may seem very glamorous, but it was hard work. We drove three to four hours a day, often working sunrise to sunset. I got to drive a Citroen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and police car."

Neugarten has contracted to make two more movies in the near future. While he may have found a new career, he has no plans to leave racing for the silver screen - "Well, not for awhile, anyway!"

Neugarten's driving can be seen in theatres everywhere in the movie Ronin - or live and in person in the FIA Grand Touring Championship Presented by Mercedes-Benz at the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex. Tickets for the international event begin at $40, and are available by calling (305) 230-RACE.