James Garner

At the end of 10 laps the order is still Sarti, Stoddard, Aron and Barlini.

James Garner was an American actor whose career spanned more than five decades, including such popular TV roles as Bret Maverick, and of course Jim Rockford. He also played leading roles in more than 50 films, including The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily, Grand Prix, Victor/Victoria, Murphy's Romance, Space Cowboys, and The Notebook.

James Garner, thoughtful James Garner in his race car James Garner in his race car James Garner talking to John Frankenheimer
James Garner and the crew in Monaco James Garner standing on a truck in Monaco
James Garner talking to Antonio Sabàto James Garner and Yves Montand with cigarettes James Garner talking to Graham Hill and Yves Montand James Garner smiling whilst hugging woman

Pete Aron

In “Grand Prix” Garner plays Pete Aron, an American driver who crashes into his team mate in the very first race of the season, taking both cars out and seriously injuring Scott Stoddard. He is immediately sacked, and struggles to find another team that will take him. He spends the second race working as a TV interviewer, and begins an affair with the unfortunate Stoddard's disillusioned wife, Pat.

By the third race, he is taken on by the relatively new Japanese team Yamura, and registers the team's first ever Grand Prix victory. In spite of his poor start to the season, Aron battles back to fight for the world championship in the last race of the season at Monza.

Close up of James Garner in a race car James Garner on the starting grid James Garner on the starting grid James Garner at the end of the race at Monza

Steve McQueen

It is said that Garner was not Frankenheimer's first choice for the role, and that he would have preferred Steve McQueen. But negotiations with McQueen fell through.

Coincidentally, Garner and McQueen were next door neighbours, and both were keen drivers. McQueen was reported to have fallen out with Garner because he got the star role in “Grand Prix”.

But if McQueen had made the film, then we might well have been denied that other great motor racing film, “Le Mans”.

James Garner
You've just written my biography.
-The Silent and Secretive Pete Aron.
-It will never sell!


Director Frankenheimer's insistance that no speeded up film was to be used in the film, obviously placed a premium on the actor's ability to actually drive a car at speed. Some failed. Brian Bedford didn't even have a driving license, and was reportedly "hopeless". Others struggled.

But James Garner on the other hand showed real promise and skill. After a period of training with Bob Bondurant, the F1 driver said he thought that Garner might well have been good enough to compete as a professional racing driver.

Interestingly, Garner's thoughts might well have summed up one of the reasons Frankenheimer wanted to use real cars, actually going seriously fast. "When you are in a Formula car or any race car, you don’t worry about acting. You just concentrate on your braking, and your turning points, and just driving". That's probably exactly what the director wanted.

James Garner and Jessica Walter James Garner puts on his racing helmet Close up of James Garner in his Yamura car James Garner on the starting grid


James Garner was born James Bumgarner, so perhaps it's not surprising that he changed his name.