By Sarah Mills
LONDON (Reuters) - The cast of "Fast & Furious" sped into London for the world premiere of their sixth film that is set in the British capital, vowing to keep racing despite the exit of director Justin Lin.
Surrounded by souped-up cars and dancers in mini-shorts, the "Fast & Furious 6" stars packed a blue carpet in Leicester Square on Tuesday to promote the latest film in the street-racing franchise that has grossed $1.6 billion since 2001.
The film is the fourth directed by Taiwan-born Lin who is credited for resurrecting a franchise that was almost written off before becoming one of Hollywood's most lucrative movies and ranked the 22nd biggest franchise globally.
Lin said he was delighted the franchise had evolved to be so successful and that he was bowing out after filming the latest fast-paced adventure in central London with British singer Rita Ora counting down a race through the streets.
"It is only the third film in history to shoot in Piccadilly Circus. That meant everything to us," Lin told Reuters television.
Lin's debut in the franchise, "Tokyo Drift", grossed $158 million worldwide while ticket sales for his 2011 film "Fast Five" jumped to about $628 million globally.
"Fast 6", one of the most anticipated films of the summer season critical to Hollywood studios, again features Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, a now retired professional criminal.
He reunites his crew to help Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, track down a mercenary organization led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).
Hobbs offers to clear the group's criminal records so they can return to live in the United States if they help him catch Shaw whose assistant is Toretto's presumed-dead lover Letty Ortiz, played by Michelle Rodriguez who rejoins the cast.
The film, which opens in Britain on May 17 and the United States on May 24, delivers back-to-back car racing stunts with one scene featuring Diesel smashing his car through the nose of a flaming Soviet-era cargo aircraft during takeoff.
Another car chase scene featuring a tank crushing dozens of cars along a Spanish highway ends with a breathtaking stunt that had the audience laughing in disbelief.
Diesel described the movie as tantamount to a love story after reuniting his character with his childhood sweetheart and bringing the gang back together as a family.
"It is an action film that refuses to sacrifice heart and family," he told reporters.
Diesel and the rest of the cast, including Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, and Jordana Brewster, are expected to feature in the seventh "Fast & Furious" film which is due out next year.
Lin, 42, however, is backing out, wanting a break from the fast pace set by the film's maker, Universal Pictures, which is owned by Comcast through its subsidiary NBCUniversal.
Filming is due to start later this year.
"I can't wait (to see it) as a fan," said Lin.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)