The weekend just passed was the Silverstone Classic. I was fortunate enough to be there covering it for The Checkered Flag. You all know how much I love classic and Historic racing, so I was really looking forward to it. Hundreds of amazing racing cars that would grace many a museum were out on track doing what they were designed to do, race. Particular highlights for me were the Grand Prix Masters, the World Sports Car Masters and of course the Group C races. Thankfully the weather stayed dry and the action on track was fantastic.
It was to be my first visit to Silverstone since the much anticipated Silverstone Wing Complex was completed. I was looking forward to checking it out and seeing what the facilities were like. Having arrived on Saturday morning the Media car park was by the main entrance. Having walked through a few of the car club areas James, writer for The Checkered Flag and I waited to jump on one of the busses to take us to the new Pit and Paddock. On arrival it all looked very impressive. The garages were very clean, modern and pretty big too. The paddock area was smart and a number of teams had set up there for the weekend.
However, as we entered the building, which look stunning on the outside, it became a little less impressive as we headed to the media centre. It was clearly unfinished as bits of carpet were missing and paint jobs had yet to be completed. The media centre was huge and very well equipped with power and internet points and plenty of TV screens. The Canteen next to it was a nice touch too. Unfortunately though, the main issue was that you couldn’t see the circuit. A row of small soundproof commentary boxes stood between the media centre and the glass front looking onto the pit straight. Obviously commentary boxes are important but the only time all of them would be used is for the Formula One weekend and perhaps the Moto GP. None of them were used this weekend and perhaps only one or two would be used for the rest of the season. Also, did they need to be there? Could they have not gone upstairs? On inspection of the boxes, we found that the desks inside them were high and deep, so you couldn’t lean forward to see up and down the pit straight. You had a view of a very small section of the track right in front of the box itself.
So the media centre could have been designed better, a big race weekend has live TV which can be broadcast on the many TV screens inside the building, so it wasn’t a total loss not being able to see outside. But what happens on the smaller race weekends when there isn’t live TV feeds? I’ve likened the new Wing to Lindsay Lohan. Attractive, but one or two things missing upstairs. The bigger issue with the new complex though, which I heard from a number of photographers there was somewhat different.
Busses and courtesy cars were laid on for media and VIP’s to get to the new building from the car park 50A by the main entrance. Now those of you who know Silverstone will know that car parks 50A, 50B and 50C are almost right opposite the new Wing. So why the busses and cars? Simple. You cannot get to the new Pit and Paddock complex from the outside of the circuit. So that meant a drive through the main entrance, over the bridge on the Wellington Straight, around the back of Aintree and the loop, behind Village and Farm Curve and along behind the paddock to the entrance at the end near Vale. You could have walked from the car park in less than a quarter of the time and with much less hassle if there was a crossing point on the Start/Finish Straight. Add that to the fact that access to the track from the paddock was extremely hard, a long days walking was in store. This meant careful planning to get round in between races and some action was inevitably missed. Something that could be rectified very simply. I really hope the people at Silverstone will put in a bridge or some crossing point in the near future. It will be of great help to all and save a lot of time and effort for anyone wanting to access the new Paddock, whether they are public or media, VIP’s or team members.
Despite the disappointment of the much hyped Wing, it was a good weekend. There were lots to see and do away from the action on track, and thousands of classic cars from various car clubs around the country. So if it’s you’re interested in classic cars, it’s an event well worth a visit.
I won’t be trackside this coming weekend but the remainder of this week and most of next will see me shoot horsepower of a different kind. I’ll be photographing the local Pony Club’s summer camps. It’s been a while since I last did an equestrian event but its where my life as a photographer started so it will be fun to get back into it.
A few months ago you may remember that I was taken round Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in James Abbott’s Radical SR3 RS for a couple of flying laps. Well I’ve now gone one better thanks to Will Brown of the Radical Owners Club and David Frankland, driver in the Radical Clubman’s Cup.
Will had read the article about my previous experience and got in touch to invite me to a track day organised by the Radical Owners Club with the prospect of being taken out for some passenger laps. Only this time, it would be on the full Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Those of you who know me will know I adore the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch so I naturally jumped at the opportunity.
Thankfully the weather was glorious at Brands Hatch on Monday and conditions were perfect out on track. My girlfriend Liz had the day off work so joined me for the day. we met up with Will and discussed the plan for the day. There were to be three groups of cars, one made up of all the radicals, taking to the track for 20 minute sessions each hour. My ride was to take place later in the day so it gave me a chance to take some photos of the selection of cars taking part. There were a few well known drivers there on instructing duties, including Martin Donnelly and Tony Gilham, who was spotted without his trade beanie hat!
At midday, I headed back to the garages and Will introduced me to David Frankland, my trusty chauffeur in his Radical SR3 RS. It was clear I was going to be out for the whole 20 minute, a prospect I was relishing. David also offered to take Liz out too later in the day. Of course she jumped at the chance too, although i’m not sure who was more excited, Liz or David! After being kitted up with a helmet and gloves and being strapped in, it was time to be wheeled out of the garage and onto the pit lane.
With the session underway, we were off. David had told me he would take a couple of laps to get up to speed, but straight away it felt like being fired out of a cannon. The acceleration of the 1.5litre machine was incredible, particularly as the gear ratios had been shortened to improve it. As we got into a rhythm I could start to take a bit more in. David had a countdown timer inside the cockpit timing down the 20 minute session which I used to get a rough idea of the lap time around the 2.3 mile track.
Now up to speed I glanced at the timer as we crossed the start line, I could also see the speed readout too in kph. Reaching 195kph before braking for Paddock Hill bend we sailed round the tricky downhill adverse camber corner with the car sticking to the tarmac like glue. As we hit the bottom of the hill I could feel it in my stomach before the climb back up towards Druids. Braking hard for the short blast to Graham Hill bend. Despite it only being a relatively short distance between Druids and Graham Hill, the acceleration of the Radical meant hard braking was still needed. Clipping the apex and then running onto the kerb on the exit onto Cooper straight. It was another blast up to 175kph before braking into Surtees as David took a wide line on entry to gain the best entry speed on exit for the long straight to follow.
As we headed out onto the GP loop I was now in uncharted territory. Hammering through Pilgrims drop in a blur, I kept an eye on the Speedometer which hit 205kph before braking for Hawthorn Bend. It was here that you realise just how good the radical is. We entered the 90 degree right hander at a staggering 160kph (100mph) and still the car wasn’t going to go anywhere David wasn’t directing it to. As David had said, anyone can drive in a straight line at high speed, not everyone can take tight corners at high speed.
Through the double Apex Westfield Bend the track takes on another feeling. The trees start to encroach either side and the dip and rise up to Sheene Curve give you a sense that you are on a country road. It’s a good job we weren’t though as the speed we were travelling David would have lost his licence on the spot and handed a very hefty fine. Through Sheene we quickly approached one of my favourite corners for taking photos at, Stirlings. The slight downhill entry into the banked left hander followed by the slight rise on the exit always gives great photo opportunities. However, I was left a little disappointed as from the passenger seat I didn’t really notice those things. Disappointment didn’t last long though as we were soon speeding along the tree lined run to Clearways and back out into the main Brands Hatch Arena. Relatively hard breaking was needed on the entry to Clark Curve, the final corner, but it was foot right down through it to ensure high speed down Brabham Straight and over the finish line. I checked the timer as we crossed, 1 minute 40 seconds. That was pretty quick and I timed a couple of other laps which were 1 or 2 seconds quicker. Even more impressive with a great lump like me, or was that success ballast, in the passenger seat.
The 20 minutes soon ended and we were back in the garage before long. David asked if I was ok. He couldn’t see the huge grin that was plastered across my face for the duration underneath my helmet. It was brilliant.
After the lunch break, It was Liz’s turn out on track, and although her session was cut short by about 5 minutes thanks to someone beaching their car at Druids, she loved it too. She wasn’t that bothered about the shortened session as she did feel a bit sick as she got out of the car afterwards. We both can’t thank David enough for taking us out, normally I’m a bit of a control freak but at no point did I feel fear. That might have changed had I been driving. I also am very grateful to Will for inviting me. It was a brilliant day and one I will never forget. It is unlikely I will get to drive the famous Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch, even less likely at the speed I had experienced, but being a passenger is no less exciting I’m sure.
Everyone has their favourite racing circuit, whether you are a racing driver, spectator, photographer or marshal. There are a number of different circuits scattered throughout the UK and most of them have various layouts. But for me, my favourite of all is the GP circuit at Brands Hatch. I love it not just from a photographer’s point of view, but from a motorsport fan’s as well. For me it has great variety, numerous vantage points and some brilliant corners. Add to that the undulations, climbs and descents and you have a stunning race circuit.
I understand that a number of circuits are built on old airfields and to be fair, it is a good use of the land, however this leaves you with flat, but by no means featureless race tracks. The undulating layout at Brands however adds to the excitement. We all know what an awesome sight it is to see cars thunder round Paddock hill bend, down the hill and then up to Druids. It is akin (well almost) to Eau Rouge at Spa Francorschamps. Having been out in the Indy layout at Brands in a race spec Radical SR3 RS, I can tell you, it’s a rollercoaster ride.
The GP circuit, steeped in motorsport history, provides some fantastic viewpoints not just a trackside photographer but as a spectator too. Obviously being trackside provides me with great photo opportunities but there was I time before I had media access and I loved the circuit then too. From the Desire Wilson and Paddock Hill grandstands you can see a great deal of the circuit thanks to the high vantage point. Around Paddock Hill bend, along Hailwood Hill and on the outside of Druids Hairpin provide great spectator viewing despite the high catch fencing. But if you like to take photos, the large area on the inside of Druids provides a great opportunity to capture some shots without the fencing being a Problem. I also love the Southbank parking area. It is ideal if you have the family with you, as you can watch from the comfort of your own car (great if it’s pouring with rain) but is a good central point to start from if you want to wander around the track.
Head out into the woods and you can also get some great unobstructed views of the GP section too. You can walk round pretty much the whole of the inside section with many great vantage points for the budding photographer. If you are there for a touring car head out to Westfield Bend. It may be a bit of a trek but it’s great to see the likes of Andy Jordan launch his car on to two wheels as he catches the inside Kerb, plus you can see it from just a few feet away. Another good spot, and one of my favourites is Stirlings Bend. A banked 90 degree left hander before the blast to clearways always gives good opportunities for a nice photo.
There are so many aspects of the circuit that come together to make it a very spectator friendly race track. Many people tell me how hard it is to take motorsport photos as a spectator due to all the high fencing everywhere. My response to them is that whilst catch fencing can be the foe to any photographer, it is there for a very good reason. It can be frustrating as well I know as I was a spectator too and sometimes still am. However, get yourself down to Brands Hatch and you will find you are spoilt with the amount of area’s you can take unhindered photos from.
I’ve been to Brands Hatch twice in recent weeks and both race meetings have been run on the full GP layout. I like shooting it and each time I’m there I manage to find a nice place to shoot from that I wasn’t aware of before. The most recent visit was for the Historic Sports Car Club meeting. I love historic and classic racing and it is something that greatly interests me. Although you won’t see Formula One at Brands anymore, it was there just 25 years ago so it was a great thrill to be there to see some of those cars back there, along with the Group C monsters that used to take part in the famous 1000km race there. You can read my report from the weekend on the Checkered Flag website here.
I’ve given my reasons for why I love the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch so much and I know it is a favourite among many racing drivers too. Although I will more than likely never experience it as a racing driver, I have been out at racing speeds on the Indy loop which you can read in a previous blog post. However, thanks to Will at the Radical Owners Club, I will be experiencing the full GP loop on Monday. He has very kindly invited me to their trackday and I will be sampling first hand what it is like to travel round the famous track at high speed. Of course, I cannot wait and I will be writing about my second Radical experience, but until then, I will be running around like an expectant five year old on Christmas Eve.