As the clock ticked past midnight and into the Witching hour it was time to head back out of the media centre. We wanted to capture some light trails during the night and decided we would head out to the Karussell.
After parking up beside the muddy track and having stumbled through the trees and undergrowth in the dark, we were greeted by the English Marshalls there. They were quick to put the kettle on for us as I set about getting to work with my tripod and shutter release cable. The Karussell was just as awesome at night and sparks flew, brake discs glowed and engines echoed through the trees. The temperature was still warm too so it didn’t seem like we were up during the early hours.
I stood talking to the Marshalls with my knees up against the Armco barrier and I heard a clang then felt a thud. It was if something had come off a car and hit the barrier where we were. I wondered what it could be. It felt quite solid. A wheel nut maybe? A quick conversation by the Marshall’s over their radio revealed the source. A car had hit the barrier at the bottom of the hill. The impact was about three or four hundred meters away from where I was standing but could still feel it. I was glad I wasn’t standing any further down the hill. Tales from the Marshall’s soon followed about incidents where they have been hit by debris. It made me remember that being trackside can be dangerous. Especially as close as we were on the Nordschleife. Something that I don’t think about when I’m out shooting. The Marshalls even told us that at some points on the circuit which are particularly narrow and the Armco is close to the track edge, that when they wave yellow or white flags, some cars pass and clip the end of the flags! These guys in orange really need to be applauded.
I wandered down the hill to capture some light trails going up towards the Karussell. I could see the extent of the crash as I got down there. A BMW Z4 had it the barrier head on quite hard. The service crew were there and had the area coned off. Cars were forced to the other side of the narrow track but were very obliging of the safety crew and Marshall’s waved yellow flags slowing right down to a crawl past the scene before getting on the power past me and up the hill. The BMW was towed away in quite a mess. The scene was tidied up quickly and before long the only visible sign of an accident was a slightly damaged Armco and some sand on top of a fluid leak. Cars were back to full speed up the hill and I was standing pretty close. Knowing one car had hit the barrier and the possibility of a slippery surface due to the spilled fluid, I wasn’t going to hang about here for long and made my way back up the hill.
Time was passing by quite quickly and it would be first light soon so we decided to make a move and come back to the Karussell later during daylight hours. Parking up at the bottom of the hill near Hocheichen we walked up the hill through the campsite to Hatzenbach. Walking through the array of tents, small marquee’s and caravans, traversing piles of rubbish, empty beer bottles and bonfires as well as the occasional fan sleeping on the bare ground I was feeling surprisingly alert. It was about 5 am and I was starting to think to myself that I could last till the end of the race quite comfortably at this rate. Pausing to glance back at the cars snaking down the hill behind us and saying hello to the occasional fan, some of which still happily down beer I was in high spirits.
Having reached the top of the hill we headed to the outside of the first corner on the Nordschleife. The cars would come off the Grand Prix circuit, head towards us and then drop down the twisty first section of the ‘Green Hell’. As I paused to watch the cars head towards me with headlights ablaze it happened. I had hit the wall. All of my energy had been drained. I was struggling to focus let alone look through a view finder. But I was here. I had walked up the hill and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity of taking photos pass so I carried on regardless. I was firing off shots unsure if what I was getting was of any use. My eyes had given up even bothering to focus on anything and I couldn’t see if the images on the rear screen were any good either. I had glanced up at Kev. He was struggling too. I think he had become somewhat delirious as he had started singing odd made up songs. Trying to ignore the fact that my body was urging me to rest I carried on shooting in the hope something would be useable.
The decision to stop was soon made for us. I felt a few spots of rain. I wasn’t sure if it was actually starting to rain or I was just hallucinating. I could definitely fell it get a bit heavier and the Marshall’s were now waving the yellow and red Slippery surface flags. Time to head back. We got in the car and made our way to the media car park. We needed to sleep but weren’t sure to sleep in the car or the media centre. Realising James would be in the media centre and no doubt bouncing off the walls high on caffeine, chocolate and e-numbers it was decided best that we slept in the car. I was out like a light.
I woke up just as Kevin did. I actually felt pretty refreshed. How long had I slept for? Had I missed the race? The rain had stopped and the sun was out. Glancing at the time it was 9am. Phew, I was only asleep for two hours but thankfully it felt like longer and I was recharged. Time for some coffee and a bite to eat before heading back to the media centre to empty memory cards and catch up on the goings on.
I was right. James was still in a Sugar induced high and was loving every minute of the experience. I was slightly envious. How can he manage it but I can’t? He’s only a few years younger than me. Then I realised, He doesn’t walk miles lugging camera’s and kit around. I wasn’t complaining though. I wouldn’t change that for the world. I love doing it.
Having been fed and watered it was time to make a move again. We decided to head out to the Karussell again then one or two other areas before the race finish. Back at the banked hairpin and with the Marshalls again, I felt revitalized. The sun was beating down and the cars still looked magnificent. Albeit a little dirtier and some sporting a few dents, scrapes and a moderate amount of race tape. After all, this was endurance racing at it most difficult and cars still running at this point had achieved so much already. I was merrily snapping away, trying different angles and perspectives of the corner having a great time a number of other photographers were now at the hairpin all looking pretty happy. Life was good.
Time passed by rapidly and due to an unforeseen circumstance, we weren’t able to head to a different area before the race end. However we made it back to the media room for the race finish and in time to see the battle for third place between one of the Porsche’s and a Mercedes SLS in the dying minutes. It was exciting stuff but no one was prepared for what was about to unfold.
As the Clock ticked down, the Porsche powered down the long straight with the Mercedes right on its bumper. Into the last few corners before busting into the Grand Prix circuit. The clocked hadn’t quite reached the 4 o’clock mark and they would need to complete another lap. Game On. We moved to the windows to see the cars come down the pit straight to start their last lap. Or so we thought. The Mercedes roared past. Where was the Porsche? It had slowed. Coming towards the line it was almost crawling along. What was wrong? Was there a mechanical issue? Had it run out of petrol? Or had it completely miss timed everything thinking the chequered flag would be out and throwing third place away in the process? The lead Audi was yet to come through and the Porsche had crossed the line almost coming to a standstill towards the other side of the track from the pit wall. Cars were still coming through however. One of which was a Renault Clio still travelling at speed. I could see him coming towards the Porsche. He must have seen it. He’s definitely seen it right? Why isn’t he moving across? He didn’t see it. Smash. Gasps and groans reverberated around the Media Centre. The Clio ploughed into the back of the Porsche at high speed. Debris littered the track distracting everyone from the Leading Audi R8 that was about to take the flag and victory.
Confusion reigned as Cars took the chequered flag amongst the numerous waved yellow ones and Marshalls rallying around to clear up the mess which had now ruined the Grandstand photo finish for the factory Aston Martin team. As the Zagato, flanked by the two Vantages headed towards the line the left hand Vantage had to tuck in behind avoid the debris. The race was over in bizarre fashion.
It was a peculiar end to an amazing experience but it was now all over. Sitting outside the Italian restaurant that evening with a cold beer and a pizza I was left reflecting on my first experience of the Nurburgring Nordschleife and the 24hr race. It had been incredible. The place was just spectacular and I was spoilt with the variety of places to photograph from. You will never get a full appreciation for how incredible the place is until you see it for real. How narrow, twisty and undulating it really is. It gives you a renewed appreciation for racing drivers and the balls, guts, determination and fearlessness they must have to take on such circuit in the high powered machinery they do. A lot of people tell me that they think endurance racing is boring. Firstly, these people clearly have no attention span and secondly they have definitely never been to the Nurburgring to see the 24hr race.
This led me on to a new appreciation. That of the Fans. These people were incredible. They were friendly, likeable and their dedication know no bounds. They never ceased to amaze me throughout the week. They were proper hardcore motorsport fans and they were loving every minute of it. At the risk of upsetting a few people, they made the Le Mans 24hr look like a holiday camp. And I’ve been to Le Mans more than once!
Finally I’d like to thank everyone who made my first trip to the Nurburgring so amazing and special. From all the Germans who were friendly, kind and helpful, to all the media for the laughs and the teams for putting up with the photographers poking around and getting in the way. Last but not least I have to give a huge thank you to Kevin at Red Square Images. Without him my trip probably wouldn’t have been possible and his knowledge of the area helped me so much. Thank You Kev I really appreciate what you have done for me.
The Nordschleife is affectionately known as the ‘Green Hell’ but to me, the place was motorsport Heaven.
I will be going back.
Saturday was soon upon us. Race day! It was another early start for us as although the 24 hour race didn’t start until 4pm, the second British GT race was starting at 9.15am so we needed to be there before that to photograph it.
It was another great race and the field of British GT cars looked superb in front of the thousands of on looking fans. Hopefully this weekend will have helped raise the profile of the British GT championship. It was the Ferrari 458 of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin that took the victory overcoming the numerous Porsches which were seemingly going to dominate the second of the two races. A full race report can be read here.
After the race, there was time for some rest in the media room before the main event. The Porsche Carrera cup Deutschland and Renault Clio cup took place and we were able to watch the action out on the Nordschleife on the TV screens whilst sorting photos from the British GT race and making plans for the 24 hour race. I also went to the souvenir stands to pick up a few bits. My Laptop is now sporting an obligatory Nürburgring Sticker.
It was decided to shoot the start of the race from out on the Nordshleife rather than at the first corner where most of the photographers would be. So an hour or so before the race, I had packed what I needed and we headed out. We headed to the inside of Pflanzgarten but at the top of the hill to see the cars come over the crest. Opposite us on the other side of the track was a McDonalds Drive through sign. Not a made up one. An actually proper sign that lit up. Somewhere in Germany a McDonalds was missing their sign! The Germans who were camped out there were already on the beers and like most of the fans, probably had been since Monday.
As the race start neared the German national anthem came on over the tannoy system. The boozed up guys opposite us stood to attention and sang along proudly. After that they had realised we were English and so treated us to a rendition of God save the Queen. We gave them a cheer and showed our appreciation. I was quite impressed. Had this had been a football match we would have been on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse.
Pretty soon the unmistakable rumble of engines could be heard through the trees. I could sense the atmosphere change and the excitement grow. The course car appeared over the crest with orange lights ablaze followed close behind by the front running cars all weaving to keep their tyres warm like a mother duck leading her ducklings. But these were more like caged tigers desperate to be freed to unleash their fury amongst the German pine trees. The sun was beaming down on the paintwork of the cars as they streamed past and down the hill. Air horns, whistles, hooters and horns could be heard over the cheers. I was sure my cheeks would start to hurt soon from the constant grin that was plastered across my face. There was nowhere else I would rather have been at that moment. The next course car led through the second group of cars and soon the final group were to stream past. The field is so big that the rolling start has to be split into three groups to avoid mass carnage at the first corners.
I knew the next car to pass me would be the leading car under race conditions. I waited impatiently for it to come round. It seemed like an age as I readied myself. Then, before I knew it, Whoosh. The Schubert BMW Z4 flashed past in an instant. A couple of seconds passed before the chasing pack followed like greyhounds after the BMW hare. We were racing. Cars continually appeared over the crest towards me and I was firing of plenty of shots to capture them in the afternoon sun against the forest backdrop. A tried various angles and perspective to try and capture the gorgeous machines in an attempt to do them some kind of justice. But there were plenty of places to shoot from and angles to get. Even amongst the trees. I was really enjoying myself.
I wandered down towards the crest towards the bottom of the hill before the right hander which took the cars back up the hill. The majority of the cars were getting air at the crest and I could get pretty close to capture it. The fans opposite that adorned the numerous scaffolding towers and those standing below had a great view. Cheers erupted as cars took to the air. I got a good vantage point to capture the action. Everything had become quite surreal. I had never experienced anything like this before. The track, the cars, the fans, the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere. It was a culmination of the best bits of motorsport all together in the same place at the same time. I wasn’t sure whether to just stand there and take it all in or crack on with taking photos to capture this incredible experience.
I moved further on and round the corner. I was standing behind the Armco as cars were now making their way up the hill. The line they took made it feel like they were heading straight towards me. I was just feet away from them as the roared past. I’m no adrenalin junkie, far from it, I’m even scared of heights, but this was such a good feeling. I was buzzing. Quick glances at the screen on my camera gave me an idea of what I was capturing. I only hoped they would look as good, or better when I uploaded the images to my laptop. Time had flown by but in reality I had been at that section of the track for a few hours. It was time to move on and find another good place to shoot from.
I wasn’t to be disappointed with our next destination, Kleine Karussell. Not a hairpin like Karussell but still a banked left hander. Cars raced through like the wall of death at a fun fair. Like the corners bigger brother, some of the cars jumped out of the exit as the banking ended before they scampered up the hill. Like so many of the other area’s on the Nordschleife, you were spoilt for choice in terms of getting some good angles. I was still hoping the photos I was taking were doing this incredible place some kind of justice. As the evening drew in and the light faded it was a good time to head back to the media room to get something to eat and upload the photos we had taken. My excitement had caused me to forget that by now I was actually quite hungry.
Back in the media room, James was in his element. Making notes, checking timing screens, watching through the window and keeping track of the leading cars on the impressive Ipad car and driver tracker application. I scoffed down some hot stew that had been provided whilst I uploaded the photos and tried to get some kind of update as to what had been going on in the race and who was leading. The night had drawn in and I was pretty pleased with the photos I had taken as I was checking through some on my laptop. The Champions League final was on the TV at the end of the media room. From the German cheers and questions of ‘Are you English?’ followed by laughs on my reply, I assumed some Bloke called Brian Munich had scored. I wasn’t that interested though. Did these people realise what was going on outside? I took this as my cue to head down to the pitlane. As I did the Germans went quiet. Chelsea had equalised.
Down in the pitlane it was still a hub of activity. Some mechanics were catching a few minutes sleep whilst others bustled about or watched the football on TV’s. In fact, most of the garages had the Football on next to timing screens and onboard feeds from their cars. Even some pit walls had the football on. Outside the garages, the pit lane was crowded still. Photographers, Mechanics, Organisers and VIP pass holders all jostled for positions. How no one got hit by a car coming in or going out is beyond me. Or maybe people did get hit and I just never saw. I was conscious that I wasn’t going to be one of them so was on full alert throughout.
I was standing outside the Black Falcon garage as the team had prepared everything for a pit stop as it was obvious one of their Mercedes was due in soon. With up to six or more cars per garage space was at a premium. Some cars had to pit in at an angle between others and get pushed back in order to exit when the stop was complete. One of the Black Falcon team members wandered out with the lollypop board to indicate where their car needed to stop. As he peered up the pitlane into the darkness trying to identify their car from its headlights, two cars came in and filled the spot the team had prepared. Neither were the Mercedes they had been expecting and now there was no space for it’s imminent arrival. With that the whole team grabbed everything they could, tyres in their warmers, jacks, fire extinguishers and anything else they needed and sprinted down the pitlane to a clear spot further down. As they did, the Mercedes rumbled in close behind. It was an amazing piece of team work and I wanted to stand and applaud. Formula One drivers moan about pit stops? They need to experience this!
As I patrolled up and down with my camera in hand, I had become aware from the cheers and shouts that the football had gone to penalties and the Germans were doing well. I wasn’t surprised, were the English really going to beat the Germans on penalties in their own back yard? Of course not. By the time I had got down to the Aston Martin garage the team of mechanics and drivers not racing at the time were all huddled around the TV. There was some commotion. I wandered in and on tiptoes peered over the top of a gaggle of heads. It seemed that Chelsea had the chance to win with the last penalty. I was suddenly a bit interested. It was scored and the British Aston Martin team erupted, drowning out the cries of despair that reverberated from all of the other garages. Chelsea had won the Champions League on Penalties. Pretty Epic. In years to come people will ask, ‘Where were you when Chelsea beat the Germans on Penalties on that fateful night?’ To which I will take pride in being able to respond with ‘Standing in the Aston Martin Garage at the Nurburgring during the 24 hour race’. That response is even more epic. I smiled to myself and walked back into the pitlane.
Back in the media room I checked out the photos I had just taken and glanced at the clock. Midnight. It was now Sunday but there was still plenty of racing to capture……
Friday was to be a bit of a shorter day than Thursday dues to the lack of a night qualifying session, but it was to be no less exciting.
The first session for us for the day was to be the 24hr second qualifying session so we headed straight out to the Nordschleife from the hotel to photograph it. After heading up to Flugplatz we soon realised the Sun was doing our photos no favours, It was another sunny and warm day, so it was decided that we should head somewhere different and come back later. So we headed off and parked at Breidscheid so we could walk up the hill to Wehrseifen.
Walking through the campsite up the hill I noticed again how fantastic the fans were. More scaffolding towers had been erected and some area’s resembled small but busy village communities. One scaffolding tower was created to resemble a pirate ship with disco lights as cannons. There was even a group who had created their own landscape garden with a stream, rock garden and newly planted flowers and vegetation. However, amongst a smouldering bonfire circled by car seats, something really caught my eye. A really nice, shiny green Mark One Volkswagen Golf. But it was just the front section from the bulkhead forward including the front two wheels. It seemed bizarre but all became clear as underneath the bonnet was a gas powered Barbeque grill. This was possible the best Barbeque I had ever seen!
Having made it up to Wehrseifen my grin broadened. This was another great spot. The cars came round the corner into view dropping down the hill and into the tight left hander before a quick right hand bend took them down the hill towards Exmühle and over the bridge out of sight. In the distance you could see the climb up the steep hill through the trees towards Bergwerk. Fans adorned the bank and the hill side on the outside of the corner where we were and the Armco barrier we were standing behind was close up to the edge of the track. There was no need to shoot with a telephoto lens, I had my 18mm in use which was perfect.
Shooting from this point it was soon apparent that there were so many different perspectives you could get from just one area. The Sun was shining, the cars looked superb and the fans were still on top form. The noise of the Mercedes rumbling down the hill or the High pitch scream of the Lexus LFA accelerating out of the tight bend was a joy. Today was another good day.
As the session drew to an end we headed back to the cafe where we had left the car. We had some time before the Classic race was due to be out on track so it was time for some lunch in the German sunshine. For the 3hr classic race we thought we would head to the famous Karussell hairpin. We wouldn’t be able to shoot the whole race as the British GT race one was due soon after and we needed to get back for that, but we made the most of the time we did have.
Having taken to the forest tracks that twisted and turned up the hills we had made it to the infamous corner. Seeing the banked hairpin for the first time was incredible. Again, no pictures or race simulators could do it any justice. The banking was steep and cars bottomed out and sparks flew as they dropped into the corner and again as they exited with some even taking to the air briefly. Again, it was another corner that provided many different perspectives and photo opportunities. There were English Marshall’s on the post at this corner who were very friendly as we were to find out throughout our time at the Nürburgring providing us with tea, biscuits and good conversation. The sights and sounds of classic Porsche 911’s, E-Type Jags and the awesome Warsteiner liveried BMW M1 Procar was just the icing on the cake. A few more images from the Classic race can be seen on my Facebook page or on my Flickr page.
Time must have flown by as it was soon time to head back to the Grand Prix Circuit for the First of the weekends British GT Races. It was a great spectacle and the racing was great. Jann Mardenborough continued to show his form in the Nissan GT-R as he stretched out a lead before the pit stops and handing over to Alex Buncombe. However the RJN team had stopped for half a second shorter than they should have and were punished with a drive through penalty. This gifted the win to the Beechdean Aston Martin of Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard. The cars first win in the Championship. The Full race report can be read here. Also some more images of the British GT can be viewed on the Chris Gurton Photography Facebook page here or on my Flickr page here.
A new qualifying format for the 24hr race saw the top 40 cars compete in a shoot out format on Friday evening and this was to be the last session of the day. With the prospect of the fastest cars pushing hard to set fast times we made our move to Flugplatz. A long straight with a slight crest at Quiddelbacher-Höle where the front of the cars lift off the ground, some even getting all four wheels off the ground.
I took up my position right behind the Armco just feet from the tarmac ready to capture the action. We didn’t have long to wait as we could see the cars drop down the hill at Hocheichen in the distance before roaring up into view on their out laps. Picking up the pace for their flying laps expectation mounted. The first car, one of the Aston Martins, came past with a whoosh, the front of the car lifted as the front two wheel parted with the warm tarmac. Amazing. The following cars were to do the same. This was awesome. The drivers were showing balls of steel as the crest was close to a braking point. I was in awe of these incredible machines and their pilots.
Yet again the session had passed in a blur but I was left with a great feeling inside. It was time to head back to the hotel and get some rest before the big day. Saturday; Race Day.
As I sit and write this, it seems hard to believe that a week has passed since my amazing first experience of the Nurburgring 24hr race on the infamous Nordschleife circuit. I feel very lucky to have been there shooting the race and taking in the whole incredible atmosphere. There seems to be a lot to write about so I think it would be best to split it into two parts to help ease boredom so the first part will be about the Thursday with the remaining parts over the next few days. I hope you enjoy them.
After arriving on Wednesday, mooching about and getting settled in for the next few days, Thursday was the day that all the action would start. We were staying about 25 minutes from the circuit so it wasn’t too bad travelling between the hotel and circuit each day. The first action of the day was the two British GT practice sessions. The British GT was to be run on the Grand Prix track and not out onto the Nordschleife so I spent the morning wandering the circuit finding good places to shoot from for the races during the next couple of days. Even the Grand Prix circuit was pretty amazing. I never really knew how far downhill the track dropped to the hairpin at the bottom before the cars started the climb back up. Standing on the hill overlooking the Schumacher Esses and the Hairpin below was a pretty awesome sight.
The two hours practice session seemed to fly by and I was enjoying myself in the sun, a total contrast to the poor weather the day before. The cars looked fantastic and a few new additions to the British GT line up for this round such as the Lamborghini and another Audi R8 boosted the field to make it even more impressive. I headed back up the hill at the end of the session to make my way back to the media centre. The Classic cars were making their way out on track for their qualifying session so I paused briefly to admire them. I didn’t stay out to photograph this session. Today was going to be a long day and I had lots to do which meant missing some sessions, but I knew we were going to photograph the Classic race on Friday so It wasn’t an issue.
Back at the media centre we planned out the rest of the day. There was to be a Practice session for the 24hr race early afternoon before the British GT qualifying followed by the first Qualifying session for the 24hr in the evening going on until 11.30pm. We had decided to stay around the Grand Prix track for the day before heading out to the Nordschleife for the evening qualifying session. The media room was impressive. It was huge with good facilities. Drinks dispensers for an unlimited supply of soft drinks and hot drinks plus bowls of fruit and chocolate. Not only that but food for lunch and dinner was also supplied. Everyone there was helpful and friendly. The atmosphere was great and I’d settled in well.
For the 24hr practice session I decided to head down to the pits and shoot from there. I will be the first to admit my pit lane photos are not my strongest point and I was weary of the commotion and hive of activity down there. After all, 170 cars running from one pit lane meant it was going to be busy. Add to that the amount of people who had pit lane and VIP passes and the words Bun and Fight spring to mind. Once the session got underway though I had settled in and was enjoying myself. It was busy in the pit lane throughout the session and the iconic pitlane siren seemed to be going off continuously as cars constantly headed down the pitlane. I still look both ways when crossing between the garages and the pit wall despite knowing cars only come from one direction. I’ve never been able to shake that habit but I guess it’s not a bad one to have.
The variety of cars on display was amazing. Everything from front Running Audi R8’s, Porsche 997’s & Mercedes SLS’ through to VW Scirocco’s, a huge variety of BMW’s, MKIII Golf’s, Astra’s, even a Ford Fiesta and not to mention the Fans favourite and obligatory Opel Manta. The noise, the smells, the sight they provided was just brilliant. It was not long though before the session drew to a close and I was back at my laptop in the media room pouring over the photos I had just take.
I spent the British GT qualifying session down in the pit lane too. Although nowhere near as manic as the earlier session I was there for, it was still pretty good to be amongst the teams and drivers as they set about getting solid lap times for the two races. Jan Mardenborough in the RJN Playstation Academy Nissan GT-R proved his ability behind the wheel of the awesome looking machine by setting the fastest time in Q1 and clinching pole position for the first race. The quickest time in Q2 and pole for race two went to Nick Tandy in the Motorbase Porsche.
We had stayed near the media room during this session as we were going to head out for the first of the 24hr qualifying sessions soon after. We jumped into the car and headed out having decided to shoot from Pflanzgarten. This was to be my first taste of action on the Nordschleife. I was pretty excited but tried not to show it. We parked up and walked to the outside of the corner at the bottom of the hill. The place was packed. There were hundreds of, probably more, fans lining the catch fencing. Bonfires were lit, Barbeques were cooking and scaffolding towers and viewing platforms had been erected by them to get a better view. Music was blaring, Lady Ga-Ga was drowning out the German commentary over the tannoy system.
I got the occasional call from drunken fans, ‘Hallo Photographer!’ followed by a cheer as I turned and put my thumb up. Quite a bizarre experience. You don’t get that at Snetterton! The place was buzzing. It seemed to be more like a popular music festival than a race track. I had never seen anything like it. Even British GT Drivers Aaron Scott and John Dhillon were walking past to try and take up a vantage point for the spectacle that was about to happen.
Pretty soon engine noises could be heard. Through the trees it was echoing. Getting louder and louder. Then, cheers erupted as the first car burst over the top of the hill and dropped down towards us followed by a cascade of others chasing behind. All snaking through the narrow section leaping the crest before baring right and off up the hill and back amongst the trees. I wasn’t sure whether to take photos or stand and stare in awe of what I was witnessing. I could see why the crazy fans were so dedicated. I have witness some pretty amazing stuff in my time, but this was the pinnacle. Cars were blasting through this tight section at breakneck speed with what seemed consummate ease. No run off areas and armco barriers tightly lining the track. Even the fastest cars were passing the slower ones through this section and barely lifting off the power in the process. How was that even possible? I was in my element and just a few feet from the action. The fans weren’t much further away either.
As the evening passed and the darkness descended, the music got loader, the Barbeques continued to fill the air with aroma’s of cooked meat, the bonfire’s threw out more heat and the fans got louder as the beer flowed. Cars still roared past and I was still grinning like a Cheshire cat. Had I died and gone to heaven? Was heaven even this good?
It became dark so we headed back. There was time to do some night photography in the pitlane before the session finished. It was still pretty manic down there. Teams and mechanics jostled with photographers and VIP’s with camera phones as they tried to make space for their car’s that were about to come in. Before today I had worried a bit about being in such a busy area. I didn’t want to get in the way, trip over something or knock stuff over, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Yes it was busy but the teams and mechanics seemed ok with the amount of people about as long as someone didn’t do anything completely stupid. I made sure that wasn’t going to be me.
The session was drawing to an end, the cars were coming back to the pits and my first day shooting at the Nurburgring was complete. The experience was awesome and I couldn’t wait to get back out there. Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait.
This next post is a guest blog from my friend James. I havent had a chance to sit and write about my experience at the Nurburgring yet as i’m still sorting through all the photos. So here, James describes his first Nodschleife experience. Enjoy.
I find a spot at the fence that doesn’t involve getting too intimate with some strangers and start to take it in.
I have made it to endurance racing Nirvana (well, one of them).
Beyond the chainlink fence I am now leaning on, lies the Nordschleife ready to watch one of the practice sessions for the Nurburgring 24 Hours.
You can watch videos, play Gran Turismo, read stories or whatever, but nothing prepares you for actually seeing the track for the first time. Firstly it’s impossibly narrow and the inclines involved only really perceptible when you see them for yourself. I’m closer to the track than you can get at most British venues – and none of them hold the challenge, the mystique and the reputation of the Nordscheife.
Though it’s still early in the weekend – Thursday night to be exact – the fans in the campsite are already living up to their reputations. On the track a riot of colourful graffiti decorates the tarmac. I have no idea who or what Eiserberg (or something like that) is but I’m about ten foot further down toward the 17km marker that where he is or “woz” according to the white block capitals written across the track.
Fans up and down the fence are clutching tankards, and bottles of beer. My back is warmed by a fire behind me and the smell of the food cooking over it is making me hungry (I have yet to be introduced to the concoction that is Currywurst yet).
Above the following corner fans have constructed viewing gantries from wood and/or scaffolding to give them a view over the catch fencing.
An unseen stereo is blaring out pop music. Lady Ga Ga, The Black Eyed Peas – songs I never thought I’d associate with anything now synonymous with this moment in my head.
Over the music I hear the German commentary, which not speaking a word of German is less than helpful. My German barely extends to a few words – I sort of know the words for thank you, but am less sure of how to pronounce them – “Danker” or “Dunker” – but I can feel the anticipation growing as more and people start to prepare cameras and phones to capture the cars coming into view down the hill.
The first sign – to the non-German speaker – that the cars are on their way is the sight and sound of helicopters following the field through the forests that envelop almost the entire Nordschleife.
Engine noises ebb through the air, a promise of what’s to come yet there is no indication of exactly how close they are as the sounds rattle through the trees. Each time I hear a noise I snap my head left expecting to see the first car bounce into view, but each time there is nothing but empty track.
When the cars actually are on their final approach the noise is unmistakable – to the point I wonder how I could have thought any of the previous noises were anywhere near.
The first car cascades through the left hander that brings them into my view, down the hill, into one compression – and out – into another – and out – then over ‘my’ crest – wheels lifting from the track visibly before the tyres re-adhere to the track in time for the brief braking zone for the following right hander as they disappear from view.
The entire passage from left to right – into and then out of my view – takes only a few seconds, (read brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp-swoosh-jump-brrrrrrrrp and you have idea of the exact time) but after the first batch of cars have gone past I am very conscious of the huge smile I have plastered across my face.
I had no idea of what my expectations from this place were but I’m sure it’s exceeded them.
After a few laps I learn the cars to watch, the cars that pop and bang in the braking zone – the P 4/5 Competizione – the cars that get the most air – the Lexus LFA – and the cars that make for spectacular viewing.
The Audi TT RSs have a habit of sparking from their diffusers was the land after the jump – the force of braking and gravity combining to push them into the ground as they start climbing again even before they’ve reached the start of the next corner.
In front of me the track is becoming smeared and smudged. Hot tyres – I presume – picking up the white paint of the graffiti then laying it down over the next few revolutions. Marbles appear – again I presume – where tyres lose contact with the track but still spinning grope for the track in search of grip.
Smoke from the fires and barbeques drifts past, round and over me and over the track, the smell of food hanging in the air.
It’s an experience I will remember forever. My first view of racing on the Nordschleife. An assault on the senses.
*I was at Pflanzgarten for much, much more than fifteen minutes.
Setting off at 10.30 on Tuesday night marked the beginning of my first trip to the Nurburgring. I was pretty excited but unsure what to expect. I’m travelling with three others. Kevin and Giles, both seasoned Nurburgring 24 hour regulars and James, who like me was a Nurburgring Virgin and was as equally excited as I was.
Travelling through the night meant I slept quite a lot of the way, but was wide awake as we passed road signs to the circuit. Once we arrived we headed to the hotel where we needed to sign in. There is a petrol station adjoining the hotel and inside is a shop that sells thousands of Die Cast model cars. I spent a while drooling over them and flicking through the various books about the Nurburgring.
We headed back to the main circuit entrance and made our way into the paddock via a shuttle taxi. The weather had been pretty bad and it was raining on and off, sometimes quite heavily. The guy driving the taxi was pretty unimpressed with this too as he asked us ‘Is the weather this sh*t in England too?’ We assured him we have been experiencing much worse. Wandering round the paddock gave us a glimpse of the cars that were to be on show over the next few days. We chatted with the guys in the Nissan Academy team as they unloaded the Nissan GT-R that Alex Buncombe and Jan Mardenburgh would be racing in the British GT rounds. It’s a pretty awesome piece of machinery and one of my favourite cars on the grid.
Next it was time to head to the media room. The place is huge and has enough space to accommodate a small army. The facilities there are very good and the people working there were friendly and polite. The chocolate on offer was gratefully received as it was now lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten since dinner the day before.
It was time to head down to the garages. Some cars were already being worked on and being prepped. The vehicles were enough to whet anybody’s appetite. The pair of Black Falcon Mercedes SLS were particularly impressive and so too was the Lexus LFA. Dan Welch was there too with the Welch motorsport Seat Leon Supercopa. We had a gander down the pitlane just as it began to rain pretty heavily. We darted into a garage for shelter as the rain turned to hail. As it eased we decided to head back to the car and on to our hotel. We were all feeling pretty tired especially Kev, who had done a great job of driving through the night.
There was one last thing to do before making our way to the hotel and that was to grab a quick look at a few parts of the Nordschleife. We went down to Brünnchen first and the fans had already set up camp and seemed to have been there for quite a while and having a good time despite not on track action to watch. Having raced on the Nordschleife many times on my Playstation I thought I would know what to expect. Whilst GT5 is a pretty accurate representation of the circuit, you don’t get any idea of the elevations changes and my god were there elevation chances. The drop from Eschbach to Brünnchen was unbelievable and the climb back up to Eiskurve almost as steep. It was the same again at Breidscheid. The drops and climbs were spectacular and more so than I was imagining. Finally we drove up to Schwedenkreuz and whilst there a few cars were driving through. It was obvious why this place was so special.
So now at the hotel I have a bit of time to rest and unwind before a busy day tomorrow. I’m really excited and cannot wait to get out there and photograph so truly awesome machinery.
This Saturday was round three of the MSA Britcar Endurance Championship and Production Cup at Snetterton. Naturally I was in attendance and looking forward to a great day’s racing.
Despite the rain on arrival, it did clear and although the sun came out it was still cold. I managed to catch the sun which and I remain adamant that Snetterton has its own micro climate. However, there was no further rain after the brief early shower which was good enough for me.
The racing was good in both the Production Cup and the Endurance Championship with both being joined by new entries. The full race reports can be read at the Checkered Flag website by just clicking the following link: The Checkered Flag.
So from Norfolk, It’s on to the Nordschleife as this week I head to the Nurburgring to shoot Round two of the British GT championships and of course, the 24hr race on the ‘Green Hell’. It will be my first visit to the iconic German Circuit, in fact I’ve only other experience of Germany was a brief stop at a service station as we passed through on our school coach coming back from Austria. I’m pretty sure this visit will be a lot more exciting. I will be heading there overnight on Tuesday with some friends and thankfully two of whom have been to the 24 hour race before. Unfortunately for them, they will have to put up with me turning into an excitable ten year old for the week as I cannot wait!
Hopefully I will try and sort out my data roaming package on my mobile phone so I can still tweet with random mutterings, the goings on, photos and of course my experience as a Nurburgring ‘Newbie’. So why not give me a follow on Twitter? You can do so here. Also I will try and update my Facebook group page and of course I will try and Blog when I can as well.
That’s all from me for now, I need to crack on with my packing.
The weather has been pretty wet and miserable for the last few weeks and it has been a while since I was last out trackside. I was becoming irritable. However, yesterday was the Media Day for the 2012 Silverstone Classic so I was to head there with eager anticipation.
I love classic cars and of course classic racing cars. I love the fact that these iconic vehicles that are mostly from before my time and worth an absolute fortune, are still raced for everyone to see. Those who remember these race cars get the opportunity to see them again and to revoke past memories and those, like me who weren’t about to see them first time get the chance to experience what they were like and gaze in awe of how beautiful these machines are.
Last year’s Silverstone Classic was a huge success. Over 1100 race entries and a further 7000 plus classic cars on display from various car clubs and societies made it the biggest race weekend in the world. Throw in all the additional things to see and do such as trade stands, fun fairs, live music, driving experiences and simulators and the world record for the most E-Type Jaguars on circuit at the same time and you get a good idea of what a fantastic weekend it was. I enjoyed every minute of it and a real highlight for me was the Group C ‘Dusk’ race on the Saturday evening.
The weather back then was amazing, sun all weekend. A huge contrast to the weather that greeted us for the media day. But after parking up in the paddock behind the fantastic Silverstone Wing complex and catching a glimpse of some of the cars in the garages that were to be out on track during the day, the miserable weather was soon forgotten.
After signing on, having a coffee and catching up with friends, the press conference took place. During this, plans for this year’s event were unveiled. The last Silverstone Classic would be hard to beat, but it looks like expectations will be exceeded. A new partnership with the AA was announced and their commitment to the weekend was impressive. They are planning so many off track activities and driving experiences to keep everyone entertained if the racing wasn’t enough. A number of anniversaries will be celebrated such as 50 years of AC Cobra and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Ferrari F40 more than 60 examples of every school boy’s wet dream will be out on track. The celebrity race line up was also announced and joining regulars like Heston Blumenthal, Dave Vitty & Brendan Cole will be Chemmy Alcott and Sir Patrick Stewart to name just two.
After the press conference it was time to head down to the garages to see what machinery was about and to take part in a passenger ride. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go out in an awesome 1962 Jaguar E-Type driven by Andy Dee-Crowne. As I was getting strapped in, Andy told me he would need to take it a bit steady in the wet conditions as he had just spun at Stowe with the last passenger on board. I told him not to spare the horses for my sake, but obviously I didn’t want him to damage his beautiful car. The grin plastered across my face as we headed down the pit lane was not going to be moved for some time.
As we headed out onto the track the car sounded fantastic and despite the age of the machine ran smoothly and quickly. Very quickly. Andy told me the brakes would take a little while to warm up so would take it steady into the first few corners. This didn’t deter him from getting on the throttle as soon as possible though as the car squirmed on the exits as he expertly kept it under control. The conditions were wet and the original style cross-ply tyres the Jag runs on meant grip was at a premium. It also meant fun was in abundance! Drifting and sliding through the corners, Maggots and Becketts were especially fun, Andy was working the steeling wheel masterfully, whilst controlling the throttle to time the acceleration down the straights just right. Not only was I impressed with my chauffer’s ability as was in awe of this incredible machine. We all know how far technology has progressed over the years but this 50 year old beast still knew how to perform and put a lot of modern day machinery to shame. It really was a credit to Jaguar and their engineering.
With the brakes up to temperature on the second lap, Andy was happy to push that bit harder and was loving it. With speeds of 120mph on the straights in the wet the E-Type had impressed me immensely. It was great that people still raced these machines and following the AC Cobra along the Hanger Straight, I got my very own taste of what it would have been like to have raced these cars back in their hay day. The passenger ride was over too soon for my liking, mind you I would have stayed out there all day if I could and not got bored, but as we came back into the pits I knew I had experienced something very special for which I was truly grateful to Andy for. The E-Type Jag has now been added to my list of cars to buy when I win the lottery. If only eh?
After a nice lunch back up in the wing complex, I was back roaming around the garages to check out some of the cars there. This years Silverstone Classic will feature 1980’s & 90’s British Touring Cars, DTM cars and Super touring cars so there were some fine examples of these cars on show. Steve Soper’s BTCC & DTM BMW’s were there along with Tim Harvey’s Labbatt’s liveried Sierra Cosworth RS500, John Cleland’s Vauxhall Cavalier, Anthony Reid’s Ford Mondeo Super Touring car and Matt Neal’s Independent Nissan Primera along with a few others. A couple of Porsche 962’s were there along with some more historic Touring cars such as Mini’s & Ford Cortina Mk1’s as well as a selection of historic single seaters. Most of which took to the track for some test laps giving us a chance to take some photos despite the worsening weather. It was great to see just this handful of cars so it really whetted my appetite for the main event in July.
The day was over too soon but I left with a lasting memory and the excitement of this year’s Silverstone Classic. I cannot recommend the weekend enough to anybody. There is so much to see and do and it is a weekend that should be high on the ‘to do’ list for any car fan young or old. It will be a great event and you really don’t want to miss out.
You can find out more by heading to their website here: http://www.silverstoneclassic.com/ and you can see more of my photos from the day on the Chris Gurton Photography Facebook page or in my Flickr Album.
Every now and then in life you have to face some tough decisions. Its just part of life, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Without the benefit of hindsight, you often never know which one is the right decision to take or the outcome until it has happened. This week I’ve been faced with such a decision. Do I go with my heart or my head?
Last week I was booked up to cover a three day equestrian event at the beginning of August. That wasn’t a problem. Its the same event I do every year, well almost every year, but I’ll come back to that later. I was more than happy to do it. After all, I need the money and in tough economical times, who would turn that down? However, this week, I was asked to do another Equestrian event over three days the week before. I also usually do this event each year too. So surely it was a simple decision to make right?
Wrong. This event was to be in late July during a time when I was making plans for something else. I was planning on going to Belgium for the Spa 24 hour race and the British F3 round there the same weekend. I was really looking forward to going and you are all probably well aware of my love of sportscar and endurance racing. I had even sacrificed my trip to Le Mans this year to help pay the costs. I was also going to go with my friend James who writes the race reports that I provide the photos for. I knew he was looking forward to the trip too. But could I turn down the money that the Equestrian event would bring me? It was a difficult decision. Do I go with my heart or my head. I’ve never been to Spa and I missed out going last year due to other commitments and I was pretty gutted about that. Do I miss out again this year?
I do enjoy photographing Equestrian events and it is something I used to do a lot of. In fact, its where I started with my photography business. It was only until years later that I started the motorsport photography and that was only due to more and more competition for work and less events coming my way. Despite keeping my costs down and coming up with unique products, bookings were becoming less frequent. So it is always nice to keep my foot in the door and the Pony Club who book me for these events are always very good to me. They are kind, polite and often provide me lunch. We all know the way to a Man’s heart is through his stomach, so I’m always happy to be there. I wasn’t booked for one of the events two years ago though, and I assumed that was it and my time as an Equestrian photographer was numbered. It was a pity, because I always enjoyed it. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise, so naturally I was disappointed. Was it something I did wrong? Were my photos not good enough? Was I just too expensive? I knew that the latter wasn’t the case. I’d checked the price of other photographers prints and I was one of, if not the cheapest around. After all, I’d rather sell two photos at £10 each than one at £16. I also knew I was always kind, polite and acted professionally at all times, so it probably wasn’t something I did wrong either. My natural lack of self confidence meant that I had assumed no one liked my photos and there were photographers a lot better than me getting the work.
So you can imagine my surprise when I get a call a year later almost begging me to come back. It had turned out that the previous years organiser had changed and she knew a photographer so asked him to cover the event. Apparently he was more used to taking pictures of minor celebrities falling out of nightclubs late at night, rather than horses and their riders. According to the woman on the phone, she had bought a number of my photos over the past few years and really liked them so when she took over as the new organiser knew who to ask first to cover the event. This actually really cheered me up. Maybe my work wasn’t so bad after all. So when she called again last week it was a yes straight away. I’m more than happy to repay other peoples kindness.
It was the other event booking causing me the problem though. Again, the organisers are very kind, friendly, treat me well and the atmosphere is always very good. But it would mean missing the Spa 24 hours. I needed the money the event would bring, but I felt that I would be letting James down if I told him I couldn’t go to Spa after saying I would. Deep down I knew I had to go with my head over my heart and if I turned down the event, the chances were I wouldn’t be asked back again and I know I would miss not doing the occasional equestrian event. Thankfully, although James was disappointed when I told him, but he understood the situation and that although it was a tough choice to make had to do what I thought was best.
The decision was made, I wont be going to Spa. I know a few other motorsport photographers have raised a few eyebrows at my choice, but despite the disappointment of missing the 24 hour race, I’m pretty sure I’ve made the right decision. It is the one that makes the most financial sense anyway. I am looking forward to doing the events though. Yes there is a lot of work to be done but they are always good fun and the weather is usually really good.
I would probably have chosen Spa if I wasn’t going to the Nurburgring 24 hour race in a couple of weeks. So at least I will be at one European 24hr race this year and I can’t wait. I’m sure there will be other opportunities for me to go to the iconic Belgium circuit in years to come anyway.