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.
With the latest addition to my ‘Car’s Owned’ list arriving recently, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you my Car History. Many have questioned why I am so pleased with my new Vectra but after reading about the cars I’ve owned you might be a little more understanding. I’ve driven loads of various vehicles since I passed my test over 11 years ago, ranging from Land Rovers to Alfa’s, Vans (Including a refrigerated Mercedes Sprinter) to Mini buses, Various Tractors big and small, new and old, to telehandlers and diggers and a lot more in between. However my car ownership will probably leave a lot to be desired to most of you and is hardly head turning, but each car was paid for out right and usually served its purpose whilst I still had to be realistic and go for something practical with low running costs.
Car 1 – 1988 Ford Escort 1.3 in Silver.
Affectionately known as ‘Brucie’ as this was the 1.3 Bonus edition, the car used to be owned by my Gran. After she passed away, my brother used it for college, whilst I still got the bus and used my mum’s car on occasions when I needed. However on changing my Job I was given the car. It had dreadful white hub caps which I quickly replaced, a four speed gearbox which screamed at you if you ever went over 60mph whilst the bonnet would start to lift as if it was trying to act as an air brake to slow you down, and a radio which I swapped with a Blaupunkt CD player. However it was well looked after and despite only being a three door version, there was loads of room not only in the front but also in the back for passengers and the boot. The seats were pretty comfortable too. I had this car for about a year and I never really had many problems with it. It shrugged of most bumps and scrapes and parts were easy to come by. I found this out after hitting a pigeon at 60mph which smashed the indicator casing then flipping up and smashing the wing mirror glass before disintegrating in a cloud of feathers. It only cost a couple of quid to repair both and were easy to do myself. I eventually sold it for £350 to an Irishman so I could get something better for my early starts at work on cold winter mornings.
Car 2 – 1996 Ford Fiesta Encore 1.3 in Red
When I say get something better, I meant better than the Escort. Again this was nothing flashy but cost me quite a bit. Not only for the car but I was still young then so it was also very expensive on the insurance. It had a 5 speed gearbox which I thought was the bees knees. I had just about recovered from Brucie Screaming at me every time I drove him down the A12. Being the Encore Version meant it was the bog standard entry level version which meant the only luxury it came with, besides the four wheels and the engine was a driver’s airbag. No central locking, manual windows, not body coloured bumpers, and not even a radio. I did change take the CD player out of Brucie before selling him so that went straight into the Fiesta. Although the car was nothing special it was pleased with it. I had it for a few years which included a couple of years when I worked at the Oxfordshire golf club, so it often had to get back to the homeland of Essex every other weekend and it did pretty well. It was hardly ground breaking performance, but with me behind the wheel it could hold it’s own against other boy racers. It did cause me a few problems at times and I had spent a lot on it getting it repaired or fixed during the time I had it, including the ford dealer incident when they charged me a fortune to fit a new door lock barrel which I eventually found out they didn’t. But that’s another story.
I still had the Fiesta when I move back home and started a new job in Colchester. It was on the daily rush hour commute that the Fiesta saw its demise. Two days after spending £300 pounds on new tyres and brakes to get it through its MOT I wrote her off on a cold Monday morning. I had hit another car at low speed at a roundabout. As I was starting to accelerate onto the roundabout looking to my right as it was clear, the Peugeot 306 in front had other Ideas and was still stationary. I hit it with enough force to crumple the front of mine, but not enough speed to deploy the airbag. The Peugeot suffered only a broken number plate and a cracked bumper. Either it was built like a tank, or as I had expected, the front of my Fiesta was built of cardboard.
Car 3 – 1998 Renault Clio 1.4 16v RT in Red
I was given a good price from the Insurance company for my Fiesta, but It did feel like I had wasted the £300 on the MOT. However I used the money towards my next car, A Renault Clio. I really liked this car a lot. It had matching coloured bumpers, remote locking, electric windows, electric sunroof and power steering. It was a superb car to drive. Really fun, quick and handled well. I had a great time driving this and after fitting a full set of V grooved BFGoodrich tyres on it, the Clio stuck to the road like glue. Until an incident on an icy Sunday morning.
I had driven to work very early to do a few hours. The road wasn’t too bad on the way in to work, the way to work was on smaller B roads and country lanes that never got gritted in the winter. However unbeknown to me, the roads have got worse during the time I was at work and on the way back I took a slight left hander too fast and lost the back end. On full opposite lock to try and control the slide the patch of ice stopped and the front tyres gripped the tarmac instantly flicking me round into the opposite direction. I was heading for the slight bank and the ditch behind it on the right had side of the road and I just had to hold on and expect the worst. It didn’t quite happen how I had anticipated. The bank had launched me into the air and I had cleared the ditched in a way the General Lee would have been proud of. However upon landing in the field the Clio spun round 180 and ended up heading back towards the ditch I had just leapt. We came to a halt facing the road nose first in the ditch. I was stuck. I called my brother and with a push from him, the car got out and was miraculously in not too bad a state. I few cracks and scuffs to the front bumper but it was still intact and the car drove fine.
I had the car for a few months longer, but by that time my photography business was picking up and I was being asked to cover more and more equestrian events. I printed on site at these events and I had a lot of equipment to transport and the space in the Clio just didn’t cut it. It was sad to let her go as she was great fun and I will always remember her fondly.
Car 4 – 2003 Vauxhall Astra Estate 1.6 in Blue
I part exchanged the Clio in February 2008 for the Astra. It was never going to turn heads or pull the ladies but it suited what I ultimately needed. It was on a 52 plate but registered in 2003 and had low mileage. It was in really good condition and it was comfortable to drive. Performance wasn’t earth shattering but with petrol prices on the rise I had to be realistic and consider the running costs. There is a lot of stigma attached to drivers of Estate cars and I was well aware of that, but making money from my photography was more important and I needed a car like this to do so. As it turned out this was the most reliable of all of the cars I had owned. Until I replaced it very recently it had never had a problem, never failed and MOT or ever let me down in four years. I was happy with it and had become very attached to her. I had done over 60k miles in her, which included numerous trips to the Yorkshire Dales, and a few journeys to Le Mans, in which the space she had came in very useful, always taking it in her stride. As a petrol head I was always going to long for something fast and sporty but I couldn’t afford something like that and the running costs that came with it. The Astra suited me fine. It wasn’t filled with extras, but it had remote locking, electric windows, air conditioning and a CD player with steering wheel controls. She was also handy for the occasional time I’ve needed somewhere to bed down for the night. With the rear seats folded completely flat I could lie down almost fully stretched out. It was only recently that issues started to arise in which I spoke about in my previous blog post so it was time to move on to my fifth car.
Car 5 – 2008 Vauxhall Vectra 1.8 16v SRi in Lightning silver
I wasn’t intending on getting something like the Vectra. I had resigned myself to another estate for practical reasons. However the size of the boot in the Vectra had changed my mind and I opted to buy one. The Sri version is one of the top of range models and the sportiest of them all. With 17 inch alloy wheels, sports trim, sports seats and nice extra’s like cruise control and rain sensitive windscreen and wipers it was without doubt the best car I’ve ever owned. It looks nice, is comfortable and drives well. The onboard computer is also nice to have, telling me all sorts of info such as current MPG, Average speed, range etc and appeals to the geek in me whilst I try and get the best fuel economy. (Although it won’t always happen as I am partial to using my heavy right foot on occasions too). The numerous seat and steering column adjustments, mean it’s easy to get comfortable and the adjustable centre armrest is great for my somewhat arrogant/boy racer driving style of one hand of the gear stick and one on the top of the steering wheel. The variety of storage compartments are great and there are some good features for passengers too. As I’ve only had the car a few days I can’t talk about reliability, but buying from Vauxhall meant it has a year’s warranty as standard and a good service plan in place. If it is as reliable as my Astra was I will be very happy.
So this completes my somewhat dubious car history. It will probably have made you feel a lot better about you own cars. However I’d really like you all to get involved and let me know about your car histories. Leave a comment and tell me about what you’ve owned. What were your best ones and your worst ones along with any funny or interesting stories you have. It would be nice for me and others to read and share and it would be great to feature some on this blog in the coming weeks and months. So please get involved. I’d love to hear from you.
Those of you who follow me on twitter and the ones lucky enough to be a friend on FB too will already know I have just bought a new Car. Not brand new, I can’t afford that, but new to me. It’s been a bit of an experience, but thanks to Underwoods Vauxhall in Sudbury, it’s been a good one. So whilst car dealers often get a bad reputation I thought I would share my positive experience with you.
I used to have a 52 plate Vauxhall Astra Estate 1.6 bought from an independent garage in early 2008. The car was bought purely for practical reasons. I part exchanged my Renault Clio for the Astra because I needed the space as I was getting a lot of work as an equestrian event photographer and as I print photos on site I had a lot of gear and equipment I needed to transport, so the Astra Estate was ideal. I bought it with 39k miles on the clock and it had never failed an MOT or let me down in almost 4 years. That was until very recently. For some reason after finishing work, it wouldn’t start. It turned over but wouldn’t fire up. The immobiliser warning light came on and that could well have been the problem. I called the RAC and after the guy spent a long time trying to work out what the problem was, he couldn’t and had it towed to the local Vauxhall garage in Sudbury. After leaving it with them to look at the following day, I spoke to them to be told that it started after charging the battery (after it had gone flat while I tried starting it and being towed with the lights on) and they couldn’t find a fault.
This played on my mind for a while and made me worry about it happening again. What if I was miles away from home and it wouldn’t start? I knew I could have done with changing the car as I had just clocked up 100k miles. A psychological barrier most motorists dread. But the MOT was due soon, the tax ran out at the end of February and the exhaust back box needed replacing if I wanted to sell it, which was likely to cost me a small fortune. So whilst in the garage picking up my Astra, I asked if someone would be able to give me a trade in valuation for it. I was pointed in the direction of a suited young lady standing on the forecourt. Introducing herself, the young lady, Sarah, took me to her office so I could discuss my predicament.
Looking at various options she went and valued my car. On giving me the initial valuation she could tell I was disappointed and even said so. She was right, I was. I knew it probably wasn’t worth that much to them but even I wasn’t prepared for it being that low. With a bit of discussion and words with her boss, who I envisaged to be a guy in a big high backed leather chair sitting behind a desk stroking a white fluffy cat in a James Bond Villain style, whilst Sarah would cut a forlorn figure pleading in a way that would do Oliver Twist proud, for him to be a bit kinder, she came back with a much improved offer. Add that to the fact that I wouldn’t need to get the MOT done and anything repaired had it failed, replace the exhaust and tax it, it suddenly became an offer too good to refuse.
So what about my next car? It probably had to be another Astra estate. Discussing my needs, usage and what I would want from a car with Sarah, whilst telling her I didn’t really want an estate and the stereotypical views the driver receives, if it can be helped, she came up with a few options. The first option I flatly refused. I was not going to buy a Meriva. That would not just dent the ego as an estate does, but completely batter it and drag it screaming into oblivion never to be seen again. If I had a wife and 2 kids then it would have been a viable option, but I don’t. I’m not quite 30 (although I do often feel a lot older) quite recently single again and I wanted something a bit more fun and sportier. I will admit fun, sporty and practical are three boxes that are hard to tick when you are on quite a tight budget looking for a used car, but Sarah’s next option somewhat surprised me and was something I had never considered.
She took me outside to show me her idea and pointed me in the direction of a black Vectra. Somewhat unsure I followed. ‘You probably haven’t thought about a Vectra but check this out’ she said with a wry smile as she opened the boot. ‘Wow’ or words to that effect, I exclaimed. The boot was huge! It went on for miles and was ideal if you had plans to kidnap more than one person at a time. I didn’t, but it was more than ample for what I needed. ‘You can’t have this one though as we’ve just sold it’ I was told, but after sitting in it I was impressed. She’d come up trumps.
Back in the office she showed me two Vectra’s they had in stock. One in maroon, on a 58 plate and one in Dark Silver one on an 08 plate, both with very low mileage. Unusual for a car popular with travelling sales reps. The silver one had really caught my eye. I left the dealer in my Astra with my head full of thoughts of what I should do. It was a lot of money to spend and was it the best idea?
The following day, the Astra failed to start. That was it. My decision was made for me. After being a loyal girl for nearly four years, she’d now let me down. I couldn’t trust her now. A situation I’ve been familiar with before, but not from her. It was time to trade her in for a younger and better looking model. Dad towed me back to the garage and I was back in Sarah’s office drinking coffee again. I wanted the Silver Vectra. A 1.8 16v SRi with 18k on the clock. I needed to get the best deal I could. Spending a long while sorting out the best deal and the various options Sarah had come up trumps again and I was happy. She was good, very good. I was pretty sure she could sell Ice to Eskimo’s. Although after trying to haggle over half a tank of petrol, as my Astra was still half full, and realising what a genuinely nice person she was, I was left wondering if I should have been haggling on where to take her out for dinner instead.
The deposit was paid and the car was booked in to have its 114 point check before I could take it home. Initially it was going to be ready on the Wednesday, but on the checks the front tyres were showing signs of ageing and although they would have passed an MOT, Vauxhall didn’t want it to go away with the slight cracks in the sidewalls so a new pair were ordered to replace them at no cost to me. I didn’t mind waiting an extra day as it was £300 I wouldn’t have to spend. That’s pretty good in my book.
So the day arrived for me to pick it up and I was back in Sarah’s office drinking more coffee, which by now she’d become pretty good at making just how I liked it. The finer details were sorted out, the MOT complete and the monthly service plan was set up, which was also a good deal, before we took it for a quick spin to make sure it was all good. I’m always careful driving around with other people in the car so she probably thought I was a bit of a granddad behind the wheel. I had all intentions of putting the Vectra through its paces when I was on my own.
Payment was eventually made and the car was mine. By now it felt like Sarah was a good friend rather than someone wanting to flog me a car. She’d done a really great job, was a pleasure to deal with and I couldn’t praise her enough. As I left I imagined she would be soon back in the bosses office again, only this time he would be offering her a Cuban cigar whilst pouring two large whisky’s from a decanter. If he wasn’t, he should have been. I drove my new car out passing my sad looking Astra parked all on its own, whilst the other cars had ganged up together to one side. I felt some sadness as I’d grown attached to her and she had served me well. But she had let me down and it was time to move on and thanks to Underwoods in Sudbury, and especially Sarah, the whole experience was a pleasurable one.
Having spent last weekend at the Rockingham Stages Rally, I now have to accept that my motorsport season is finally over. It was a great way to see out an eventful year with some great cars having entered the 12 stages over Saturday and Sunday including 2 night stages.
Although the entry numbers were down on previous years, the action was by no means in short supply. A host of superb rally cars from Classic Mark II Escorts to Modern Subaru Impreza’s and Peugeot 205’s to Vauxhall Astra’s and many more all took to the tarmac stages during the bitterly cold winter’s weekend. A close fought battle between the Dave West and his Peugeot 306 Maxi Kit Car and the Escort MkII of Pete Raynor throughout saw the latter clinching Victory over the last 2 stages of the weekend. It was also a good chance to meet up with friends before the winter break and listen to funny stories from Steve Cressy’s crew from previous Rallies. (It’s the way they tell ‘em).
This was my second Rally event for me, the first as media, after my recent Mull Exploits and hopefully won’t be my last. I’ve always been interested in Rallying and although Rockingham is not your typical rally, I hope I will get to shoot some more events in the future. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to go to Belgium with Cat and Andy and their new Rally Car next year so fingers crossed. More photos from the Rockingham Stages can be seen here.
So as I sit and contemplate the long winter until the motorsport season roars back into action next year I can’t help but reflect on the past season’s escapades. Having covered well over 20 race weekends plus various other motorsport events (I daren’t count all them up) it has been a very busy year. I have met many great people along the way and shared some great experiences. I think it is only fair to thank some of them who have made 2011 a great experience.
Firstly, a huge thanks to Vince Petit, editor of The Checkered Flag, for giving me the opportunity to work for the site and the superb experiences I have had thanks to it, I look forward to many more seasons working with him and helping the site go from strength to strength by providing images and the occasional report. I’d also like to thank my partner in crime, James Broomhead, writer for The Checkered Flag. We’ve spent many weekends away at race events and he has been great company, even when our deep and somewhat geeky motorsport discussions have meant we have totally missed junctions on motorways and turnings en route. Also, thanks go to all the other contributors to the site who have worked hard providing coverage and have been patient whilst I sort out images for their reports. It’s been a pleasure working with them.
Another thanks to James Mappin and all the guys and gals at BTCCCrazy who I have provided various pieces of work for this season. They are a great bunch and I hope to continue working with them in the future. Thanks go out to fellow media room buddies, too numerous to mention all but special mentions to Pete Mainey, Karl Bowdrey, Jon Hobley, Chris Enion, Adam Pigott, James Warnette and Louise Rich who have all provided many a laugh, discussion, debate and help throughout the year.
Other people who I must thank are Cat Lund and Andy Rowe who gave me the amazing experience of my trip to the Mull Rally despite the unfortunate retirement it was a great week and I hope to join you again for a more successful rally in the future. Thanks to Matt Smith who has become a good friend and always handy to get some inside knowledge off. I wish him and his father Peter, the very best for next seasons attack on the Britcar Championship. Also a massive thank you to Nick Underwood from Tin Tops UK. (Look out for him as he attempts to get behind the wheel of a racing car next season.) He has been such great help and has supported me hugely this year, not only with my photography and Karting exploits but also personally. The last couple of months have been very difficult time for me personally so it is great to know there are people like Nick along with Ian Cook (Popbang Colour) who are very supportive and helpful. Thanks to them both.
Finally I would like to thank you and all the readers of my blog. Thank you all for your feedback and comments and I hope you have enjoyed reading my mutterings throughout the season. I’ve been very surprised at how popular it has become since its inception less than a year ago which couldn’t have been achieved without you. Sorry for lack of posts recently but as mentioned the last couple of months have been really difficult but I should hopefully be back next year with renewed confidence and enthusiasm. In the mean time I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year and I may well see some of you at the Autosport Show in January.