So the motorsport season is back with a bang and a big one at that for my return trackside for the first round of the British GT championships at the weekend. Oulton Park was my destination to kick off the season and I was pretty excited. It was a bit like the first day back at school when you were a kid. Catching up with friends and seeing what was new.
It was to be my first visit to the Cheshire track and despite the five and a half hour journey up on the Friday and the 5.30 am fire alarm at the hotel on Saturday morning and having to stand around in sub zero temperatures in my PJ’s (Zoe Wenham and David Ashburn look similarly unimpressed) I was looking forward to checking out what Oulton Park had in store. Although it was cold, I was glad. I had packed my thermals, the sky was blue, the sun was out and the wind was still. Conditions were good as I headed out to shoot the first BGT practice session.
The field was impressive, despite one or two entries pulling out and the cars looked and sounded great in the morning sun. It was good to be back. Some even sported new liveries. A nod to the Tartan livery of Gregor Fiskin & Richard Westbrook’s Trackspeed Porsche which everyone seemed to like, unlike their team mates Porsche of David Ashburn & Nick Tandy who’s spotted entry divided opinion. I myself was a fan of the new look works Ginetta entry with a white, black and orange livery. Also, the Optimum BMW Z4′s look great in Carbon Black showing that you don’t need to do much to make a GT race car look good.
It became apparent early on that I liked the circuit. Spending the first session at Deer Leap and Lodge Corner, I was getting some nice angles and the session seemed to pass by rather quickly. My head was full of thoughts about where to go for the other sessions over the weekend. I didn’t want to miss some good spots and I still had so much to explore.
Discussions were had in the media centre as to where were good places to photograph and I needed opinions from other photographers who knew the circuit a lot better than an Oulton Park newbie like myself. I had decided to head round to the outside of the circuit on the far side to photograph down the hill towards the first chicane and to spend the hour long second practice working my way towards the Shell Oils hairpin. Just that section itself was a joy as again, there were so many different perspectives and angles to get and before long the session was drawing to a close. I was loving this circuit and was wishing it was a lot closer to home. I didn’t have chance to even think about how cold it was.
Qualifying was soon upon us and with cars all at maximum attack it was a good chance to head over to Druids where the crest on exit saw a few of the cars get light at the front and lifting a wheel or two. I was hoping to try and get a few shots of this. Soon after the first qualifying session got underway, a big accident from one of the GT4 Ginetta’s was to delay the session. It played into my hands somewhat as the sun was starting to set. I was thankful that the clocks hadn’t gone forward just yet as I had found a spot amongst the trees with the setting sun behind the farm on the opposite side of the track ready for the return of the cars. Despite the split second I had to capture the cars after appearing from view and then as quickly disappearing again, I was pleased with what I had managed to capture. Then, as the second qualifying session got underway, it was time to try and capture the cars over that crest.
The day drew to an end and I couldn’t wait till Monday to get back and photograph the two races, but in the mean time, I was happy with my days work. Saturday night involved a drive round Runcorn to try and find a supermarket so we could get some food for the next couple of days. Avoiding drunken and mischievous juveniles I was worried about stopping at traffic lights and junctions in case I got hijacked at knifepoint or had the wheels stolen off my car in a time that would make the Red Bull F1 team proud. After eventually finding not one but 4 supermarkets all close together it was time to stop at the local McDonalds for something to eat. It felt like I’d stepped into the holding room for the next episode of the Jeremy Kyle Show and was pretty sure they could tell I wasn’t from round these parts before I had even said anything. Needless to say I ate my Big Mac as quick as possible at a window seat so I could keep an eye on my car, before getting out of there sharp-ish and back to the hotel. People think my home county of Essex is bad? I’m used to a lot of stuff but I was genuinely feeling uncomfortable.
We were staying in a Holiday Inn and we had noticed the previous evening that it was apparent that there was a Wedding and a reception being held there on the Saturday. The latter in full flow as we had got back. Despite the Hotel being nice, I had questioned whether a Holiday Inn was really the sort of place you’d want to get married, but each to their own. There was enough fake tan around to keep Amy Childs beauty salon stocked up for a year and I noticed a popularity for drawing on eyebrows with black marker pen giving the wearer a permanent angry expression which amused me as the angry looking orange faced girls struggled to walk properly in their ridiculous platform high heeled shoes. Even an Essex boy like myself was out of my comfort zone and decided to leave the hotel bar and head for bed.
With no track action on Sunday, the day was spent watching the British Touring Car Championship on the TV in the hotel room before a meal out in the evening with friends. I struggled to get to sleep that night trying to work out the best places at Oulton to shoot the two races on Monday.
The morning was again very cold and this time the skies were cloudy and overcast. Not as good conditions as Saturday but I was grateful it wasn’t raining. I headed to the pit lane to shoot the 10 minute warm up session before deciding where to got for Race One. It was soon upon us and a few minutes were spent on the grid as the cars lined up before I headed down to the first corner. I wanted to capture the impressive Class of 2013 as they headed into the first corner of the season. They looked fantastic as they headed towards myself and the other photographers around me. I fired off shots of the first half of the field heading into the bend before turning to shoot them disappearing down the hill. Big mistake.
With myself pointing my camera down the hill I was unaware of what was happening to my right. The first indication of something not being right was seeing the two photographers to my left out of the corner of my eye suddenly run for cover. I wasn’t up against the barrier but stepped back just as a Mercedes SLS and an Aston Martin appeared and hit the tyres and Armco in front of me. I hadn’t heard the shout of ‘Incoming’ and had been taken by surprise. Thankfully no one was hurt and despite the Aston being able to carry on, only to retire a few laps later, the Mercedes had managed to move to a safer spot on the other side of the track, but is was clearly game over with too much damage to continue. Not the best way to start the new season for them and certainly an unexpected one for me.
I spent race one photographing while heading down the hill towards cascades. It wasn’t long before more drama unfolded though. Smoke could be seen billowing into the air from the other side of the circuit as the LNT Ginetta G55 had burst into flames. Again though, thankfully no one was hurt. The hour had passed quickly and the race had come to an end as I was at the bottom of the hill at cascades. Plenty of action had taken place for the season opener and it was only a few hours until race two was about to get underway.
I took up position for the second race at the bottom of the hill at cascades, only this time on the inside of the circuit to shoot the cars heading down the hill and enabling myself to then photograph the second chicane and Knickerbrook before making my way up the hill towards druids. The first half of the race seemed to go to smoothly before major incidents broke out. The second Ginetta G55 burst into flames leaving driver Colin White to leap out quickly whilst heading up the hill to Deer leap. Also, there was a big accident involving Jon Minhaw’s Trackspeed Porsche and Andrew Howards Aston Martin at the chicane I had been at earlier in the race, so I didn’t manage to get that on camera and one of the Mtech Ferrari’s collided heavily with the APO Ginetta G50. It seemed to me that I had been too close to the action or too far away in the wrong place to capture any of it.
But it didn’t matter, I had a great weekend and I had experienced a new circuit which I loved. Oulton is now threatening Brands Hatch GP as my favourite UK circuit. Next up for me, the World Endurance Championships and European Le Mans Series at Silverstone.
With the 12 hours of Sebring having taken place, the first two rounds of the Formula One world championship and round one of the World Touring Car Championship having passed, the motorsport season is well underway. That means my winter break is also over and this Easter weekend I’ll be back trackside and behind the camera.
Usually I’ve normally got my first round of the year under my belt by now but the wait will no doubt be worth it. I’ll be heading up to Oulton Park for round one of the British GT championship and I cannot wait. I’ve never been to Oulton Park before so I am looking forward to experiencing a new circuit. I missed last year’s round due to other commitments but the heavy rain the experienced there meant I wasn’t too disappointed. Bizarrely it seems to be snow that might cause trouble at the weekend and thermals will be going in the bag with me.
A huge field of gorgeous cars are set to take to the grid this Easter weekend for two 1 hour races at the Cheshire circuit and I’m really looking forward to seeing and photographing them in action. I just hope I haven’t forgotten how to do it, although it’s questionable if I did in the first place! With the track action taking place on the Saturday and the Monday rather than the usual Saturday and Sunday, it will be a long weekend, but it will definitely be a fun and exciting one. I’ll hopefully posting photos on my twitter account – @ChrisGurton and my facebook page over the weekend as well as providing images for The Checkered Flag, so feel free to give me a ‘follow’ or a ‘like’ to keep up to date.
Whilst some head to Cheshire for their racing fix, many will be heading to Kent this weekend as the first round of the British Touring Car Championship takes place at Brands Hatch. Like the British GT, a large field is expected for the BTCC even though a couple of teams have opted out of the first round. 2009 Champion Colin Turkington makes his return to the series in a rather nice looking BMW 1 Series with West Surrey Racing, the team with whom he won his title. I was surprised at how nice the new 1 series looks, although I’m still unsure on the livery. The BTCC media day stirred up a lot of excitement last week and I know the faithful army of fans are chomping at the bit to see them back in action. Let’s hope there are no controversies to kick off the new season and hopefully driving standards will be improved.
On the subject of controversy, I can’t help but mention the Malaysian Grand Prix. Formula One is the biggest motorsport series on the planet which grabs the attention of millions worldwide. Round one in Australia proved to be a good one with seven different leading drivers during the race. Then, the dreaded team orders come into play in Malaysia. Surely round two is a bit early for team orders? Fans want to see racing not a parade of cars that aren’t allowed to overtake because there might be a risk of crashing. All motorsport has risk and that’s probably why so many enjoy it and take part in it. Surely team orders spoils it for the fans, without whom, the sport would be nothing.
I like Mark Webber a lot, he comes across as the complete professional and he’s one of my favourite drivers. He defended his lead superbly and fairly, but it was clear to see Sebastian Vettel was quicker. So why were the team against him overtaking for the lead? Why did they want him to just sit behind him for the remainder of the race? That isn’t what the fans want to see. The Mercedes team proved this point by making Nico Rosberg stay behind Lewis Hamilton despite being faster. Even Lewis himself admitted it wasn’t the way he wanted to achieve his podium finish. I don’t care if there is a chance that contact might be made between two team mates. I want to see racing. These guys are at the pinnacle of the sport through skill and talent. Or maybe some huge financial backing. They should be able to battle it out for honour and pride regardless of what car the other guy is in.
Team orders can ruin motorsport. I can understand towards the end of the season you want to protect your lead drivers chance of championship glory, but with 17 rounds still to go? Let drivers do battle and give the paying fans what they want. If this is going to become a regular occurrence in Formula one, I won’t be giving it much attention in the future. Match fixing is illegal in sport, surely what Red Bull were trying to do was to fix the race result. I can’t blame Vettel for wanting to race. That’s what he’s paid to do after all. Personally, I’d like to see the FIA step in and put a stop to such blatant team orders, again, for the good of the sport and the fans.
The second part of my review series see’s my Race of the year. I’ve been lucky enough to see some really great races this season but two really stood out for me and it was tough to pick between them, but my final choice was made due to what was at stake and how many teams were involved. I hope you agree with my choice.
It would be obvious of me to pick the British GT race at Brands Hatch and it was difficult not to, but one other race just pips it in terms of build up, excitement, heart break, lead changes and down to wire racing. The British GT season Finale at Donington had it all.
With five driver pairings heading into the final race knowing that a race win would seal championship honours and two more pairings still with a good chance of the title, it was set to be a real ding dong battle.
Yet again, Alex Buncombe did the business with one of his trade mark opening stints to climb from midfield obscurity to race lead in the opening laps. He handed over to team mate Jann Mardenborough with a healthy lead knowing that taking the chequered flag in their current position would crown them champions. Just a couple of laps into his Jann’s stint and disaster struck. Rear suspension failure on the Nissan put paid to all title hopes and it was heartbreak for Jann and the rest of the JRM team. This then but the Championship into the hands of Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron. But the MTech Ferrari had to deal with the Rosso Verdi Ferrari whilst the Ecurie Ecosse BMW was closing in. A safety car period enabled the BMW to close in and an ambitions move from Ollie Bryant in the BMW at the Final hairpin meant contact with Griffin sending him into a spin, down the order and giving the BMW the Championship lead with just a few laps left. However, a drive through penalty for Bryant ended their chance of championship honours and gifting them to the Motorbase Porsche of Parfetti and Caine with the latter just needing to bring the car home safely to take the title which he did.
So what about you? What was your race of 2012? Let us know using the comment section below.
At the end of every year, all the contributors hand in their nominations for their Best, Driver, Team, Race, and Moment of the past year along with what to look out for over the coming twelve months. This year is no different and over the next few days I will be revealing my pick’s along with sharing the link to The Checkered Flag website so you can see who the rest of the team picked out. It is also a chance to share your favourite moments buy using the comment section at the bottom of this blog so feel free to get involved.
So without further delay, we kick off the first part of the series with my Driver of the Year.
There have been many great drivers I have seen this year, but for me there has been one that really Stands out. As a winner of the Playstation GT academy that has already produced great race winning drivers, Jann Mardenborough has produced great things this year in the British GT championship. Forming a formidable partnership with team mate Alex Buncombe in the Nissan GT-R, Jann could have been crowned British GT champion along with his highly experienced compatriot in just his first full season of racing had it not been for a mechanical failure half way through the final race of the season from a position that would have secured them the title. Buncombe, who can race competitively in any car you give him, himself was a close call for this nomination thanks to his superb opening stints which often saw him carve through the pack to the sharp end within the opening laps from midfield qualifying positions at a number of races before handing over to Mardenborough to bring the Nissan home in a solid position.
One such superb start saw Buncombe climb the field and take the race lead within two laps of the start at Brands Hatch where he continued to build a solid lead. A safety car cut the lead but was the right time to hand over to Jann, who’s mature drive kept him ahead of the pack now boasting the more experienced racing drivers behind him. The likes of Olly Bryant in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW and Jonny Adam in the Beechdean Aston Martin chip away at the lead lap after lap. A lesser driver would have crumbled under the pressure as heading into the last lap, Adam was just behind the Nissan and looking likely to snatch victory. Mardenborough kept a cool head to show maturity beyond his years and experience to take the win by just seven thousandths of a second, the closest margin in British GT history. And all this exactly a year after he was crowned the GT Academy winner.
This was a standout moment in a fantastic season for the Welshman who looks set for great things in the future and the reason he is my Driver of the year.
Check out who the rest of the Checkered Flag team picked as their Driver of the year here.
So what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my pick? Who is your driver of the year and why? Get Involved.
Most of you will know about my love for GT & Endurance racing & in particular my love for the British GT Championship, which this year in particular has proved just how fantastic it is, so it was with mixed emotions as I headed to Donington Park for the final round of the season. Excitement, as the Title would be hotly contested between the seven, yes seven teams still in with a chance of taking the 2012 honours, and Sadness as the exhilarating season was now coming to an end. You just knew the season would end on a high and the weekend didn’t disappoint. Even the FIA GT1 boys rocked up to take part in the weekend’s event to add a little extra excitement to GT fans like myself.
I like Donington Park as a circuit. Its undulating track provides many great photo opportunities and after a disappointing weekend behind the lens at Silverstone the previous weekend, I was determined to make amends and capture a good set of images. What’s more is that the racing was to take place on the full circuit at Donington and despite the numerous visits there I have never shot the full layout so I was hoping to get some new and interesting angles.
Concentrating on just the two GT series over the weekend, I headed out for the GT1 Qualifying session at the start of the day. The noise was just awesome, how I had missed the unrestricted engine noise and the rumble of the Mercedes SLS in particular. Despite only being a 12 car line up, there was still a nice selection of cars on show from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini McLaren and Ford. Exploring the GP loop of the circuit during this session I tried to find a few different angles and I was enjoying this part of the circuit I had never shot before.
The first British GT practice session was used to get photos of the cars for a spotters guide that I was helping with along with the guys from l’endurance & Daily Sportscar much like the one we had produced for the Britcar 24hr. Thankfully the hour session enabled me enough time to get some side on shots of the cars and try and bag something a bit more creative at Redgate corner and further down towards the Craner Curves. The time passed pretty quickly and before long I was uploading the shots I had to my laptop back in the media room so the spotters guide could be completed. It looked pretty good even if I do say so myself and you can see it here.
The second British GT practice session took place before the lunch break so I headed out to the Melbourne Hairpin and the GP loop that I had been at to capture the GT1’s earlier to try and get the British GT cars in similar angles. I even managed to find a few new ones too. A quick break after that session and it was back out for the First of the weekend’s two GT1 races and I decided to shoot from the First corner and work down to the old hairpin by the end of the race. Thankfully the rain stayed away and the racing was good. I had got some photos in the bag that I was happy with.
The final session of the day was the qualifying for the British GT. I usually shoot this session from the pitlane as the cars come in and out frequently and this weekend was no different. However I was to regret this decision. Some friends came back into the media room after the session with photos of the cars with a glorious sunset backdrop. I knew the sun was setting, but didn’t realise just how good it looked behind the main pit buildings. Although I was happy with some of the photos I had got, I wished I had gone out trackside and caught the sunset.
Sunday kicked off with two warm up sessions for both the GT series. I shot these short sessions from the inside of Goddards Hairpin and the approach. Again, an area I hadn’t shot before so It was good to try it out. Even though it was mid morning, you could still capture brake discs glowing on the GT1 cars as they braked hard for the slow hairpin before the pit straight.
The second GT1 race took place that afternoon after the lunch break and I headed out to the far side of the circuit to cover the race from there. A big accident between the Ford GT and one of the BMW halted the race for about 40 minutes whilst repairs to the tyre wall was made and the cars were recovered. The race resumed and I shot from the Coppice and McLeans area of the track. However with about 20 minutes of the race to go, disaster struck. The two Championship contenders, the All-Inkl Mercedes of Marc Basseng and Markus Winklehock collided with the remaining Vita4one BMW of Michael Bartels and Yelmer Buurman on the exit of Regate. The latter impacted with the wall hard enough to dislodge the concrete and the session was red flagged whilst medical crews extracted Buurman from the mangled BMW. Thankfully he OK having been taken to hospital and kept in overnight. I then realised the concreted that had been wiped out was all that was separating the circuit and photographers trackside. It is an area that is popular with photographers and one where I have stood on many occasions. Thankfully no one was there at the time or there could have been a very serious outcome. It is times like this that you realise actually how close to danger you can be and you have to be aware at all times.
As I walked up to Redgate for the start of the final British GT race of the season, I could see the impact zone and the debris. The wall hadn’t been replaced properly and I knew I wouldn’t be standing there for the upcoming race. The pile of debris from the BMW scattered everywhere left a stark reminder of how dangerous motorsport can be, but thankfully the outcome was not as bad as it could well have been.
Putting all that to the back of my mind, it was time to concentrate on the big race. Seven cars in with a chance of Championship glory, five of which knowing all they need to do is win and the title is theirs. Add in the front two cars being non championship points scoring additions to the weekends grid which could put a spanner in the works of the overall outcome and the race was set to be a tasty encounter with the 26 car field represented by 14 different manufacturers.
From the off the gauntlet was laid down. Starting from 14th on the Grid, the Nissan GT-R, one of the 5 cars just needing the win to claim the Championship, with Alex Buncombe at the wheel was on blistering pace and within three laps had taken the lead and was pulling away. With the rest of the field battling away and the other championship contenders fighting to get near the front, Buncombe was stretching out a healthy lead. The other results were starting to look irrelevant as the Nissan was looking unstoppable and the win was all that was needed. At the pit stops Buncombe bought in the Nissan to hand over to Jann Mardenborough, last year’s Playstation GT Academy winner and hugely talented, with a lead of over 12 seconds. But disaster was to strike.
Just a couple of laps after the hand over, the left rear shock absorber on the Nissan broke. That was it. Game over for the Championship aspirations. It was gut wrenching stuff, and despite the RJN team fixing the issue and sending the rapid Welshman back out, they had lost far too much time and were a few laps down on the lead. With Nissan out of contention, this handed the current Championship lead to the MTech Ferrrari of Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron. All it needed was to hang on to current race position of fourth and they would clinch the Title by half a point.
But Allan Simonsen in the Rosso Verde Ferrari was to have a say in matters. A battle between the two ensued with Griffin clinging on to the vital place needed for the championship win and was only halted by the appearance of the safety car a couple of laps later bunching the field up. This meant that another title contender, the Ecurie Ecosse BMW, had closed in and was keen to snatch the honours away.
After the safety car had come back in and the field had bunched up, the BMW was keen to make up places for the points needed for victory. An audacious move from Ollie Bryant in the Ecurie Ecosse car at Goddards saw him dive up the inside from a long way back to try and take the place from the MTech Ferrari. Sadly he came from just too far back and made contact with his rival sending Griffin into a spin causing him to haemorrhage places from the bunched up field and with it the championship hopes had faded. This now meant the BMW was on course for the title with not long left in the race. But the upper hand in the title race was to be a short lived for the Ecurie Ecosse team as a one minute stop go penalty was handed out to them as punishment for the contact with Griffin.
This now meant the fourth change of championship leader in the race and this time the Motorbase Porsche of Michael Caine and Daniele Perfetti was to be the grateful recipient. Despite being fourth place in the race, the top two places were occupied by the two non points scoring cars of Alvaro Parente and Zak Brown in their United Autosports McLaren and the Lamborghini of Peter Kox and Nico Pronk. Third place was the second United Autosports McLaren of Charles Bateman and Matt Bell and although they too were Championship contenders coming into the weekend, they needed others to drop points and with the Caine and Perfetti car behind in Fourth, the points deficit was too much to be overturned. So Michael Caine only needed to bring the car home safely and the Title was theirs.
As the chequered Flag dropped, he had done it. Dave Bartrum and the rest of the Motorbase team were delighted. Probably not one of the favourites to win the title coming into the race despite being a real contender but it had showed just how close this season had been and it had all come down to the very last lap of the last race before the champions were crowned. Add to this the Motorbase Porsche had not won a race this season, the second year in a row that the eventual Champions had not won a race, you can see just how tight the championship battle had been throughout the season and that reliability and consistency are key.
So the British GT season has drawn to an end and what a season it has been. Truly Epic. There won’t be many championships this hotly contested and so close right down to the very last corner. With 15 different manufacturers having taken part and eight different winners from ten races, it is easy to see why this championship is a stand out event in the UK and Europe. Hopefully it will continue to go from strength to strength and be even bigger and better next season if that could be even possible. I for one cannot wait.
With the second half of the British Touring Car Championship now underway after the long summer break, the eBay motors team have launched a new and novel challenge to highlight just how big eBay’s market place for car parts really is.
eBay Motors launched its Mechanics Challenge at Snetterton with British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) star Tom Onslow-Cole and TV motoring expert Edd China to highlight the wealth of automotive parts on the site. The Challenge is for Tom and Edd to turn a milk float into a race car using parts and accessories from eBay Motors, the UK’s leading online automotive marketplace with more than 18 million listings and 250,000 cars and motorcycles for sale.
During the next month Edd will work with the eBay Motors BTCC team engineers in a challenge that will showcase their skills as top mechanics and the huge range of parts and accessories available on eBay Motors. The activity culminates in September with Tom behind the wheel in an exciting final test. BTCC fans and motoring enthusiasts will vote on the parts and accessories from eBay Motors that will be used to transform the milk float into a race car. The finished car will be on display for fans at the penultimate BTCC round at Silverstone on the 7th October 2012.
Edd China, eBay Motors blogger and host of Wheeler Dealers, commented: “This is a really tough challenge, but I am very excited to be working with Tom and the guys from the eBay Motors BTCC team to build this vehicle. The range of items available from eBay Motors will make our job a lot easier, and we look forward to getting started on the developments.”
Tom Onslow-Cole, eBay Motors team driver, added: “I have never been involved in anything like this before and can’t wait to get started. Having driven the milk float around Snetterton it is clear that we have a massive amount of work on our hands. We have got some great engineers working on the car and I am eager to see what is in store for the final challenge.”
For exclusive videos, imagery and to see the latest vote statistics go to www.ebaymotorsbtcc.co.uk
After a pretty rubbish week, I was looking forward to last weekend. My favourite British Race series was to be making its yearly visit to my favourite British racing Circuit. The British GT Championship was to be competing on the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch and I was really looking forward to it.
Having spent the few days on the run up to the weekend checking the weather forecasts, things were looking good. I’ve been luck so far this year with the weather and I was again this weekend. Just a couple of brief showers on the Sunday afternoon were nothing to worry about. I always pack my waterproofs though just in case.
The Saturday morning was spent on the Druids shooting the GT Practice session and the F3 qualifying. I wanted to try a few different things to see what worked and what didn’t. Some stuff came out well, some didn’t. I found a nice new angle too during the F3 qualifying so I will remember that for next time. It’s always nice to capture a nice ‘Through the Trees’ shot too and with Brands one of the few circuits in England where you can do that, I made sure I got a few in the bag. I was enjoying myself and the time flew by. So I was soon back in the media centre checking out what I had captured.
The weather was still fine and dry in the afternoon as I headed out onto the Grand Prix loop for the second GT practice session and the first of the weekends three Formula 3 races. I decided to start at Stirlings, a known quantity for me and a good place to get a variety of shots, before walking back round the inside of the circuit as the session progressed. I got some useable stuff here but the sun was beginning to be an issue so whilst at Westfield bend waiting for the start of the F3 race I decided to cross over to the outside of the circuit so the sun was behind me.
I had never been on the outside of the Grand Prix loop and once I was there I was glad I had made the decision to cross over. There were some really great angles and new places to explore options and I was pleased with the results I was getting. I shot the F3 race and decided I would come back for the GT race on Sunday. The final session I needed to shoot was the GT qualifying and I wanted to be in the pit lane for that so headed back at the end of the F3 race. The day had flown by and I was really looking forward to race day.
Sunday’s action was due to start at 10am with a 10 minute warm up session for the GT’s so I had a bit of a lie in. I headed to the garages and pit lane for the quick warm up session to get a few driver shots. I went to Druids to capture the action of the short 20 minute F3 race before lunch and getting my stuff prepared for the main two hour GT race. Watching the start of the F1 race on the TV in the media room, rain started to fall. I could see blue sky in the distance so was confident it would be a passing shower. However, I’m not trained meteorologist so it was time to break out the waterproofs to take with me just in case.
The GT race was the one I was really looking forward to and as I headed out the rain had now stopped. I wanted to capture the start from Druids with the cars coming up the hill. As the pit lane opened and the cars headed out to form up on the grid, the rain started again causing a greasy surface which would add to the excitement at the start of the race. By the time the cars were released from the rolling start, the rain had stopped but the track was still slippery and the cars were on slick tyres. With a few spinners and some of the field taking it steadier than others there were a few position changes. Thankfully, I had my pocket radio so could tune into radio Brands to keep track of the commentary and what was going on. This was to prove invaluable out on the GP track where there are no tannoy speakers.
I shot the first few laps from the outside of Druids hairpin before making my move to the Grand Prix loop. I headed to the bridge on the main straight and walked up the outside of the track along Hawthorn Hill. I was to spend the rest of the race working my way around the outside. Trying new angles and perspectives a brief shower whilst I was at Dingle Dell wasn’t going to ruin my enjoyment. I was keeping up to date with the race action on the radio and I was glad of it. The race was proving to be pretty exciting. The Nissan GTR of Alex Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough that started in ninth was now in the lead with the other Nissan GTR of the Hetherington brothers Benji and Freddie was making its way through the pack too and was up to fourth before disaster struck.
Benji Hetherington had pushed just a bit too hard through Stirlings and two wheels up on the kerb on the exit was enough to spit the car out and into the barrier on inside. It was a heavy impact and a relatively long safety car period was to follow to allow the recovery of the car and repairs to the barrier. It was a disappointment as the white Nissan was due a good race and things were looking good. The pit stops and drivers played out soon after the safety car period and It was Jann Mardenborough now in the leading Nissan. Oliver Bryant had taken over the BMW Z4 and was up to second place and trying to close in. Each time Bryant closed the gap, Mardenborough seemed to have an answer and kept him at bay just a couple of seconds behind. Keeping track of the commentary whilst continuing to capture what was unfolding on track with my camera the time was flying by but I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.
Whilst the Nissan and BMW battled out at the front, Jonny Adam was now in the Aston Martin setting very quick times. He was catching the front two at quite a rate but with quite a deficit to make up, would there be enough time with the 2 hour finish time in sight. It looked like he could make second place but would still need to pass the BMW once he caught him. Sure enough, the flying Aston was to steal second place at Paddock Hill bend on the penultimate lap. Onto the final lap and the Aston had the Nissan in its sights. Could the Beechdean car take an unlikely win just two weeks after a full rebuild thanks to its heavy impact with the wall at Rockingham just two weeks ago?
I was at sheen curve on the last lap. I could see the Nissan approach with the Aston in close attendance and the BMW not too far behind. I watched as they rounded Stirlings and now not even a cigarette paper could separate the rear of the Black and Red Nissan GTR and the front of the Blue and White Aston Martin. Out of sight I had to rely on the commentary. After defending the final bend, the Nissan had the inside line but the Jonny Adam moved to the outside. It was to be a straight drag to the line. Side by side the pair crossed the line. A second or two passed after the flag had dropped while the commentator waited for the timing screen to update. Who had one?
Incredibly, after 2 hours of racing and 74 laps of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit, just twenty two thousandths of a second split the pair. That’s 0.022seconds in numbers. The closest British GT race finish in history. The spoils went to the Nissan. Just. It now made it six different race winners from six races and five different manufacturers. What a finish. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough for you, Jann Mardenborough confirmed that this, his first GT race victory had come exactly 365 days after he won the Playstation GT Academy. It really was fairytale stuff. I was beaming. I had witnessed an awesome race and my favourite British race series had produced something truly special on my favourite British race circuit.
I stayed to photograph the final F3 race of the day knowing that it was just never going to match the excitement of the GT race. I headed back to the media room and was met by beaming faces all round and discussion of the incredible scenes that they had witnessed. A video still from TSL timing’s camera aimed at the finish lane showed how close the GT race finish really was. It was a fantastic weekend and I was so glad to have witnessed it.
For the full race report visit The Checkered Flag.
I now have two weekends away from the circuit, before my next event which is again back at Brand Hatch on the Grand Prix circuit for a bumper weekend of the F2, GT Open and Britcar. If it is half as exciting as the British GT race, it will be a good weekend and I look forward to finding some more new angles and locations to shoot from.
With my Nurburgring trip now seeming like just a distant memory and my screensaver acting as a constant reminder of great the place really is, it was time to head out for my first race trackside since the German 24hr race.
It was the Britcar Endurance and Production cup races at Brands Hatch on the Indy Circuit last Saturday and as much as I like Brands Hatch I couldn’t help but think that Druids didn’t have quite the same lure as the Karussell and that Paddock Hill wasn’t that steep in comparison. But I can’t shoot at the Nordschleife every weekend so I was just happy to be trackside again.
However, tales of the trip and the race in the media room, along with Guy Povey’s BMW still bearing the Bilstein and Gran Turismo 5 stickers from 24hr Epic, my withdrawal symptoms from the Green Hell weren’t being eased. I even spotted an Audi Sport Team Phoenix sticker in the pit lane. I had suggested to James that he sat in the media room and played the Nurburgring Pitlane siren that I have saved on my laptop every time he saw a car come down the pits. That place had really had an effect on me, much like an ex girlfriend you have very fond memories of. I was beginning to worry myself somewhat.
Thankfully, once the sessions on track had started and I was out with my camera I was soon back in the swing of things. Despite the gloomy and slightly damp start to the day the weather improved and by the afternoon the sun was beating down. I had prepared for rain so it was inevitable.
A new edition to the Endurance grid was a Ginetta G50. This had caught my eye. Not only was it red, but it was covered in Kit Kat advertising. To my surprise, whilst taking a few photos of it in the garage a team member approached and handed me a Kit Kat. I gratefully accepted the chocolate then thought to myself, ‘These guys can come again!’
With the sun out and the afternoon’s racing upon us, the Production Cup race took place. The 90 minute race was a competitive affair and a noticeable addition to the driver line up was Andy Jordan in the Eurotech Honda Accord who was standing in for his father Mike whilst he was racing with the Jones twins in their Mercedes SLS at Silverstone for the Blancpain series. The production cup race was eventually won by Michael Symonds in his Orange BMW M3. Photos of the Production Cup can be seen on my Facebook Album or on my Flickr page.
Soon the Endurance race was up and running. A two hour race this weekend as opposed to the usual three and the field look great in the sun that was now high in the sky and causing me to get a sweat on. I’m not sure about other photographers but I’ve noticed that cars with bright or unusual liveries always seem to catch my eye when I’m shooting races and the Red Kit Kat Ginetta was no exception. So here’s a tip if you enter a race car into a series. Paint it a bright colour, I’ve found Yellow is the most effective, and you will probably find that it will get photographed a lot. As with the Production Cup, the Endurance race was another captivating affair. I like Brands Hatch as I can tune my pocket radio into the radio station and listen to the commentary whilst trackside above the engine noises and follow what is going on. It’s always handy, especially in endurance races when the field soon gets spread out. I wish all circuits broadcast on a radio station like this. Silverstone is the only other one. Anyway, the race victory went to the ever impressive Mosler of Javier Morcillo and Paul White to increase their championship lead. More photos of the Endurance race can again be seen on my Facebook Page and on my Flickr Page.
Next up for me is Round 3 of the British GT championship at Rockingham. I’m really looking forward to that this weekend. I think I’ve conquered my withdrawal symptoms now. However, the last time I photographed the British GT championship was at………..
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.
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.
I’m often surprised by the amount of people who actually read my mutterings and random thoughts within this blog, so it was nice to hear from one of the Top teams within the British Touring Car Championships saying how much they liked it. They also offered me a chance to take part in a quick Question and Answer session with one of their drivers. How could I refuse? I leapt at the chance.
So I called on all of my journalistic prowess to rustle up some questions that would have Jeremy Paxman quaking in his expensive loafers. Armed with set of hard hitting questions, well, some that give a bit more of an insight into his life anyway, one of the BTCC’s Fan favourites, Tom Onlsow-Cole took some time out of his busy schedule ahead of this weekend’s round at Donington Park to answer them.
Both of you are definite championship contenders, do you think you are capable of winning the title this year, and if not, what are your realistic targets for this season? Yes I definitely think I am a contender. I am now getting my head around the ebay Motors car and I have good pace and feel comfortable. I am after more points every race and I target a podium every round.
Have you set yourself any targets for this weekend at Donington and if so, what are they? To achieve 50 points or more. I think that is a logical and good target for me and eBay Motors.
Who do you think your main title opponents will be this year? The Honda Team or Jason Plato in his MG
Which circuit on the BTCC Calendar do you like the most, and which do you like the least? I actually like Donington the most as it is fast with a lot of turns. After that my next favourite is Thruxton. My least favourite is probably Brands Hatch as it has never been too kind to me in the past so I am glad that I have got that one out the way!
What has been your favourite BTCC memory? In 2008 with Vauxhall. I was still very young in the BTCC but we were dominant and came into the race in poll and took 3 podiums. It was the first real taste of success I had had in the championship and when I really knew that being a racing driver was what I wanted.
If the BTCC could have one overseas round, which circuit would you like it to be held at? Bathurst in Australia.
Who is the toughest driver you’ve raced against? Rob Collard, he is difficult to pass and a great driver so I am glad to now have him on my side with eBay Motors!
What three things can you not be without during a race weekend? My Team, my ipod and my dad.
How do you prepare for a race? Do you have any superstitions? I always have to get ready the same way in the car and have certain procedures like putting one glove on after the other. I then use relaxation and visualisation techniques.
If you could race in any other race series, which one would it be and why? V8 Supercars.
What is the most recent song you listened to on your MP3 player / CD Player? Will.I.Am – The hardest ever
What do you like to do in your spare time? I don’t have a lot of spare time away from work and what I do have I use for training. I have turned my training into a hobby.
What is your favourite TV programme? The Cleveland Show.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Flying.
Who would win a fight between a Ninja and a Pirate? A Pirate because they would have a gun!
So there you have it. My first exclusive interview for Tracksideviews and who better to have.
I’d like to thank Tom for taking the time to take part, as well as Oli and everyone at ebay Motors for making it happen. Don’t forget to check out the ebay Motors website: www.ebaymotorsbtcc.co.uk and you can follow Tom and the team on Twitter: @tomonslowcole and @ebaymotorsbtcc
Best of luck to Tom and the team this weekend and for the rest of the season.
The Easter weekend saw the return of the GT’s. Not just the British GT Championships at Oulton Park, but also the World FIA GT1 championship and the European GT3 series at Nogaro in France.
Unfortunately, do to work commitments, I couldn’t be at Oulton Park for found one of the British GT Championship. Although I was somewhat glad I wasn’t standing out in the dreadful weather they were experiencing, I was bitterly disappointed to be missing out on some great racing. New teams and cars have improved the field even more from last year, with BMW and Nissan joining the manufacturers and rather being there to see them in action, I was glued to the online timing screen, a race ticker and twitter to keep up to date on what was happening during both one hour races.
It was the United Autosports Audi of Matt Bell and Charles Bateman who took pole for the first race. They were to lead for all but one of the 32 laps. Unfortunately, the lap they didn’t lead for was the final one. The Audi had ran out of fuel on the last lap and coasted to a stop, gifting the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 of Alasdair McCaig and Oliver Bryant victory in their maiden British GT race. Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen’s took second in their Ferrari 458 ahead of another Ferrari, that of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin. GT4 Honours went the way of the impressive pairing of Warren Hughes and Jody Fannin in their Ginetta G50. At one point in this race, the top six was represented by six different manufacturers, show what a diverse field the series now boasts.
Experienced GT racer Richard Westbrook will partner current champion David Ashburn for as many British GT Races as his busy schedule will allow this season, and this was the pairing that were to start on pole position for Trackspeed in the Porsche 997. The pair also went on to take a flawless victory in the days second race ahead of Griffin and Cameron who performed well in the adverse weather conditions. Third place went the way of British GT New boys Jon Minshaw and Tim Harvey. It was Hughes and Fannin on the top step in the GT4 class, ahead of the Lotus pairing of Phil Glew and Sailesh Bolisetti. An honourable mention must be made to Zoe Wenham. This was her first BGT race weekend and a mature drive in race two saw the 17 year old take third place in GT4 along with Mike Simpson.
Round two of the Championship see’s a trip to the Nurburgring in support of the 24hour race. My media application has been sent so hopefully I will be in attendance to see them battle it out on the iconic German Circuit.
Whilst the Brits were experiencing miserable weather in Cheshire, the FIA GT1’s were fairing slightly better in rural France at Nogaro. Victory in both the wet Sunday race and the dry Monday race, went to the Belgium WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor. It was a good weekend for the team as their second car of Frank Stippler and Oliver Jarvis took both second places as well completing a perfect start to the season.
The GT3 race was to feature ex British GT driver (and karting buddy) Michael Lyons who has made the step up to join Stefano Gai in the AF Corse Ferrari 458. Race one victory went to the Audi R8 LMS of Marc Sourd and Gregory Guilvert, but disqualification for Lamborghini pair Filip Sladecka and Gerhard Tweraser for ignoring a drive through penalty saw Lyons and Gai promoted to second place after taking the chequered flag in third behind them. Race two saw Maximilian Buhk and Dominik Baumann in the Mecedes-Benz SLS AMG victorious, but Lyons crossed the white line on pit exit after taking over from Gai and was handed a drive through penalty.
Hopes of a solid finish looked diminished for the young Brit, but an incredible drive saw Lyons haul the Ferrari into third place and a battle for second place with the other AF Corse Ferrari during the closing laps. It was just a little too much as Gaetano Ardagna Perez defended his position desperately to keep Michael behind, leaving him to settle for third and not break team rule number 1: Do not take out your team mate.
It was a superb debut for Michael and with two podiums finishes, takes a healthy points haul to the next round. Thankfully both the GT1 and GT3 races were streamed live on the internet so I was able to watch the superb GT racing. Some consolation for not being at Oulton Park.
Last weekend saw the long awaited return of the British Touring Car Championships. With everyone desperate to see what the season brings and who would set the pace in round one, the weekend wasn’t to disappoint.
The first shock of the weekend came in qualifying. It was Dave Newsham in the Team ES racing’s aging Vectra that claimed pole position against the likes of the new Honda Civic and the established teams of Ebay Motors BMW and Redstone Racing, formally Motorbase. With the new MG taking to the track without prior testing before the weekend, expectations were low, even from within the camp, but with the superb team of Triple eight and the highly experienced Jason Plato behind the wheel, there was always the possibility of a shock result. A solid sixth place on the grid for the first race showed this to be a real chance of good results. Despite its good looks, new team and driver pairing of John Thorne in the Thorney Motorsport in the new Vauxhall Insignia, struggled for pace and a huge off at paddock hill in practice meant there would be no qualifying session for the team and doubts were cast on the chance of seeing it take to the grid for the races. However, the team did well to get it repaired in time for race one the following day.
Rob Collard got the best start from race one and took the lead early on. Newsham had dropped to third behind Matt Neal with Plato doing well to gain places to reach fourth. But the main talking point from the first race came on lap 15. With places swapping throughout the race in the top few positions, an audacious move was to change the race in a big way. Newsham was doing well to stay in the front pack and on the start straight he had got the run on Neal to edge ahead for the lead. As the pair braked for Paddock Hill bend, Plato, who was third decided to try and take the lead and go up the inside of the pair from some way back. A move that just wasn’t there as Newsham was turning in. Plato inevitably made contact with the rear quarter of the yellow Vectra sending him into a spin and off into the gravel finishing his race.
Rob Collard went on to win the first race of the season, with Neal second, Tom Onslow-Cole third and Plato taking fourth. Collard was to receive a fine and points on his licence for celebrating with some doughnuts near pit entry, which seems excessive, but perhaps it was the fact that the doughnuts were, well, a bit rubbish that he got the fine. As for Plato, when asked about the earlier incident, he said he saw a gap and went for it. Well, yes, he may have saw a gap, but it was a long way away and was closing rapidly. He then stated that it was all part of racing. Maybe so, but the move ended Newsham’s definite chance of a podium. Do silly moves like that deserve to be part of racing? Hardly fair is it. No stranger to voicing his opinions on various aspects of the BTCC, I would have liked to have known what Plato’s response would have been had the roles been reversed. I think I could guess though and I am certain it would be an opinion that was very different. After the weekend, Plato was to be fined £750 and slapped with 3 points on his racing licence for his move on Newsham, but I couldn’t help feel that a drive through or time penalty would have been more of a punishment.
On to race two which again proved to be a close affair out front with Neal, Andy Jordan, and Plato tussling for positions. Plato did actually take the lead at one point. Very impressive for MG on its return to the championship. But eventually, Plato settled with third step of the podium behind the two new Civic’s of Jordan second and Neal first. Further down the field, Newsham fought back well from the back of the grid to claim ninth. Rob Austin took a very good fifth place in the Audi on a weekend when team made Mark Hazell announced his withdrawal from the championship leaving Rob Austin racing with a spare Audi. Many BTCC fans would love a certain likeable Liverpudlian to fill the vacant seat if a budget can be found. Lea Wood, shone in race two, also in a Vectra, running in the top 10 before a drive through penalty saw him drop down the field and Dan Welch in the Proton did well to recover after being tapped into an early spin to take 12th place. Nick Foster was also lucky to walk away unscathed from his BWM after losing control out of Druids and hitting the tyre wall on the run down to Graham Hill bend before coming to a rest in its roof.
Race three was also set to cause a major talking point and plenty of excitement. It was Ollie Jackson in the VW Golf starting from pole thanks to the reversed grid. Unfortunately he was to drop down a few places on the early laps. Then, a few laps in Mat Jackson ran wide at paddock hill which was to trigger some unbelievable consequences. Running through the gravel before making it back onto the track, Jackson had caused damage to the front of his Ford Focus which left a trail of fluid on the way up to Druids. Ollie Jackson was to find this fluid and lost control under braking sending him spinning into the gravel at the hairpin right infront of me. Ducking to avoid the shower of dust and gravel, I peered over the tyre wall to see a number of other cars follow suit. Protecting myself and my equipment, it wasn’t until the dust had settled before I saw the full extent of the incident. There now seemed to be a carpark in front of me with seven cars stuck in the kitty litter all in various states. The race was stopped while the Marshalls worked tirelessly and quickly to recover the cars and sweep the track.
From the restart it was Collard who took the lead before falling back behind the battle between Andy Jordan and Jason Plato, now for the lead. Jordan did well to keep Plato behind for a few laps despite constantly being put under pressure with a number of nudges from the MG6. It was eventually at clearways when Plato squeezed up the inside of Jordan pushing him wide and taking the lead to go on to take a victory that few would have thought possible from the new car on its maiden race weekend with no testing. Jordan was left very disappointed with his second place, despite it being his second visit to the podium during the day. Meanwhile, Dave Newsham was a man on a mission set to prove a point and after a superb drive, took third place and eventually got that podium place that was cruelly taken away from him in race one much to everyone’s delight. Jeff Smith took a solid fourth ahead of Rob Austin in fifth.
It certainly was an action packed start to the BTCC season which also saw carnage in the Clio Cup race involving a number of cars, which no doubt saw the Renault spare parts division working overtime on Monday, as well as a huge accident in the Ginetta GT Supercup which thankfully everyone walked away from. Usually, it’s the Ginetta Junior races that see the most incidents, offs and impacts but they were very well behaved in their close fought races.
As the Touring Car circus heads to Donington for the next round, there is still no clear favourite for the championship title and there are still a number of questions to be answered. Will the ES Racing Vectra still be on pace or was it a one off performance? Will Jason Plato in the MG be a real title contender? Can Gordon Shedden get used to the new Honda sooner rather than later after a poor weekend? And who, if anyone, will take up that spare seat at Audi? Only time will tell, but BTCC is certainly back with a bang.
So my motorsport season has officially started. A trip to Silverstone to cover Round One of the MSA Britcar Endurance Championships saw the year get off to a good start. The early fog lifted and the sun shone to kick of my coming year behind the lens in great fashion.
It’s great to get back after the off season and to catch up with friends and fellow photographers. Its always nice to see what has been going on over the winter too. New teams, cars, drivers and liveries are finally on show as everyone is keen to show their hand and what they are capable of over the next eight or so months.
The Britcar series is always one I am very fond of. I love endurance racing and the atmosphere is always great. It’s nice to talk to teams and drivers in a slightly more relaxed environment than that the bigger series. However that is not to say it is any less competitive. The Motionsport team lined up with a new Ferrari 458 in their white and blue livery which looked great. I’m looking forward to them getting their full Aero Package on it. Bullrun and their drivers including last year’s BTCC Driver Martin Byford launched their assault on the title with a new Lotus Evora, as did father and son pairing Peter and Matt Smith in a new Ginetta G55. The merger of last year’s two Mosler teams meant they were to be a force to be reckoned with again this year and they were all joined by championship regulars such as the Topcats Marcos’ and the Intersport BMW. Even the SR2 Rapier had received a new Martini Racing style livery for the new year.
Another addition to the series was the Production Cup. A 90 minute race series for production cars. This saw a great field of various cars from Honda Integra’s and Seat Leon’s to Ginetta G40’s & Mazda MX5’s. It also had attracted well known drivers such as ex BTCC star Mike Jordan in a familiar Integra and Karl Breeze and Tom Howard in a Ginetta G40. The racing proved to be close and very exciting. The Cunningham’s Seat Leon Supercopa, a team who were regulars in last year’s Britcar series, led for most of the race, only to be passed by the quick BMW M3 CSL of Richard Abra and Mark Poole for victory. But there were battles throughout the field to keep the fans entertained.
It is always difficult to tell how good a spectator turnout there is on the GP circuit at Silverstone as it is so vast, however there did seem to be quite a few, helped by the glorious weather. They wouldn’t have been disappointed with the racing in the main three hour endurance race either. A close three way fight before the first round of pit stops between the Mosler, Rapier SR2 and the Paul Bailey Ferrari 430 was an exciting affair. However as with all endurance racing, it isn’t all about raw speed but reliability is a huge factor as the Bailey Ferrari was to find out. Radiator issues cost them dearly and whilst it was looking set to be a grandstand finish between the Mosler and the SR2, the Rapier also succumbed to issues as electrical problems saw them stop out on track in the last half hour.
That left the Mosler to win outright with the second placed Marcos Mantis taking class two honours for Topcats. The Evora won class 3 and Steve Gugliami’s Lotus Elise took the spoils in class 4. It was certainly a great weekend and a great way to kick off my year. Next stop, Brands Hatch for round one of the BTCC.
Production Cup race report can be seen here.
Endurance race report can be seen here.
Last week saw the Motor Sport Vision Racing (MSVR) Media day at Brands Hatch. MSVR run a number of club series from the Trackday Trophy and Monoposto championship, up to the GT Cup championship and F3 Cup so it was good to head down to Kent again to see what was being planned for the coming season. It’s great to see the enthusiasm for club level motorsport and to hear that the race series are being well represented. You should never underestimate ‘Grass Roots’ motorsport as the action is just as good as any top level events and championships are just as hotly contested.
There were a number of cars filling the pit lane to represent the race series under the MSVR banner and most took to the track too, including a very special car. That of the 1989 Lotus 101 as driven by Satoru Nakajima in that seasons Formula One championships. As a young boy growing up in the eighties the latter part of that decade within formula one was an era I remember fondly so it was great to see the Lotus on track sounding like a dream. A very big noisy and almost deafening dream, but a dream none the less. It was also one of the cars which made up my very first Scalextric so it had extra meaning.
Now some of you may recall that at last year’s MSVR media day I was taken around the Iconic Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in a Radical SR3 RS. Well this time I got taken around again but in two very different cars. The first passenger ride of the day was in a Porsche 997 GT3 which will contest in this seasons GT Cup Championships. This was a superb opportunity for a huge GT racing fan such as myself so to be able to experience for myself what it is like being in a car that I have seen in many top race series from British GT & Blancpain to endurance races such as the Nurburgring 24hr & Le Mans.
The weather was overcast and the track was damp but it was going to be a ride I would enjoy very much and my chauffeur, Nick Whale wasn’t in the mood for hanging around. The acceleration was phenomenal from the pit exit and we straight onto the tail of a pair of DB5 Aston Martins, which we made short work of on the Exit of Paddock Hill bend. Breaking into druids on the greasy surface the Porsche remained so stable and took it in its stride. On the exit of the hairpin it was clear how much power this machine had at its disposal. Just a dab of throttle and the super wide rear tyres were struggling for grip as the 997 started to wiggle its rear but Nick was always in control and told it who was boss. On the edge of its limits we sped through Graham Hill bend and along the Cooper straight towards Surtees and McLaren. The Porsche remained planted through the bends despite the lack of grip the tarmac was providing only squirming slightly as it chomped at the bit desperate to unleash the horses which would enable it to power down the straight quicker than a scorned child caught with its hands in the biscuit tin.
Down the pit straight I watched the speedometer rise as it just passed the 200kph mark as the brakes were applied for Paddock Hill bend again. The Porsche and Nick took it all in their stride. Smoothly through the bend, down the hill and back up towards Druids within the blink of an eye. By now we were catching the Green Lotus Evora GT4 and it wasn’t long before we had passed it with ease. I was loving this. However, it wasn’t long before a couple more laps had passed and we were heading back into the pits. All good things have to come to an end but I was very fortunate to have experienced my ride in such an awesome machine. I’d like to thank Nick Whale who manned the wheel expertly and the In2Racing team for letting me experience firsthand what their car is capable of.
That wasn’t to be the end of my on track excitement though. My second passenger ride of the day came in something a little less powerful, a little more affordable, but by no means any less exciting. I was to be taken out by Luke Caudle in a John Cooper Works Mini. Luke had won the JCW Mini Challenge class in 2010 so he knew what he was doing behind the wheel of this not so small Mini and he was keen to show me. We blasted out of the Pit lane onto what was now quite a busy circuit. There were 3 or 4 other Mini’s out along with a few BMW 3 Series from the Production BMW Championship, a few cars from the Trackday trophy contingent and some VW Golf’s from the VAG Trophy and Golf GTI Championships. This was of course no bother as the Mini was quick. Very quick. I knew it was not going to be any slouch but even I was surprised at how fast this car was. It certainly felt it too as Luke made light work passing the other cars on track. Passing round the outside at Druids or darting up the inside at Graham Hill, the other cars seemed to be disappearing rapidly in the rear view mirror. I was pretty sure Luke was having a great time as he cut the kerbs and power slid round bends on the damp track. It didn’t matter whether he was enjoying or not though because I was having a great time. Only my crash helmet could conceal a grin any Cheshire cat would be proud of.
Blasting down the Brabham straight just inches from the pit wall the car topped 110mph as like the Porsche it remained stable braking for Paddock Hill bend. Ok, so it may not have been as quick or as powerful as the 997 by heck the Mini Cooper was fun. With all the traffic on track that Luke was supremely carving his way through it was probably the nearest I would get to experiencing a race situation. One thing was certain, I’d never seen any mums drive a school run in a Mini quite like this, but it wouldn’t half make it more bearable. As like last time it was all over too soon but it was great to experience a few laps in the Mini and it was just as fun if not more so than the Porsche and the Radical’s I have been in round Brands Hatch. So thanks to Luke, the EXCELR8 team and the guys and girls from the Mini Challenge for letting me have a ride in their small but awesome race car.
It was a super day at Brands Hatch and another day I won’t forget. It’s great to be gearing up for the new motorsport season and I can’t wait for it to arrive. You could do a lot worse than check out some of the MSVR race weekends at circuits around the country. They offer a lot of great racing in a variety of cars with very reasonable ticket prices so check out their race calendars.
Last weekend saw the annual Britcar 24 hour race at Silverstone, the premier 24 hour race on UK soil. Once again the entry list was full of a whole host of car makes and models from the front running Ferraris, Moslers and Porches, to Honda Civics, BMWs and a Smart Four 4.
I was there covering the event for the Checkered Flag taking photos whilst the three other team members were providing Hourly Updates and live feeds online. You can check out our coverage and race report here.
The weather was incredibly favourable, unlike last year and the sun was beating down on the circuit. The crowds were gathered in large numbers which was great to see as It is a superb event and deserves all the support it can get. I’m sure those who were there will agree that they were treated to a spectacle. I love covering the 24 hour race as I can get photos from a whole host of places and in different lights. I really enjoy trying to get evening light trail shots too, and although I didn’t get the fantastic red sky in the evening I did last year, I did get a nice sunrise. Also, shooting a 24hr race gives you plenty of time to muck about with your camera and try new things, new angles and find new spots to shoot from. I spent some time in the pit lane too which is always fun trying to get some good shots whilst dodging expensive race cars. You can see a bigger collection of photos from the race on my Facebook group here.
As with all endurance racing, reliability is key and this year was no exception. A number of class four cars finished in the top 10 beating their quicker and more powerful rivals and the Aquilla, which was setting blisteringly quick times, about five seconds faster than anyone else, showed its vulnerability and a host of problems dropped in down the timing screens. As the race headed into the midday sun of Sunday, it looked like it would be an exciting climax between the Topcats Racing Mosler and the Eclipse Motorsport Ferrari 430. However, disaster struck for the Mosler with about four hours of the race left to go and whilst leading when a stuck throttle caused the car to career into the tyre wall at the end of the Wellington straight ending its hopes of victory. It was a bitter blow for the Topcats team who were recovering from having their team base broken into and almost everything stolen. Tools, wheels, tyres, spare parts etc. Pretty much the only things left were the car chassis. It was a great effort to see them on the grid and get everything ready and it was good to see their other two cars, a pair of Marcos Mantis’ finish very respectfully.
This year saw a team of Gadget Show presenters tackle the 24hr race on a simulator from one of the garages. Running in sync with the race on track, Jon, Jason and Polly drove a state of the art gaming simulator. I’m not sure how they got on but I’m sure you will see it on the TV. I cannot recommend the event highly enough and it is well worth going to next year. So don’t miss out.
I’m back at Silverstone this weekend for the British GT and Blancpain endurance series which will be great and then after that, on the Sunday night I head off to the Isle of Mull for the Mull Rally with Andy Rowe and Cat Lund as part of their Support Crew. I cannot wait for that and it will be a great new experience for me which I will share when I get back.
As you will all be aware, there was a Formula One Grand Prix in Valencia at the weekend. You will also all be aware that Sebastian Vettel won it after leading from start to finish. You will be aware of this because it was plastered all over the back pages of the national newspapers and widely reported on the news.
However, some of you may not have been aware that in Germany, there was a fantastic motorsport event taking place on the world famous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit. It was the fantastic Nurburgring 24 hour race and probably the second best 24 hour race behind Le Mans. You may not have realised this as there has been precisely no media coverage. I even looked on the Autosport website today and there is nothing on there. Just pages and pages of guff on Formula One.
220 cars in over 20 classes took to the picturesque and challenging 25km circuit to do battle in a fantastic encounter. A whole variety of cars took part from the front running Mercedes AMG SLS GT3’s, Audi R8’s and Porsche 911’s to Volkswagen Golf R32’s and Scirocco’s, Seat Leon Supacopa’s, Renault Clio’s and even the new Mini Coupe. Many great racing drivers were taking part, including the likes of Johnny Herbert, Mark Blundell, Alex Wurz and the queen of the Nurburgring Sabine Schmitz.
Thankfully the race was streamed live on the internet and so was commentary from radio le mans so I could watch the great race unfold. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening there were numerous lead changes between the front running Mercedes, BMW’s, Audi’s and even a Ferrari. Unfortunately due to other commitments I couldn’t watch that late into the night and Sunday morning, but the coverage I did see was very good considering. We all know that Le Mans hardly got any coverage at all in the media and if it were not for the huge Allan McNish crash then there would have been even less. There was a similar crash at the Nurburbring, maybe not as dramatic but as one of the front running Need For Speed BMW Z4’s came to lap one of the many numerous back markers, slight contact was made sending the BMW off track into and over the barrier and coming to rest upside down. Thankfully the driver was ok.
As the formula one Valencia bore-fest was taking place there was still all to fight for in the closing stages of the 24 hour race with a few cars still in contention. A remarkable feat for an endurance race on such a demanding and unforgiving circuit. At the end however it was the number 18 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Marc Lieb, Lucas Luhr, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas who took the win with the BMW M3 GT of Jorg Muller, Augusto Farfus, Uwe Alzen and Pedro Lamy just a few minutes behind and the Audi R8 LMS of Marc Basseng, Marcel Fassler, Andrea Piccini and Frank Stippler.
As much as a great race it was you’ll probably have to take my word for it because you’ll do well to find a race report. No doubt the next issue of Autosport will be rammed with pages and pages of Formula One and the uneventful race in Spain whilst a decent report on the Nurburgring 24 hour race will undoubtedly be lacking. Please media, do us a favour and give GT endurance racing the coverage it deserves. Many people, (remarkably F1 fans included) are of the opinion that endurance racing is boring. After an extremely close Le Mans and an epic Nurburgring 24 hour race in the space of 2 weeks, I can assure you it is not.
So the news is that within BTCC, the NGTC Turbo powered cars that were designed for a cost effective level playing field within the championship will be restricted ahead of the next round at Thruxton. Why? Because Jason Plato is upset that they are quicker than his S2000 spec engine car, that’s why.
The two engines were made available to teams well before the season started with the Chevrolet teams and the BMW’s opting to run the non turbo powered S2000 engines over the New Generation Touring Car option which has a turbo. Many people will remember the farce that occurred last season with the Team AON Gas powered Turbo Ford Focus constantly being restricted because it was a bit quicker than the rest of the field in straight line. Of course, Jason Plato didn’t like this and was more vocal than most with his dislike of this, despite Team AON running within the regulations and not in any way dominating the championship standings.
So now with the new regulations in place to create a level playing field, the whole situation has reared its ugly head yet again. Despite winning the first two races of the season at Brands Hatch, Mr Plato was yet again complaining about the turbo powered cars. Yes they were slightly quicker out of the corners, but the non turbo powered cars were quicker into the corners. Each car has unique driving characteristics and handling, we all know that. You have to work to the strengths of the car you have and try and improve the weaknesses. However this is clearly not good enough for the two time BTCC champion and qualifying in seventh place for the first race at Donington only made him angrier.
His moaning was even taken to a whole new level after suffering a puncture in the first race. He blamed the turbo powered cars for it. Apparently, due to their speed, he had to push the car to its limits to stay on the pace which then caused the puncture. Do me a favour. If you want to win a race then you have to push the car to its limits anyway. Is it fair to moan just because someone is quicker than you and you aren’t winning? He seems to forget that a few years ago he was running a Seat Leon Turbo, yes TURBO diesel which was quicker than the rest of the field in a straight line. Did he complain then? No he didn’t. The only reason he didn’t win the championship that year was due to the unreliability of the car.
Unfortunately, series director Alan Gow listens to this moaning and acts on it. The Turbo cars are being punished despite doing nothing wrong. They are running within the regulations but are being pegged back because a team who had the option to run a turbo powered car like everyone else, chose not to and are upset because at some circuits they aren’t the quickest. In what other sports does this happen? Does the FIA punish Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari in Formula one because they are quicker than the Sauber’s, Force India’s or the Toro Rosso’s? No. Does the IAAF tie Usain Bolt’s shoe laces together because he is the fastest man in the world? No. You stick to the rules and you get on with it.
If you ask me Jason Plato needs to learn how to be gracious in defeat and respectful to others. We all know he is a good driver, and winning more touring car races than anyone else goes to show that. But his moaning and complaining is making him look like a spoilt brat and quite frankly, I myself am getting embarrassed for him! He can win with the car he has got and we have already seen that twice already this season. So get your head down and put your effort in to racing instead of moaning Jason and more wins will follow. It’s nice to have a closely fought championship battle, the fans don’t want to see the same driver win every race and they certainly don’t want to see someone whinge and moan because they didn’t.
Finally, if you like my blog, you can still vote for it in Longlife Exhausts quest to find the best car blog here. I’d be very grateful if you did.
So the motorsport season starts for me this weekend. I’ll be photographing the MSVR ‘season starter’ weekend at Snetterton this coming weekend. It will be the first race weekend for me this year and I can’t wait to get back trackside. Also, I will finally get to see the new circuit layout at the Norfolk track. On this note, the names of the new corners have been unveiled today so I’ll have to learn them too. In the meantime, I’ll have to get all my equipment ready, batteries charged up and memory cards formatted in preparation. I’ll blog about the weekend and post a few photos next week.
The MSVR weekend will include great racing from the Lotus Elise Trophy, the Lotus Cup UK, Project 8 Saloons, Production BMW Championship, MSV F3 Cup and others. So if you’re chomping at the bit to get out and see some racing then why not get yourself down there. £16 for a weekend ticket is a bargain. You couldn’t watch a league football match for that and they are only 90 minutes!
In other news, I’ve completed another model for my collection. The 1994 Larbre Competition Porsche RSR that was raced at Le Mans. I’m pretty pleased with it and it doesn’t look too bad. I found a great website with all the information on cars, drivers, times etc of all the Le Mans races over the years as well as photos. I was pleased to find some pictures of the car I’ve just built, so if like me you love the 24hr endurance race, then check out www.lemans-history.com Next up, a 1988 Minolta Toyota 88C.
Finally, I’ll be driving my most hated car tomorrow. The Nissan Juke will be taking place with currently £55 pledged to Comic Relief for me to go through with it. Not looking forward to it, but it’s for a good cause. If you wish to donate anything, even just a pound, then you can do here and you will be in with a chance to win a framed A3 Motorsport Print. You can’t say fairer than that surely?