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.
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.
With the latest addition to my ‘Car’s Owned’ list arriving recently, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you my Car History. Many have questioned why I am so pleased with my new Vectra but after reading about the cars I’ve owned you might be a little more understanding. I’ve driven loads of various vehicles since I passed my test over 11 years ago, ranging from Land Rovers to Alfa’s, Vans (Including a refrigerated Mercedes Sprinter) to Mini buses, Various Tractors big and small, new and old, to telehandlers and diggers and a lot more in between. However my car ownership will probably leave a lot to be desired to most of you and is hardly head turning, but each car was paid for out right and usually served its purpose whilst I still had to be realistic and go for something practical with low running costs.
Car 1 – 1988 Ford Escort 1.3 in Silver.
Affectionately known as ‘Brucie’ as this was the 1.3 Bonus edition, the car used to be owned by my Gran. After she passed away, my brother used it for college, whilst I still got the bus and used my mum’s car on occasions when I needed. However on changing my Job I was given the car. It had dreadful white hub caps which I quickly replaced, a four speed gearbox which screamed at you if you ever went over 60mph whilst the bonnet would start to lift as if it was trying to act as an air brake to slow you down, and a radio which I swapped with a Blaupunkt CD player. However it was well looked after and despite only being a three door version, there was loads of room not only in the front but also in the back for passengers and the boot. The seats were pretty comfortable too. I had this car for about a year and I never really had many problems with it. It shrugged of most bumps and scrapes and parts were easy to come by. I found this out after hitting a pigeon at 60mph which smashed the indicator casing then flipping up and smashing the wing mirror glass before disintegrating in a cloud of feathers. It only cost a couple of quid to repair both and were easy to do myself. I eventually sold it for £350 to an Irishman so I could get something better for my early starts at work on cold winter mornings.
Car 2 – 1996 Ford Fiesta Encore 1.3 in Red
When I say get something better, I meant better than the Escort. Again this was nothing flashy but cost me quite a bit. Not only for the car but I was still young then so it was also very expensive on the insurance. It had a 5 speed gearbox which I thought was the bees knees. I had just about recovered from Brucie Screaming at me every time I drove him down the A12. Being the Encore Version meant it was the bog standard entry level version which meant the only luxury it came with, besides the four wheels and the engine was a driver’s airbag. No central locking, manual windows, not body coloured bumpers, and not even a radio. I did change take the CD player out of Brucie before selling him so that went straight into the Fiesta. Although the car was nothing special it was pleased with it. I had it for a few years which included a couple of years when I worked at the Oxfordshire golf club, so it often had to get back to the homeland of Essex every other weekend and it did pretty well. It was hardly ground breaking performance, but with me behind the wheel it could hold it’s own against other boy racers. It did cause me a few problems at times and I had spent a lot on it getting it repaired or fixed during the time I had it, including the ford dealer incident when they charged me a fortune to fit a new door lock barrel which I eventually found out they didn’t. But that’s another story.
I still had the Fiesta when I move back home and started a new job in Colchester. It was on the daily rush hour commute that the Fiesta saw its demise. Two days after spending £300 pounds on new tyres and brakes to get it through its MOT I wrote her off on a cold Monday morning. I had hit another car at low speed at a roundabout. As I was starting to accelerate onto the roundabout looking to my right as it was clear, the Peugeot 306 in front had other Ideas and was still stationary. I hit it with enough force to crumple the front of mine, but not enough speed to deploy the airbag. The Peugeot suffered only a broken number plate and a cracked bumper. Either it was built like a tank, or as I had expected, the front of my Fiesta was built of cardboard.
Car 3 – 1998 Renault Clio 1.4 16v RT in Red
I was given a good price from the Insurance company for my Fiesta, but It did feel like I had wasted the £300 on the MOT. However I used the money towards my next car, A Renault Clio. I really liked this car a lot. It had matching coloured bumpers, remote locking, electric windows, electric sunroof and power steering. It was a superb car to drive. Really fun, quick and handled well. I had a great time driving this and after fitting a full set of V grooved BFGoodrich tyres on it, the Clio stuck to the road like glue. Until an incident on an icy Sunday morning.
I had driven to work very early to do a few hours. The road wasn’t too bad on the way in to work, the way to work was on smaller B roads and country lanes that never got gritted in the winter. However unbeknown to me, the roads have got worse during the time I was at work and on the way back I took a slight left hander too fast and lost the back end. On full opposite lock to try and control the slide the patch of ice stopped and the front tyres gripped the tarmac instantly flicking me round into the opposite direction. I was heading for the slight bank and the ditch behind it on the right had side of the road and I just had to hold on and expect the worst. It didn’t quite happen how I had anticipated. The bank had launched me into the air and I had cleared the ditched in a way the General Lee would have been proud of. However upon landing in the field the Clio spun round 180 and ended up heading back towards the ditch I had just leapt. We came to a halt facing the road nose first in the ditch. I was stuck. I called my brother and with a push from him, the car got out and was miraculously in not too bad a state. I few cracks and scuffs to the front bumper but it was still intact and the car drove fine.
I had the car for a few months longer, but by that time my photography business was picking up and I was being asked to cover more and more equestrian events. I printed on site at these events and I had a lot of equipment to transport and the space in the Clio just didn’t cut it. It was sad to let her go as she was great fun and I will always remember her fondly.
Car 4 – 2003 Vauxhall Astra Estate 1.6 in Blue
I part exchanged the Clio in February 2008 for the Astra. It was never going to turn heads or pull the ladies but it suited what I ultimately needed. It was on a 52 plate but registered in 2003 and had low mileage. It was in really good condition and it was comfortable to drive. Performance wasn’t earth shattering but with petrol prices on the rise I had to be realistic and consider the running costs. There is a lot of stigma attached to drivers of Estate cars and I was well aware of that, but making money from my photography was more important and I needed a car like this to do so. As it turned out this was the most reliable of all of the cars I had owned. Until I replaced it very recently it had never had a problem, never failed and MOT or ever let me down in four years. I was happy with it and had become very attached to her. I had done over 60k miles in her, which included numerous trips to the Yorkshire Dales, and a few journeys to Le Mans, in which the space she had came in very useful, always taking it in her stride. As a petrol head I was always going to long for something fast and sporty but I couldn’t afford something like that and the running costs that came with it. The Astra suited me fine. It wasn’t filled with extras, but it had remote locking, electric windows, air conditioning and a CD player with steering wheel controls. She was also handy for the occasional time I’ve needed somewhere to bed down for the night. With the rear seats folded completely flat I could lie down almost fully stretched out. It was only recently that issues started to arise in which I spoke about in my previous blog post so it was time to move on to my fifth car.
Car 5 – 2008 Vauxhall Vectra 1.8 16v SRi in Lightning silver
I wasn’t intending on getting something like the Vectra. I had resigned myself to another estate for practical reasons. However the size of the boot in the Vectra had changed my mind and I opted to buy one. The Sri version is one of the top of range models and the sportiest of them all. With 17 inch alloy wheels, sports trim, sports seats and nice extra’s like cruise control and rain sensitive windscreen and wipers it was without doubt the best car I’ve ever owned. It looks nice, is comfortable and drives well. The onboard computer is also nice to have, telling me all sorts of info such as current MPG, Average speed, range etc and appeals to the geek in me whilst I try and get the best fuel economy. (Although it won’t always happen as I am partial to using my heavy right foot on occasions too). The numerous seat and steering column adjustments, mean it’s easy to get comfortable and the adjustable centre armrest is great for my somewhat arrogant/boy racer driving style of one hand of the gear stick and one on the top of the steering wheel. The variety of storage compartments are great and there are some good features for passengers too. As I’ve only had the car a few days I can’t talk about reliability, but buying from Vauxhall meant it has a year’s warranty as standard and a good service plan in place. If it is as reliable as my Astra was I will be very happy.
So this completes my somewhat dubious car history. It will probably have made you feel a lot better about you own cars. However I’d really like you all to get involved and let me know about your car histories. Leave a comment and tell me about what you’ve owned. What were your best ones and your worst ones along with any funny or interesting stories you have. It would be nice for me and others to read and share and it would be great to feature some on this blog in the coming weeks and months. So please get involved. I’d love to hear from you.