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.
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………..
Last weekend I was photographing the Britcar into the night race, my last circuit race of the season. I have one more motorsport event to cover with a trip to Rockingham for the Rockingham Stages Rally. I’m clinging on to dear life to the remainder of the season but I have to accept defeat and let it go soon. I’m left with the frightening prospect of not having much to do at weekends until it all starts again next year.
The Into the night race was at Brands Hatch and was a three hour endurance race starting in the daylight at 3.30pm and finishing in the dark at 6.30. I really enjoy covering the Britcar races and it’s great to shoot at night too and get some cool light trail photos. This event also featured the first Britcar Production Cup race which will hold a full season next year. The idea is to produce great racing for production cars, with a one and a half hour race and qualifying session in one day and low entry fee’s this is aimed at encouraging those on a budget into endurance type racing.
I was really pleased to see such a great turn out from spectators at this event. Having been covering a number of race weekends this year, with the exception of the BTCC, I have always been disappointed with the seemingly poor spectator numbers. With tickets far cheaper than a premier league football match for a whole weekends worth of entertainment and children’s entry for free I don’t see why more people don’t come along to motorsport events. There is always great action whether it is the British GT or smaller club events. I guess the Into the night format appeals to many with the feel of a 24hr race in just one afternoon. It was good to see Britcar supported well and with an exciting calendar lined up for next year, I hope many more people will come along and see the race series next year.
The title was almost sown up before the race with the Dodge Viper of Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins just needing to start the race to claim the Championship, which they did before mechanical trouble struck. The Barwell Motorsport team had entered the new look Ginetta G55 GT3 and promptly put it on pole only to suffer a driveshaft failure at the start of the formation laps. Another disappointment came in the form of the Honda NSX. A great car which suffered at Donington earlier this year and has not been entered since so it was great to see it back at Brands Hatch even if it was only for the practice and qualify sessions in which it went well before falling Victim of mechanical trouble and being forced to withdraw from the race. The full race reports from the Endurance and Production categories can be found on The Checkered Flag website here, and a few more images can be seen here.
So with only one more event to cover, I look back on what has been a great season of motorsport. I now have a chance to spend some time working on other projects of which I’m sure I will keep you up to date with. In the meantime I am pleased to tell you that some of my images are available on my website in print form which you can find them here. A selection of BTCC, British GT, Blancpain Endurance and Classic/Historic racing images can be purchased and until the 6th of December you can get 20% off orders using the code Discount20.