With some big racing event going on over the weekend such as the Formula 1 in Valencia, the British Touring Cars at Croft and the British GT and F3 Championship at Brands Hatch, it was a good weekend for motorsport fans. However, my attention was bought to something that was not only disturbing, but concerned me greatly and made me question the mentality of some so called motorsport fans.
Whilst in the media room at Brands Hatch during some down time between races, I switched on the live streaming on the internet of the first BTCC race of the day at Croft. As I had the race on my laptop, my colleague had his laptop on running his live twitter feed. He, like me obviously follows a lot of racing fans on his twitter account so the feed was full of racing related tweets either about the F1 or the BTCC.
As the BTCC race got underway, there was a big collision on the start straight between a few cars causing terminal damage to at least two. Just after this, two tweets on the twitter feed to my right caught my attention. I was shocked and appalled. Both were very similar in content, and whist I can’t remember the exact wording of them, they went along the lines of ‘Wow, what a big accident. This is why I love BTCC and this is why it is the best racing series.’
Really? Is this some kind of joke? Do people really want to see big accidents in motorsport? Are these accidents what constitutes as a good racing series? More importantly, with this kind of mentality, can you really call yourself a motorsport fan?
Whilst I appreciate the close racing and contact nature of the BTCC can make it exciting to fans but do the fans want to see huge accidents that put people in danger? Yes, we all know motorsport can be dangerous but baying for accidents is just moronic. There have been a number of high profile deaths within motorsport recently and this is something surely no one wants to see, so to have fans wanting and getting excited by accidents is deeply disturbing. Thankfully the majority of drivers do walk away from big impacts unscathed, but not everyone is that lucky. My last blog touched on the fact that the mainstream media only reported on Le Mans due to Anthony Davidson’s huge crash in which he suffered some potentially career threatening injuries. But maybe the media realise that this is what people want to hear about. I sincerely hope this is not the case.
I’m pretty sure that If I went for a day out with a friend or family member and before leaving I turned and said to them ‘I really hope we have a big accident on the way, it would really make things more exciting’ they would think twice about getting in a car with me and would probably try to get me sectioned under the mental health act. So is it really acceptable to have this mentality when it comes to not only motorsport but any kind of sport?
Racing doesn’t need to have accidents to make it exciting. The British GT race at Brands Hatch proves this and I will be writing about that later in the week. So if you are one of these people who disagrees with this, then may I suggest you take a good look at yourself and stop calling yourself a motorsport fan. Failing that, put down the moonshine and look for another interest. I hear skydiving without a parachute is pretty exhilarating.
During last weekend, one of the world’s greatest sporting events took place. However, many people didn’t even realise that this great event was even taking place. Why? Well because whilst the media were so busy boring everyone to death with excessive coverage of 22 men and one ball, the fact that over 150 men with two balls, made of steel, had descended on a small town in France to take part in a real challenge of attrition had been over looked.
I am of course talking about the 80th running of the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race. One of, if not, the greatest motor race in the world. I had hoped to be writing about the amazing race. The return of Toyota and the promise they had shown. The future of the sport with the running of the Nissan Deltawing. Race safety following Anthony Davidsons huge crash. The great battles throughout the strong field and the winners and losers in each category alongside the fact that I genuinely believe that Andre Lotterer could claim Tom Kristensen’s crown as ‘Mr Le Mans’.
Unfortunately one thing really got to me over the weekend and the following few days which I have turned my attention to as it is a subject I feel quite strongly.
The coverage Le Mans got within the British Media was minimal. Many motorsport fans will know there are many websites out there that provide motorsport news as well as magazines like Autosport and Motorsport News are easily accessible. Also, Eurosport need to be applauded for their full coverage throughout the 24 hours, despite the constant advert breaks. However, not everyone has access to sky, including me. I only managed to see what I could by subscribing online. But what about reaching the wider audience? I saw nothing about the race on the BBC News. I was at work over the weekend and whilst there I listen to radio 5 live all morning. They have a half hour slot at 5.30am-6am for a sports round up. There was not mention of the race that was going to take place on Saturday morning and only a brief mention on Sunday morning, which was probably only down to the Anthony Davidson accident. They mention his incident quickly before saying British driver Allan McNish was currently leading the race. At that point, Allan McNish was not leading the race, his number two Audi was actually a lap down on the leading Audi.
I checked the Sunday Times sport supplement. Quite a few pages full of sport. Not a single mention about Le Mans. Nothing. The Monday papers weren’t much better either and if it wasn’t for the huge Davidson crash, then I’m pretty sure there would have been no mention of the race at all. Is this an example of what the public really want to read about? A few paragraphs about a huge accident and one sentence on the winner?
Unfortunately, the refusal of the mainstream media to acknowledge the existence of Motorsport outside of Formula One and Moto GP is having an adverse effect on the sport at all levels. I say Moto GP, because despite what someone told me on twitter, the race at Silverstone over the weekend did actually get a lot of coverage. There was even a section on my local news, Look East, about the upcoming race and again on the Monday after. Over the weekend there was a lot of talk and coverage of the race on 5 live and again, on BBC Radio one, it was mentioned in every half hourly sports bulletin on Monday morning. I am of course not complaining about this. It is of course a good thing, but a quarter of a million fans were at Le Mans and it is deemed not news worthy? Give me a break!
I am a great believer in supporting motorsport from club level upwards and in tough economic times any support is of great benefit. I also believe that the mainstream media have a role to play in this too. The reasons most sports are widely supported is the coverage they get. Football gets a huge amount of coverage on the TV, in the News, the papers and on the radio. This coverage gets people interested, excited and pumped up about the sport. The current European championships is a prime example. The papers are plastered with front page news of the England team and the news coverage is encouraging people to back their country and be proud. The Olympics will of course be the same and so will Wimbledon. Seeing these sports on TV and in the news gets people interested and wanting to see more or get involved.
Football fans seem to have no real issue with forking out three figure sums to see their team play for 90 minutes, but do many Formula one fans who know that the price of tickets to see it live realise they could go and see some of the sports stars of the future for a fraction of the cost for a weekends ticket at your nearest circuit.
ITV have done a great job with their BTCC coverage and since they took over the TV rights, crowds at the circuits have steadily grown and it is being well supported. It shows that the coverage gets people through the gates. But what about other British Race series? The British GT and F3 championships are both top race events with the latter a proving ground for Formula One with many current F1 drivers having raced in the F3 series. Both the GT & F3 get a 25 minute highlights programme at 7am on Saturday mornings on channel 4, but is this really that great? Most people are still in bed then. Below these race series, coverage is pretty much non-existent. Unless you have Sky of course which not everyone else. Motors TV do a great job of covering club events but this channel alone probably isn’t enough for those who don’t have sky to fork out for a full sports package just to get access to it.
We all hear about drivers struggling to scrape together funding and sponsorship, but who is going to sponsor something that just doesn’t get any coverage? It’s a vicious circle. To get the coverage it needs the fans. To get the fans, it needs the coverage. Online media can only do so much. The national media need to step up to the plate. Apparently the BBC have a rally correspondent. How much rally news do you get on the BBC? I also heard they had a reporter at Le Mans. What was his Job? Did he do anything apart from stock up with booze at Calais?
There was a time when the BBC had a lot of Motorsport coverage at weekends including F1, BTCC, Superbikes, Rally, Motocross, Rallycross, Isle of Man TT, Sportscars, Trails and even Hillclimb. What do they have now? Moto GP and F1. They can’t even provide a full season of Live F1 anymore and it looks likely that when their contract runs out they will lose all live F1 coverage all together. So why don’t they start to show a bit of live motorsport from other British race series? The British F3 and GT’s would be a great start. Quality Championships featuring great drivers and stars of the future battling it out in awesome cars. Or how about a couple of Le Mans Highlight shows? Is that even too much to ask? The newspapers need to pull their fingers out too. How about cutting back slightly on the football overkill and dedication just one page to non F1 motorsport? And by that I don’t mean just writing about big crashes!
There are so many motorsport fans crying out for more coverage and so many more still to be reached. There are millions of motorsports fans throughout the world. They just don’t know it yet.
For extensive news and coverage of the Le Mans 24hr race, check out The Checkered Flag Website.
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……
As I sit and write this, it seems hard to believe that a week has passed since my amazing first experience of the Nurburgring 24hr race on the infamous Nordschleife circuit. I feel very lucky to have been there shooting the race and taking in the whole incredible atmosphere. There seems to be a lot to write about so I think it would be best to split it into two parts to help ease boredom so the first part will be about the Thursday with the remaining parts over the next few days. I hope you enjoy them.
After arriving on Wednesday, mooching about and getting settled in for the next few days, Thursday was the day that all the action would start. We were staying about 25 minutes from the circuit so it wasn’t too bad travelling between the hotel and circuit each day. The first action of the day was the two British GT practice sessions. The British GT was to be run on the Grand Prix track and not out onto the Nordschleife so I spent the morning wandering the circuit finding good places to shoot from for the races during the next couple of days. Even the Grand Prix circuit was pretty amazing. I never really knew how far downhill the track dropped to the hairpin at the bottom before the cars started the climb back up. Standing on the hill overlooking the Schumacher Esses and the Hairpin below was a pretty awesome sight.
The two hours practice session seemed to fly by and I was enjoying myself in the sun, a total contrast to the poor weather the day before. The cars looked fantastic and a few new additions to the British GT line up for this round such as the Lamborghini and another Audi R8 boosted the field to make it even more impressive. I headed back up the hill at the end of the session to make my way back to the media centre. The Classic cars were making their way out on track for their qualifying session so I paused briefly to admire them. I didn’t stay out to photograph this session. Today was going to be a long day and I had lots to do which meant missing some sessions, but I knew we were going to photograph the Classic race on Friday so It wasn’t an issue.
Back at the media centre we planned out the rest of the day. There was to be a Practice session for the 24hr race early afternoon before the British GT qualifying followed by the first Qualifying session for the 24hr in the evening going on until 11.30pm. We had decided to stay around the Grand Prix track for the day before heading out to the Nordschleife for the evening qualifying session. The media room was impressive. It was huge with good facilities. Drinks dispensers for an unlimited supply of soft drinks and hot drinks plus bowls of fruit and chocolate. Not only that but food for lunch and dinner was also supplied. Everyone there was helpful and friendly. The atmosphere was great and I’d settled in well.
For the 24hr practice session I decided to head down to the pits and shoot from there. I will be the first to admit my pit lane photos are not my strongest point and I was weary of the commotion and hive of activity down there. After all, 170 cars running from one pit lane meant it was going to be busy. Add to that the amount of people who had pit lane and VIP passes and the words Bun and Fight spring to mind. Once the session got underway though I had settled in and was enjoying myself. It was busy in the pit lane throughout the session and the iconic pitlane siren seemed to be going off continuously as cars constantly headed down the pitlane. I still look both ways when crossing between the garages and the pit wall despite knowing cars only come from one direction. I’ve never been able to shake that habit but I guess it’s not a bad one to have.
The variety of cars on display was amazing. Everything from front Running Audi R8’s, Porsche 997’s & Mercedes SLS’ through to VW Scirocco’s, a huge variety of BMW’s, MKIII Golf’s, Astra’s, even a Ford Fiesta and not to mention the Fans favourite and obligatory Opel Manta. The noise, the smells, the sight they provided was just brilliant. It was not long though before the session drew to a close and I was back at my laptop in the media room pouring over the photos I had just take.
I spent the British GT qualifying session down in the pit lane too. Although nowhere near as manic as the earlier session I was there for, it was still pretty good to be amongst the teams and drivers as they set about getting solid lap times for the two races. Jan Mardenborough in the RJN Playstation Academy Nissan GT-R proved his ability behind the wheel of the awesome looking machine by setting the fastest time in Q1 and clinching pole position for the first race. The quickest time in Q2 and pole for race two went to Nick Tandy in the Motorbase Porsche.
We had stayed near the media room during this session as we were going to head out for the first of the 24hr qualifying sessions soon after. We jumped into the car and headed out having decided to shoot from Pflanzgarten. This was to be my first taste of action on the Nordschleife. I was pretty excited but tried not to show it. We parked up and walked to the outside of the corner at the bottom of the hill. The place was packed. There were hundreds of, probably more, fans lining the catch fencing. Bonfires were lit, Barbeques were cooking and scaffolding towers and viewing platforms had been erected by them to get a better view. Music was blaring, Lady Ga-Ga was drowning out the German commentary over the tannoy system.
I got the occasional call from drunken fans, ‘Hallo Photographer!’ followed by a cheer as I turned and put my thumb up. Quite a bizarre experience. You don’t get that at Snetterton! The place was buzzing. It seemed to be more like a popular music festival than a race track. I had never seen anything like it. Even British GT Drivers Aaron Scott and John Dhillon were walking past to try and take up a vantage point for the spectacle that was about to happen.
Pretty soon engine noises could be heard. Through the trees it was echoing. Getting louder and louder. Then, cheers erupted as the first car burst over the top of the hill and dropped down towards us followed by a cascade of others chasing behind. All snaking through the narrow section leaping the crest before baring right and off up the hill and back amongst the trees. I wasn’t sure whether to take photos or stand and stare in awe of what I was witnessing. I could see why the crazy fans were so dedicated. I have witness some pretty amazing stuff in my time, but this was the pinnacle. Cars were blasting through this tight section at breakneck speed with what seemed consummate ease. No run off areas and armco barriers tightly lining the track. Even the fastest cars were passing the slower ones through this section and barely lifting off the power in the process. How was that even possible? I was in my element and just a few feet from the action. The fans weren’t much further away either.
As the evening passed and the darkness descended, the music got loader, the Barbeques continued to fill the air with aroma’s of cooked meat, the bonfire’s threw out more heat and the fans got louder as the beer flowed. Cars still roared past and I was still grinning like a Cheshire cat. Had I died and gone to heaven? Was heaven even this good?
It became dark so we headed back. There was time to do some night photography in the pitlane before the session finished. It was still pretty manic down there. Teams and mechanics jostled with photographers and VIP’s with camera phones as they tried to make space for their car’s that were about to come in. Before today I had worried a bit about being in such a busy area. I didn’t want to get in the way, trip over something or knock stuff over, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Yes it was busy but the teams and mechanics seemed ok with the amount of people about as long as someone didn’t do anything completely stupid. I made sure that wasn’t going to be me.
The session was drawing to an end, the cars were coming back to the pits and my first day shooting at the Nurburgring was complete. The experience was awesome and I couldn’t wait to get back out there. Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait.
This next post is a guest blog from my friend James. I havent had a chance to sit and write about my experience at the Nurburgring yet as i’m still sorting through all the photos. So here, James describes his first Nodschleife experience. Enjoy.
I find a spot at the fence that doesn’t involve getting too intimate with some strangers and start to take it in.
I have made it to endurance racing Nirvana (well, one of them).
Beyond the chainlink fence I am now leaning on, lies the Nordschleife ready to watch one of the practice sessions for the Nurburgring 24 Hours.
You can watch videos, play Gran Turismo, read stories or whatever, but nothing prepares you for actually seeing the track for the first time. Firstly it’s impossibly narrow and the inclines involved only really perceptible when you see them for yourself. I’m closer to the track than you can get at most British venues – and none of them hold the challenge, the mystique and the reputation of the Nordscheife.
Though it’s still early in the weekend – Thursday night to be exact – the fans in the campsite are already living up to their reputations. On the track a riot of colourful graffiti decorates the tarmac. I have no idea who or what Eiserberg (or something like that) is but I’m about ten foot further down toward the 17km marker that where he is or “woz” according to the white block capitals written across the track.
Fans up and down the fence are clutching tankards, and bottles of beer. My back is warmed by a fire behind me and the smell of the food cooking over it is making me hungry (I have yet to be introduced to the concoction that is Currywurst yet).
Above the following corner fans have constructed viewing gantries from wood and/or scaffolding to give them a view over the catch fencing.
An unseen stereo is blaring out pop music. Lady Ga Ga, The Black Eyed Peas – songs I never thought I’d associate with anything now synonymous with this moment in my head.
Over the music I hear the German commentary, which not speaking a word of German is less than helpful. My German barely extends to a few words – I sort of know the words for thank you, but am less sure of how to pronounce them – “Danker” or “Dunker” – but I can feel the anticipation growing as more and people start to prepare cameras and phones to capture the cars coming into view down the hill.
The first sign – to the non-German speaker – that the cars are on their way is the sight and sound of helicopters following the field through the forests that envelop almost the entire Nordschleife.
Engine noises ebb through the air, a promise of what’s to come yet there is no indication of exactly how close they are as the sounds rattle through the trees. Each time I hear a noise I snap my head left expecting to see the first car bounce into view, but each time there is nothing but empty track.
When the cars actually are on their final approach the noise is unmistakable – to the point I wonder how I could have thought any of the previous noises were anywhere near.
The first car cascades through the left hander that brings them into my view, down the hill, into one compression – and out – into another – and out – then over ‘my’ crest – wheels lifting from the track visibly before the tyres re-adhere to the track in time for the brief braking zone for the following right hander as they disappear from view.
The entire passage from left to right – into and then out of my view – takes only a few seconds, (read brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp-swoosh-jump-brrrrrrrrp and you have idea of the exact time) but after the first batch of cars have gone past I am very conscious of the huge smile I have plastered across my face.
I had no idea of what my expectations from this place were but I’m sure it’s exceeded them.
After a few laps I learn the cars to watch, the cars that pop and bang in the braking zone – the P 4/5 Competizione – the cars that get the most air – the Lexus LFA – and the cars that make for spectacular viewing.
The Audi TT RSs have a habit of sparking from their diffusers was the land after the jump – the force of braking and gravity combining to push them into the ground as they start climbing again even before they’ve reached the start of the next corner.
In front of me the track is becoming smeared and smudged. Hot tyres – I presume – picking up the white paint of the graffiti then laying it down over the next few revolutions. Marbles appear – again I presume – where tyres lose contact with the track but still spinning grope for the track in search of grip.
Smoke from the fires and barbeques drifts past, round and over me and over the track, the smell of food hanging in the air.
It’s an experience I will remember forever. My first view of racing on the Nordschleife. An assault on the senses.
*I was at Pflanzgarten for much, much more than fifteen minutes.