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.
As I returned turned home yesterday I was greeted by a huge parcel waiting for me. As I had not been waiting for anything and hadn’t ordered anything, especially of this size, recently I was somewhat confused by it. On inspection it appeared to have come from Germany. I still hadn’t twigged what it was until I saw the senders name. A sudden rush of excitement filled me as hurriedly but carefully opened the huge box. I wasn’t quite prepared for what was inside.
Carefully wrapped and packaged inside was two large 3ft by 2ft framed and mounted prints. No ordinary prints though. One was of an Audi R8 GT3 and the other of a Mercedes SLS GT3. What’s more was that these prints were of paintings by the incredibly talented German motorsport artist Steffen Imhof and were based on two of my photos I had taken at last year’s Nurburgring 24 hour race.
They both looked stunning. I was overwhelmed by Steffen’s generosity as he had agreed to send me copies of the finished artwork but I wasn’t expecting anything quite like this. He had even enclosed a copy of the huge Mahle racing wall calendar which featured twelve amazing motorsport paintings Steffen had created, including the two that were now sitting in front of me in their magnificent brushed aluminium frames. It was safe to say I was very proud and delighted with them. It is an incredible feeling to have had a photo I have taken turned into a spectacular piece of art such as this.
This isn’t the first time it has happened though. Some of you who read this bloke may have read about the amazing Toyota Avensis artwork the Ian Cook, aka Pop Bang Colour, created which was based on my photo of Frank Wrathall. I’ve spoken to people who saw it being created and some of you may even have a copy. It is a very special feeling indeed. So these three beautiful pieces of art will be taking pride of place on the wall where everyone can see. Even my mum, who has no real interest in cars and motorsport loves them, telling me ‘I wouldn’t want a big photo of yours on the wall but these look fantastic and will look really good on the wall.’ You, can always rely on my Mum to speak her mind, no matter how brutally honest she is. But this was a huge compliment to Steffen and Ian’s work. Not so much on mine though.
The sense of satisfaction I have had from seeing all three of these works of art in incredible and to actually have them to display on my wall too is a great feeling. As someone who loves art, visiting galleries and had great respect for real talent such as that shown by Steffen and Ian, this is something quite special. I can’t wait to show my friends and family.
So on that note, if there are any artists out there who may be interested in turning any of my photos into paintings, drawings or art work, then feel free to get in touch. For the rest of you, I strongly suggest you go and check out both Steffen Imhof’s AutomobilArt website and Ian Cook’s Pop Bang Colour website to check out their stunning work. You could do a lot worse than part with some money in exchange for having their artwork on your wall. Especially if you are a car and motorsport fan.
The arrival of March means one thing to Motor Racing fans. The new season is upon us after the long winter break. The first round of the Formula One season gets underway this coming weekend along with the Sebring 12hours and some club events have already taken to the track.
For me, the start of the new season got underway last Thursday at the British GT & F3 media launch. The event took on a different format from the usual media days with it being held in central London during the evening. It was great event and a good chance to catch up with friends and acquaintances from the media, teams and circuits. Some of whom I hadn’t seen since last season.
Outside the venue were not only a London Taxi and Double Decker bus looking resplendent in British GT & F3 Liveries and advertisements, but also two of the cars set to take to the GT grid this year. One of United Autosport’s McLaren MP4-12C’s along with Barwell Motorsports Aston Martin Vantage that this year will be raced by series new boys, Richard Abra and Mark Poole who took last year’s Britcar 24hour title. The cars were certainly getting plenty of attention and rightly so. The Streets of South Kensington and Knightsbridge are often adorned with flash cars such as Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Bentleys as the capital’s elite cruise around in luxury. Those who saw the documentary a few months ago on TV about London’s supercar culture will testify to that. But who has ever seen two fully race prepared GT3 racing beasts parked up on the side of the road in the capital city? Even the guy in a Mercedes CLK who tried to turn heads by revving and roaring past failed miserably as gazes were fixed on the two show stoppers.
Passers by stopped to take photos with iPhones and many posed to have their photo taken beside the powerful monsters. Some even just stood, watched and stared for ages in awe. Traffic almost came to a standstill as people slowed to see the reason for flash guns going off and catch a glimpse of the race car. Bus and taxi drivers, even motorcycle couriers slowed to have look. But for me, the woman in a beat up Fiesta who drove past at a snail’s pace while her young son in the back seat, hands and nose pressed up against the window as he stared open mouthed at the Aston Martin and McLaren just underlined what motorsport was really about and the effect it has on people.
Inside, the presentations were underway and despite only four races on the F3 calendar, it seemed a necessary step to save the series from disappearing altogether and signs for next year are looking positive so a step back should hopefully mean at least two forward next season.
As for the season ahead for the British GT, things are going from strength to strength. New and established teams are joining this season to add to the already impressive field of cars. The likes of AF Corse and Vita4one Team Italy along with new teams from Blendini Moto & Nigeria Racing Eagle will be some of the new runners among the packed grid. Many teams are now running more cars and the likes of Fortec, who are well known for running single seaters are stepping into the fray with possibly a pair of Mercedes SLS’s. Toyota have joined the GT4 ranks with a GT86 and M-Sport, the team who ran the Ford WRC package have joined in the fun and will initially run an Audi R8 LMS Ultra with the intention of taking on the new Bentley Continental GT3 when it is ready later in the season.
Well over 30 cars look set to take to the grid at Oulton Park over Easter weekend with more set to join throughout the season. Throw in a European Round at Zandvoort which British GT will have main billing for and better TV coverage including Two rounds shown live on Motors TV, it is clear the British GT is really going places so it’s best you all make even more of an effort to head out and see this series in action at your nearest Circuit because you won’t be disappointed.
I’d like to thank Benjamin, Lauren and James at SRO along with everyone else who helped put on a great evening and I really cannot wait for Easter weekend at Oulton Park when the season Kicks off. It is going to be awesome.
With two weekends away from the track, I have been at somewhat of a loose end. Thankfully the British Grand Prix and the GT1 & GT3 championships have kept me motorsport withdrawal symptoms at bay, but it has been a good time to get a few things sorted out before what will be a manic six weeks or so.
I had decided it best get my Telephoto lens serviced during my ‘break’ as I was beginning to experience a few niggly issues with it. I have had it a few years and it has taken a lot of abuse in that time and served me well, but it was beginning to struggle to focus on the shorter focal lengths and I had some intermittent problems with over exposure. So despite the cost, I bit the bullet and sent it off for a service to get the issues dealt with. There isn’t ever really a good time to fork out a lot of money but it needed to be done. Probably one of the many expenses incurred that a client or customer doesn’t really think about when enquiring about and sometimes questioning a photographers prices but I won’t go it to that now.
Having been told the initial service turnaround time was 2-3 weeks, I was surprised to have a phone call just 4 working days after dropping off the lens at Sigma telling me it was ready to be sent back. I was pretty pleased as I was worried there was a chance I would be without the lens this coming weekend at Brand Hatch. The issues seem to be resolved now so I look forward to having it working fully ahead of my impending busy schedule.
As well as getting the lens serviced I used this down time to re-design and update my website. It had been neglected somewhat so was due a spring clean and a sort out. My design and website building skills are somewhat limited but I seem to have managed ok and I’m relatively pleased with how it is looking. I am never fully satisfied but considering my ability with this kind of thing, the end result isn’t too shabby and initial reactions seem positive. I have added a few new pages and features and now images from the motorsport events I cover over the year can be purchased as prints and a calendar will keep you updated on which races I have been at and will be attending this year. So feel free to check out the site www.chrisgurtonphotography.com
Towards the end of the month I have a couple of Equestrian events I will be covering. So it has been a good time to get things sorted out for this too. As I print images onsite at these events it was time to order in paper, mounts and the dreaded ink! This is a huge outlay for me and although I should more than recoup the costs after the event it is never a good feeling making a bulk order when initial funds aren’t overly healthy. I always print on high quality paper and use the original best quality Canon Inks that go with my printer. I never use the cheap refill type inks as my Dad ruined a printer of his using cheap alternative inks despite my warnings. I believe in the best quality for my customers despite the extra costs to myself. I will never know for sure but apparently the chromalife ink I use is guaranteed for 100 years. I guess that can’t be bad and I know my prices are very competitive. I’m looking forward to the equestrian events and I really hope the weather is favourable.
So on to this weekend and I will be at Brands Hatch on the GP loop again where the Britcar Endurance series is supporting the International GT Open and F2 championships. There is a full programme for the weekend and I am really looking forward to it. The following weekend is one of the great highlights of my year. The Silverstone Classic. The biggest race weekend of the year with over one thousand classic race car entries and a few thousand more classic cars on display. It’s well worth a visit, especially for the Group C Dusk race on Saturday evening.
The two three day equestrian events then follow before we head into August and three back to weekends at Snetterton. I don’t think I will have time for my Birthday in the middle of that but it should all be good fun.
Finally, I’m giving away a few A4 prints to my Twitter followers this week and to those who like my Facebook page. Follow the links on the right of this blog to my Twitter and Facebook pages to find out more and you could get a free print for yourself.
The Easter weekend saw the return of the GT’s. Not just the British GT Championships at Oulton Park, but also the World FIA GT1 championship and the European GT3 series at Nogaro in France.
Unfortunately, do to work commitments, I couldn’t be at Oulton Park for found one of the British GT Championship. Although I was somewhat glad I wasn’t standing out in the dreadful weather they were experiencing, I was bitterly disappointed to be missing out on some great racing. New teams and cars have improved the field even more from last year, with BMW and Nissan joining the manufacturers and rather being there to see them in action, I was glued to the online timing screen, a race ticker and twitter to keep up to date on what was happening during both one hour races.
It was the United Autosports Audi of Matt Bell and Charles Bateman who took pole for the first race. They were to lead for all but one of the 32 laps. Unfortunately, the lap they didn’t lead for was the final one. The Audi had ran out of fuel on the last lap and coasted to a stop, gifting the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 of Alasdair McCaig and Oliver Bryant victory in their maiden British GT race. Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen’s took second in their Ferrari 458 ahead of another Ferrari, that of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin. GT4 Honours went the way of the impressive pairing of Warren Hughes and Jody Fannin in their Ginetta G50. At one point in this race, the top six was represented by six different manufacturers, show what a diverse field the series now boasts.
Experienced GT racer Richard Westbrook will partner current champion David Ashburn for as many British GT Races as his busy schedule will allow this season, and this was the pairing that were to start on pole position for Trackspeed in the Porsche 997. The pair also went on to take a flawless victory in the days second race ahead of Griffin and Cameron who performed well in the adverse weather conditions. Third place went the way of British GT New boys Jon Minshaw and Tim Harvey. It was Hughes and Fannin on the top step in the GT4 class, ahead of the Lotus pairing of Phil Glew and Sailesh Bolisetti. An honourable mention must be made to Zoe Wenham. This was her first BGT race weekend and a mature drive in race two saw the 17 year old take third place in GT4 along with Mike Simpson.
Round two of the Championship see’s a trip to the Nurburgring in support of the 24hour race. My media application has been sent so hopefully I will be in attendance to see them battle it out on the iconic German Circuit.
Whilst the Brits were experiencing miserable weather in Cheshire, the FIA GT1’s were fairing slightly better in rural France at Nogaro. Victory in both the wet Sunday race and the dry Monday race, went to the Belgium WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor. It was a good weekend for the team as their second car of Frank Stippler and Oliver Jarvis took both second places as well completing a perfect start to the season.
The GT3 race was to feature ex British GT driver (and karting buddy) Michael Lyons who has made the step up to join Stefano Gai in the AF Corse Ferrari 458. Race one victory went to the Audi R8 LMS of Marc Sourd and Gregory Guilvert, but disqualification for Lamborghini pair Filip Sladecka and Gerhard Tweraser for ignoring a drive through penalty saw Lyons and Gai promoted to second place after taking the chequered flag in third behind them. Race two saw Maximilian Buhk and Dominik Baumann in the Mecedes-Benz SLS AMG victorious, but Lyons crossed the white line on pit exit after taking over from Gai and was handed a drive through penalty.
Hopes of a solid finish looked diminished for the young Brit, but an incredible drive saw Lyons haul the Ferrari into third place and a battle for second place with the other AF Corse Ferrari during the closing laps. It was just a little too much as Gaetano Ardagna Perez defended his position desperately to keep Michael behind, leaving him to settle for third and not break team rule number 1: Do not take out your team mate.
It was a superb debut for Michael and with two podiums finishes, takes a healthy points haul to the next round. Thankfully both the GT1 and GT3 races were streamed live on the internet so I was able to watch the superb GT racing. Some consolation for not being at Oulton Park.