The second part of my review series see’s my Race of the year. I’ve been lucky enough to see some really great races this season but two really stood out for me and it was tough to pick between them, but my final choice was made due to what was at stake and how many teams were involved. I hope you agree with my choice.
It would be obvious of me to pick the British GT race at Brands Hatch and it was difficult not to, but one other race just pips it in terms of build up, excitement, heart break, lead changes and down to wire racing. The British GT season Finale at Donington had it all.
With five driver pairings heading into the final race knowing that a race win would seal championship honours and two more pairings still with a good chance of the title, it was set to be a real ding dong battle.
Yet again, Alex Buncombe did the business with one of his trade mark opening stints to climb from midfield obscurity to race lead in the opening laps. He handed over to team mate Jann Mardenborough with a healthy lead knowing that taking the chequered flag in their current position would crown them champions. Just a couple of laps into his Jann’s stint and disaster struck. Rear suspension failure on the Nissan put paid to all title hopes and it was heartbreak for Jann and the rest of the JRM team. This then but the Championship into the hands of Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron. But the MTech Ferrari had to deal with the Rosso Verdi Ferrari whilst the Ecurie Ecosse BMW was closing in. A safety car period enabled the BMW to close in and an ambitions move from Ollie Bryant in the BMW at the Final hairpin meant contact with Griffin sending him into a spin, down the order and giving the BMW the Championship lead with just a few laps left. However, a drive through penalty for Bryant ended their chance of championship honours and gifting them to the Motorbase Porsche of Parfetti and Caine with the latter just needing to bring the car home safely to take the title which he did.
So what about you? What was your race of 2012? Let us know using the comment section below.
Most of you will know about my love for GT & Endurance racing & in particular my love for the British GT Championship, which this year in particular has proved just how fantastic it is, so it was with mixed emotions as I headed to Donington Park for the final round of the season. Excitement, as the Title would be hotly contested between the seven, yes seven teams still in with a chance of taking the 2012 honours, and Sadness as the exhilarating season was now coming to an end. You just knew the season would end on a high and the weekend didn’t disappoint. Even the FIA GT1 boys rocked up to take part in the weekend’s event to add a little extra excitement to GT fans like myself.
I like Donington Park as a circuit. Its undulating track provides many great photo opportunities and after a disappointing weekend behind the lens at Silverstone the previous weekend, I was determined to make amends and capture a good set of images. What’s more is that the racing was to take place on the full circuit at Donington and despite the numerous visits there I have never shot the full layout so I was hoping to get some new and interesting angles.
Concentrating on just the two GT series over the weekend, I headed out for the GT1 Qualifying session at the start of the day. The noise was just awesome, how I had missed the unrestricted engine noise and the rumble of the Mercedes SLS in particular. Despite only being a 12 car line up, there was still a nice selection of cars on show from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini McLaren and Ford. Exploring the GP loop of the circuit during this session I tried to find a few different angles and I was enjoying this part of the circuit I had never shot before.
The first British GT practice session was used to get photos of the cars for a spotters guide that I was helping with along with the guys from l’endurance & Daily Sportscar much like the one we had produced for the Britcar 24hr. Thankfully the hour session enabled me enough time to get some side on shots of the cars and try and bag something a bit more creative at Redgate corner and further down towards the Craner Curves. The time passed pretty quickly and before long I was uploading the shots I had to my laptop back in the media room so the spotters guide could be completed. It looked pretty good even if I do say so myself and you can see it here.
The second British GT practice session took place before the lunch break so I headed out to the Melbourne Hairpin and the GP loop that I had been at to capture the GT1’s earlier to try and get the British GT cars in similar angles. I even managed to find a few new ones too. A quick break after that session and it was back out for the First of the weekend’s two GT1 races and I decided to shoot from the First corner and work down to the old hairpin by the end of the race. Thankfully the rain stayed away and the racing was good. I had got some photos in the bag that I was happy with.
The final session of the day was the qualifying for the British GT. I usually shoot this session from the pitlane as the cars come in and out frequently and this weekend was no different. However I was to regret this decision. Some friends came back into the media room after the session with photos of the cars with a glorious sunset backdrop. I knew the sun was setting, but didn’t realise just how good it looked behind the main pit buildings. Although I was happy with some of the photos I had got, I wished I had gone out trackside and caught the sunset.
Sunday kicked off with two warm up sessions for both the GT series. I shot these short sessions from the inside of Goddards Hairpin and the approach. Again, an area I hadn’t shot before so It was good to try it out. Even though it was mid morning, you could still capture brake discs glowing on the GT1 cars as they braked hard for the slow hairpin before the pit straight.
The second GT1 race took place that afternoon after the lunch break and I headed out to the far side of the circuit to cover the race from there. A big accident between the Ford GT and one of the BMW halted the race for about 40 minutes whilst repairs to the tyre wall was made and the cars were recovered. The race resumed and I shot from the Coppice and McLeans area of the track. However with about 20 minutes of the race to go, disaster struck. The two Championship contenders, the All-Inkl Mercedes of Marc Basseng and Markus Winklehock collided with the remaining Vita4one BMW of Michael Bartels and Yelmer Buurman on the exit of Regate. The latter impacted with the wall hard enough to dislodge the concrete and the session was red flagged whilst medical crews extracted Buurman from the mangled BMW. Thankfully he OK having been taken to hospital and kept in overnight. I then realised the concreted that had been wiped out was all that was separating the circuit and photographers trackside. It is an area that is popular with photographers and one where I have stood on many occasions. Thankfully no one was there at the time or there could have been a very serious outcome. It is times like this that you realise actually how close to danger you can be and you have to be aware at all times.
As I walked up to Redgate for the start of the final British GT race of the season, I could see the impact zone and the debris. The wall hadn’t been replaced properly and I knew I wouldn’t be standing there for the upcoming race. The pile of debris from the BMW scattered everywhere left a stark reminder of how dangerous motorsport can be, but thankfully the outcome was not as bad as it could well have been.
Putting all that to the back of my mind, it was time to concentrate on the big race. Seven cars in with a chance of Championship glory, five of which knowing all they need to do is win and the title is theirs. Add in the front two cars being non championship points scoring additions to the weekends grid which could put a spanner in the works of the overall outcome and the race was set to be a tasty encounter with the 26 car field represented by 14 different manufacturers.
From the off the gauntlet was laid down. Starting from 14th on the Grid, the Nissan GT-R, one of the 5 cars just needing the win to claim the Championship, with Alex Buncombe at the wheel was on blistering pace and within three laps had taken the lead and was pulling away. With the rest of the field battling away and the other championship contenders fighting to get near the front, Buncombe was stretching out a healthy lead. The other results were starting to look irrelevant as the Nissan was looking unstoppable and the win was all that was needed. At the pit stops Buncombe bought in the Nissan to hand over to Jann Mardenborough, last year’s Playstation GT Academy winner and hugely talented, with a lead of over 12 seconds. But disaster was to strike.
Just a couple of laps after the hand over, the left rear shock absorber on the Nissan broke. That was it. Game over for the Championship aspirations. It was gut wrenching stuff, and despite the RJN team fixing the issue and sending the rapid Welshman back out, they had lost far too much time and were a few laps down on the lead. With Nissan out of contention, this handed the current Championship lead to the MTech Ferrrari of Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron. All it needed was to hang on to current race position of fourth and they would clinch the Title by half a point.
But Allan Simonsen in the Rosso Verde Ferrari was to have a say in matters. A battle between the two ensued with Griffin clinging on to the vital place needed for the championship win and was only halted by the appearance of the safety car a couple of laps later bunching the field up. This meant that another title contender, the Ecurie Ecosse BMW, had closed in and was keen to snatch the honours away.
After the safety car had come back in and the field had bunched up, the BMW was keen to make up places for the points needed for victory. An audacious move from Ollie Bryant in the Ecurie Ecosse car at Goddards saw him dive up the inside from a long way back to try and take the place from the MTech Ferrari. Sadly he came from just too far back and made contact with his rival sending Griffin into a spin causing him to haemorrhage places from the bunched up field and with it the championship hopes had faded. This now meant the BMW was on course for the title with not long left in the race. But the upper hand in the title race was to be a short lived for the Ecurie Ecosse team as a one minute stop go penalty was handed out to them as punishment for the contact with Griffin.
This now meant the fourth change of championship leader in the race and this time the Motorbase Porsche of Michael Caine and Daniele Perfetti was to be the grateful recipient. Despite being fourth place in the race, the top two places were occupied by the two non points scoring cars of Alvaro Parente and Zak Brown in their United Autosports McLaren and the Lamborghini of Peter Kox and Nico Pronk. Third place was the second United Autosports McLaren of Charles Bateman and Matt Bell and although they too were Championship contenders coming into the weekend, they needed others to drop points and with the Caine and Perfetti car behind in Fourth, the points deficit was too much to be overturned. So Michael Caine only needed to bring the car home safely and the Title was theirs.
As the chequered Flag dropped, he had done it. Dave Bartrum and the rest of the Motorbase team were delighted. Probably not one of the favourites to win the title coming into the race despite being a real contender but it had showed just how close this season had been and it had all come down to the very last lap of the last race before the champions were crowned. Add to this the Motorbase Porsche had not won a race this season, the second year in a row that the eventual Champions had not won a race, you can see just how tight the championship battle had been throughout the season and that reliability and consistency are key.
So the British GT season has drawn to an end and what a season it has been. Truly Epic. There won’t be many championships this hotly contested and so close right down to the very last corner. With 15 different manufacturers having taken part and eight different winners from ten races, it is easy to see why this championship is a stand out event in the UK and Europe. Hopefully it will continue to go from strength to strength and be even bigger and better next season if that could be even possible. I for one cannot wait.
A couple of weeks ago, the British Touring Car Championship headed north of the border for its annual trip to Scotland and the Knockhill circuit. Again it was a weekend of high drama and yet again one man in particular was right in the centre of it all.
I initially decided not to write about this particular incident, which saw Aron Smith make contact with Jason Plato sending the latter off into the gravel and out of the race. Previous blogs expressing my opinions of Jason Plato and his attitude and behaviour have generally been met with agreement. However some fans of the outspoken racing driver, who’s lead has clearly been followed by those who support him and have decided to be very critical of my own opinions. Some been quite personal but many claiming I know nothing about what I am saying. Somewhat Ironic in many cases.
So you can imagine my delight in a saviour in an unexpected form. There were so many things I wanted to say about Jason Plato and his attitude, behaviour, driving and his somewhat scathing and hugely hypocritical comments live on TV. One man saved me the trouble of writing down my views, as he had already done so. This man? The Boss of Motorbase Performance Dave Bartrum. A BTCC race winning team and also a British GT winning team too. So this Man cannot be accused of not knowing what he is talking about.
Dave had written a blog about the weekend at Knockhill which included a large section about Jason Plato which went like this:
“The only sour note of the weekend was Jason Plato’s reaction to the incident with Aron. I realise he will see it his way and we will see it ours, that’s natural. I was disappointed in the penalty which TOCA gave us because we’ve been on the receiving end of nearly identical incidents with Aron & Rob Austin in round 1, TOCA verdict – Racing incident, Liam & Lea Wood at Croft, TOCA verdict – Racing incident. Someone does it to Plato, TOCA verdict – 3 points & a £500 fine. Is it because its Plato? Maybe, who knows? With that in mind when we heard that 888 & Plato had appealed we were surprised, turns out Jason wanted more! He even suggested that Aron had a job to do on him! What can you say to this? Paranoid maybe?
Jason is supposed to represent British Motorsport, in two roles even beyond his role in the BTCC with MG & 888. He is the face of the KX young driver programme mentoring young aspiring drivers & has a major role at the BRDC as a Director. Yet despite all of this he remains the most outspoken, shouting his mouth of to anyone who will listen about how badly everyone else drives! Sorry, am I missing something? Is this the same Jason Plato who rammed Matt Neal off in a fit of rage/revenge at Snetterton, the same Jason Plato who rammed Gordon Shedden of at the last corner of Donington after pushing him along the back straight whilst Gordon tried to brake, and the same Jason Plato who simply disposed of Dave Newsham disgracefully at the first race of the season? And that’s just this year. He has been one incident away from a 3 month ban for a little while due to his own indiscretions on track in the last 12 months. Pot and kettle spring to mind!
He suggested Aron doesn’t deserve a race licence. Quite frankly, he is the man who needs banning from the championship. Why TOCA didn’t give him points for his revenge mission at Snetterton on Matt Neal is anybodies guess! Probably because he has so many points already. MG & his sponsors should think twice before renewing his contract if he continues to behave like this. He makes damning statements that other teams and drivers are merely ‘playing at this’ and we’re just ‘pretenders’ unlike the paid professional drivers. At most, if this was the case there would be a 3 car grid, this is modern day Motorsport. I amongst other would love to have the budgets of yesteryear and be able to pick two fully paid drivers like Andy Neate & Jason Plato as 888 have been able to this year!
How he keeps a job with the BRDC is beyond me. He is a Director in the most influential club in British Motorsport, he is in a role which people need to respect him and look upon his as someone who sets an example of how a race driver conducts himself both on and off the circuit. In my opinion he does neither! It’s a joke that they have someone with such low regard for fellow competitors and young drivers in such a position. It’s hypocritical. There is a new young driver programme which he is fronting. He then accuses Aron of being ‘a pretender’ because he pays for his drive. Will that be the same for all the drivers under his management who are paying for their drive? I doubt it, I’m sure he will change his mind then! Quite frankly no driver having been mentored by him would be welcome in a race car of mine.
All of that said I do respect his driving ability, he is clearly very talented. He also puts on a great show for the public, who seemingly love a bad boy. Maybe we’re just another part of his show this week. I just think if he kept his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself the world would be better for it. I can only assume, and half understand that Aron is on the receiving end of his passion from the reality that Jason’s Championship received a massive dent at the weekend due to him making a mistake of his own by drifting over into Aron, giving Aron very few options. Jason made the uncharacteristic error in which he lost out, something he doesn’t do very often. I think most drivers would have driven exactly how Aron did, and the others probably would have ended up in the gravel themselves!”
This is worryingly almost exactly what I wanted to say on the matter and many will know I have been saying similar for a long time, but only this time, hopefully, I won’t get abuse from certain people so thanks Dave.
Now even the most hardcore Jason Plato fans must take on board some of these comments and surely see Dave has a very good point. I am however, not criticising people for wanting to be a fan of Mr Plato though. I have said it before and say it yet again. The guy has great driving ability there is no argument there. But is he really a role model to those who do support him? Especially the younger generation. Is the do as I say not as I do attitude setting a good example? Is the constant moaning and criticising of the rules and others inspirational for others? Lots of Plato fans say he is a hero and legend. But is this really the way a hero should conduct himself?
Two words I have just used are thrown about far too much in describing sports stars and mostly unnecessarily. Hero and Legend. I’m going to stick my neck out on the line here and risk further abuse by saying Plato is neither of these. Good yes. But not hero or legend. Why? I’ll tell you why.
A Hero or Legend is not just someone who reaches the very top of their discipline, but someone who inspires others. Someone who sets a good example to others, overcomes adversity, conducts themselves well and shows a good, positive attitude and strives to achieve. But most of all, someone others can look up to. A role model who people want to emulate. After the Summer of Olympic and Paralympic games, it is clear there are many that put the MG BTCC racing driver in the shade.
For motorsport fans though, If you want a real Hero, Legend and Inspiration, look no further than Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi. The Italian ex Formula one driver suffered a horrific crash in 2001 in the Champ car series and subsequently lost his legs. Whilst many of us, faced with this for the rest of our lives would wallow in self pity and hate the life that you now face. Alex didn’t. He continued do race for a few years after his legs were amputated, but he had his heart set on one goal. The Paralympics.
Without moaning, complaining or criticising, Alex set out to achieve this goal. Training hard in the face of adversity, all this hard work came to fruition last week. The road cycling took place at Brands Hatch, somewhat poignant in this incredible story and Alex Zanardi was there to represent Italy in the hand cycling with his unique three wheeled bicycle which was no doubt designed with the help of some of his friends within formula one. The British crowd were there in their thousands to cheer and support the participants with many motorsport fans there to support Zanardi.
All the hard work and determination came to fruition for the Italian which saw him take two Gold medals and a Silver. The delight within the motorsport fraternity was clear to see. This man’s incredible journey in the face of adversity had come good and he had reached the very peak. This man is a genuine Hero. A true Legend. And an Inspiration to all.
Dave Bartrum’s full blog can be read here.
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.