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.
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.
After their separate European exploits, the British GT & F3 cavalcade rolled into Corby at the weekend for their next round of the 2012 season. I was of course in attendance and it turned out to be another good weekend.
The weather turned out to be nice albeit a little chilly and windy on the Saturday, the racing was good, the cars looked great and the B&B I had booked for the weekend was great despite initially giving myself and James a double room when I had specifically booked a twin. This wasn’t the first time it’s happened but it was all sorted without hassle.
It was nice to catch up with friends again and I even met a few new ones. The joy of twitter is that you sometimes get to meet people you chat to on there. I have a great following of motorsport fans and have been lucky enough to meet some of them in person at race weekends. It’s always nice to meet the people you chat to online who share your love of motorsport. I have met some really great people thanks to twitter and I hope to meet many more in the future.
This weekend was the first time I had seen the F3 cars in action this season. I had missed the Oulton Park round at Easter and wasn’t at the European rounds either so it was good to shoot them. Carlos Sainz JR headed into the weekend the championship favourite, but had a disappointing round at the Rockingham circuit. With three races held over the weekend, there were three different race winners. Jazeman Jaafar took the first race victory and Tops the current driver standings whilst British duo Harry Tincknell and Jack Harvey took race two and three honours with the latter moving into second place in the standings ahead of Sainz JR. Race reports can be read here with an album of photos of the F3 on my Facebook page here or on my Flickr album here.
One of the great things about having Carlos Sainz JR in the British F3 championship is that his father isn’t far away. It’s great to see one of my motorsport hero’s strolling around the pits and paddock with designer sunglasses and smart/casual attire looking like a film star. What also pleases me is that he often poses for photos with fans young and old.
On their return from Germany, the GT’s were to compete in a two hour race rather than the usual two, one hour race format. Ex BTCC and Porsche Carrera cup racer Stephen Jelley partnered Steve Parish in the number 10 Motorbase Porsche in place of Nick Tandy and with his only two BTCC race wins coming at Rockingham, it was clear he gets on well at the Corby circuit as he set the pole position time. The race took place on the Sunday afternoon and despite the sky clouding over, the rain held off for a dry race. Alex Buncombe stormed through the field from ninth on the grid in the RJN Nissan GT Academy GTR to take the lead and Anthony Reid was going strong in the plucky Chevron GR8.
Unfortunately disaster struck. The safety car was deployed thanks to a big impact. The Beechdean Aston Martin of Andrew Howard suffered a slow puncture which sent the car into the wall at turn one on the banking at high speed. The car was left in a bad way, but Andrew Howard was thankfully left unscathed if a little dazed and confused. A real testament to the safety technology within motorsport these days.
As the safety car returned to the pits, the pitstop window had opened with a number of cars taking advantage of the bunched up pack to make their stops. Unfortunately a brake balance issue in the RJN Nissan GTR left GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough having to fight the car whilst dropping down the field before finishing in fifth place. As the race progressed, it was getting close at the front. With minutes left it could have gone either way, but at the Chequered flag, it was Joe Osborne at the wheel of the 32 Trackspeed Porsche he partnered with Steve Tandy closely followed by the Ferrari 458 of Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen and the second Trackspeed Porsche of David Ashburn and Phil Keen. In fact, the top four places were separated by less than five seconds with Championship leaders, Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin and their Mtech Ferrari 458 taking the fourth spot. This was pretty close after 2 hours of racing. Whoever says endurance racing is boring needs to reconsider and with five different winners from the five races so far this season, it looks set to be a real thriller of a championship. The race report can be read on the Checkered Flag website here with photos on my Facebook Page and Flickr Album.
I won’t be trackside this weekend so my next race will be the British GT & F3’s at Brands Hatch on June the 23rd & 24th. My favourite British race series on my favourite British circuit, The Brands Hatch GP layout, I cannot wait.
In the mean time, there is a small race taking place this weekend across the channel. It is of course the Le Mans 24 hour race. I am of course greatly disappointed that I won’t be there this year but I’m not sure it will be such a close race as it was in 2011 with the absence of Peugeot. However there are lots of other things that make the race so awesome and I will be trying my best to watch as much as I can online. The GT classes look set to be close as does LMP2 and with lots of British drivers and teams taking part, it really is worth watching what you can.