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.
At the end of every year, all the contributors hand in their nominations for their Best, Driver, Team, Race, and Moment of the past year along with what to look out for over the coming twelve months. This year is no different and over the next few days I will be revealing my pick’s along with sharing the link to The Checkered Flag website so you can see who the rest of the team picked out. It is also a chance to share your favourite moments buy using the comment section at the bottom of this blog so feel free to get involved.
So without further delay, we kick off the first part of the series with my Driver of the Year.
There have been many great drivers I have seen this year, but for me there has been one that really Stands out. As a winner of the Playstation GT academy that has already produced great race winning drivers, Jann Mardenborough has produced great things this year in the British GT championship. Forming a formidable partnership with team mate Alex Buncombe in the Nissan GT-R, Jann could have been crowned British GT champion along with his highly experienced compatriot in just his first full season of racing had it not been for a mechanical failure half way through the final race of the season from a position that would have secured them the title. Buncombe, who can race competitively in any car you give him, himself was a close call for this nomination thanks to his superb opening stints which often saw him carve through the pack to the sharp end within the opening laps from midfield qualifying positions at a number of races before handing over to Mardenborough to bring the Nissan home in a solid position.
One such superb start saw Buncombe climb the field and take the race lead within two laps of the start at Brands Hatch where he continued to build a solid lead. A safety car cut the lead but was the right time to hand over to Jann, who’s mature drive kept him ahead of the pack now boasting the more experienced racing drivers behind him. The likes of Olly Bryant in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW and Jonny Adam in the Beechdean Aston Martin chip away at the lead lap after lap. A lesser driver would have crumbled under the pressure as heading into the last lap, Adam was just behind the Nissan and looking likely to snatch victory. Mardenborough kept a cool head to show maturity beyond his years and experience to take the win by just seven thousandths of a second, the closest margin in British GT history. And all this exactly a year after he was crowned the GT Academy winner.
This was a standout moment in a fantastic season for the Welshman who looks set for great things in the future and the reason he is my Driver of the year.
Check out who the rest of the Checkered Flag team picked as their Driver of the year here.
So what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my pick? Who is your driver of the year and why? Get Involved.
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.
The weekend just gone saw the Britcar 24 hour race take place at Silverstone. Sadly the entry list was down on previous years which is disappointing for the most High Profile 24 hour race in England. Make of that what you will. But the racing was still close with a variety of cars from each class capable of battling for class honours and even an overall podium spot.
As per usual, I was in full support of the plucky Honda Jazz from Synchro Motorsport and this year the support was turned up an extra notch in light of the sad passing of Dave Allan. The Jazz still bore Dave’s name as tribute to the driver who had raced many times for the team and this year was sporting a Matt Black livery. Normally a look of disgust crosses my face when I see a Honda Jazz as they are normally holding up a queue of traffic as the pensioner in the driving seat hesitates way too often whilst trying to negotiate a roundabout or takes several attempts to park in an empty Tesco car park. But this Honda Jazz is different. Possibly the only Jazz in the country that isn’t owned by a pensioner and features a number of optional extra that prove it means business. I can’t help but give a wry smile every time I see it.
Sadly, the Jazz was disqualified from the race overnight. Amazingly, for breaking the set sound level’s for the race too often. Yes, you read that right. The Jazz was just too loud in a race including a GT3 Aston Martin and a Mosler! I was gutted. The car had been running quite well until the sound issues and I so desperately wanted it to achieve a good finish just for Dave’s sake who was no doubt watching on somewhere.
This meant I had to put all my support on another car. A car that had attracted my attention a few weeks back during the Snetterton round of the Britcar Production Cup. A car with a bit of previous history with some drivers who were a little more novice but fully deserving of a huge amount of support.
The Mission Motorsport team and their Nissan 370z were formed to bring together and aid the recovery, help rehabilitate wounded service personnel and aid the return to an active life. The driver line up consisted of; Major James Cameron, co-founder of Mission Motorsport who set about combining his love of motorsport and dedication in helping others who have been effected by experiences or injuries whilst serving their country, Trooper James Gillborn who lost a leg after standing on an IED in Afghanistan last year and can now add Racing Driver to his list of achievements during his rehabilitation period. Lance Corporal Martyn Copleston who was injured after the Armoured Vehicle he was driving hit an IED last year and Sergeant Gary Dunning who after a number of years service suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a huge motorcycle accident leaving him with massive injuries.
This was a team everyone was proud to get behind and indeed they did including Paralympian Gold Medal rower Pamela Relph who was there in support. I was really hoping they would have a good race and they were always one of the car numbers the media room checked on in the bank of timing screens. With the RJN Motorsport team behind them, the guys were doing a grand job with the Nissan.
Sadly, during the early hours of the morning, Disaster Struck. With the Nissan heading round Copse Corner, it was confronted by a Marco Mantis that was broadside across the track after a spin. Heavy breaking and quick reactions just weren’t enough to avoid a collision and impact between the two was unavoidable. It was game over for the Marcos, but the Nissan and the Mission motorsport team had other ideas. These guys just don’t give up. It is not an option for them. With the car back in the garage with damage that cause most teams to pull the garage door down and call it a day, the team set about the task of getting the car back out there. With a lot of team work and a spare road going 370z in the paddock that was cannibalised the job was done and the team were back out to the delight of everyone.
The hours passed and the Nissan continued on even during the heavy rain over the last few hours that was catching out the more experienced drivers and as the Chequered flag dropped at 3.30pm the Mission Motorsport team had achieved an impressive 17th place overall. It was a warming sight and to top it off, James Gillborn won driver of the race, nominated by the Radio LeMans team. It was Mission Accomplished for Mission Motorsport. As I stood on the Pit wall as the podium presentations were taking place, the Nissan was being pushed back to its garage and I overheard Major Cameron provide the best quote of the weekend. He turned to the woman walking back to the garage with him and said “Now, we must talk about this 48 hour super endurance race in Spain”
For More Information about Mission Motorsport, visit their website www.missionmotorsport.org where you can read more and even see onboard footage, including the moment of the ‘Incident’ at Copse.
This weekend see’s the final round of the British GT Championship at Donington Park. With seven teams in with a shout of the title, it’s going to be a big one. Oh, and you know it’s quite a big deal when the FIA GT1 guys add themselves to the support list! I cant wait.
After a pretty rubbish week, I was looking forward to last weekend. My favourite British Race series was to be making its yearly visit to my favourite British racing Circuit. The British GT Championship was to be competing on the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch and I was really looking forward to it.
Having spent the few days on the run up to the weekend checking the weather forecasts, things were looking good. I’ve been luck so far this year with the weather and I was again this weekend. Just a couple of brief showers on the Sunday afternoon were nothing to worry about. I always pack my waterproofs though just in case.
The Saturday morning was spent on the Druids shooting the GT Practice session and the F3 qualifying. I wanted to try a few different things to see what worked and what didn’t. Some stuff came out well, some didn’t. I found a nice new angle too during the F3 qualifying so I will remember that for next time. It’s always nice to capture a nice ‘Through the Trees’ shot too and with Brands one of the few circuits in England where you can do that, I made sure I got a few in the bag. I was enjoying myself and the time flew by. So I was soon back in the media centre checking out what I had captured.
The weather was still fine and dry in the afternoon as I headed out onto the Grand Prix loop for the second GT practice session and the first of the weekends three Formula 3 races. I decided to start at Stirlings, a known quantity for me and a good place to get a variety of shots, before walking back round the inside of the circuit as the session progressed. I got some useable stuff here but the sun was beginning to be an issue so whilst at Westfield bend waiting for the start of the F3 race I decided to cross over to the outside of the circuit so the sun was behind me.
I had never been on the outside of the Grand Prix loop and once I was there I was glad I had made the decision to cross over. There were some really great angles and new places to explore options and I was pleased with the results I was getting. I shot the F3 race and decided I would come back for the GT race on Sunday. The final session I needed to shoot was the GT qualifying and I wanted to be in the pit lane for that so headed back at the end of the F3 race. The day had flown by and I was really looking forward to race day.
Sunday’s action was due to start at 10am with a 10 minute warm up session for the GT’s so I had a bit of a lie in. I headed to the garages and pit lane for the quick warm up session to get a few driver shots. I went to Druids to capture the action of the short 20 minute F3 race before lunch and getting my stuff prepared for the main two hour GT race. Watching the start of the F1 race on the TV in the media room, rain started to fall. I could see blue sky in the distance so was confident it would be a passing shower. However, I’m not trained meteorologist so it was time to break out the waterproofs to take with me just in case.
The GT race was the one I was really looking forward to and as I headed out the rain had now stopped. I wanted to capture the start from Druids with the cars coming up the hill. As the pit lane opened and the cars headed out to form up on the grid, the rain started again causing a greasy surface which would add to the excitement at the start of the race. By the time the cars were released from the rolling start, the rain had stopped but the track was still slippery and the cars were on slick tyres. With a few spinners and some of the field taking it steadier than others there were a few position changes. Thankfully, I had my pocket radio so could tune into radio Brands to keep track of the commentary and what was going on. This was to prove invaluable out on the GP track where there are no tannoy speakers.
I shot the first few laps from the outside of Druids hairpin before making my move to the Grand Prix loop. I headed to the bridge on the main straight and walked up the outside of the track along Hawthorn Hill. I was to spend the rest of the race working my way around the outside. Trying new angles and perspectives a brief shower whilst I was at Dingle Dell wasn’t going to ruin my enjoyment. I was keeping up to date with the race action on the radio and I was glad of it. The race was proving to be pretty exciting. The Nissan GTR of Alex Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough that started in ninth was now in the lead with the other Nissan GTR of the Hetherington brothers Benji and Freddie was making its way through the pack too and was up to fourth before disaster struck.
Benji Hetherington had pushed just a bit too hard through Stirlings and two wheels up on the kerb on the exit was enough to spit the car out and into the barrier on inside. It was a heavy impact and a relatively long safety car period was to follow to allow the recovery of the car and repairs to the barrier. It was a disappointment as the white Nissan was due a good race and things were looking good. The pit stops and drivers played out soon after the safety car period and It was Jann Mardenborough now in the leading Nissan. Oliver Bryant had taken over the BMW Z4 and was up to second place and trying to close in. Each time Bryant closed the gap, Mardenborough seemed to have an answer and kept him at bay just a couple of seconds behind. Keeping track of the commentary whilst continuing to capture what was unfolding on track with my camera the time was flying by but I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.
Whilst the Nissan and BMW battled out at the front, Jonny Adam was now in the Aston Martin setting very quick times. He was catching the front two at quite a rate but with quite a deficit to make up, would there be enough time with the 2 hour finish time in sight. It looked like he could make second place but would still need to pass the BMW once he caught him. Sure enough, the flying Aston was to steal second place at Paddock Hill bend on the penultimate lap. Onto the final lap and the Aston had the Nissan in its sights. Could the Beechdean car take an unlikely win just two weeks after a full rebuild thanks to its heavy impact with the wall at Rockingham just two weeks ago?
I was at sheen curve on the last lap. I could see the Nissan approach with the Aston in close attendance and the BMW not too far behind. I watched as they rounded Stirlings and now not even a cigarette paper could separate the rear of the Black and Red Nissan GTR and the front of the Blue and White Aston Martin. Out of sight I had to rely on the commentary. After defending the final bend, the Nissan had the inside line but the Jonny Adam moved to the outside. It was to be a straight drag to the line. Side by side the pair crossed the line. A second or two passed after the flag had dropped while the commentator waited for the timing screen to update. Who had one?
Incredibly, after 2 hours of racing and 74 laps of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit, just twenty two thousandths of a second split the pair. That’s 0.022seconds in numbers. The closest British GT race finish in history. The spoils went to the Nissan. Just. It now made it six different race winners from six races and five different manufacturers. What a finish. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough for you, Jann Mardenborough confirmed that this, his first GT race victory had come exactly 365 days after he won the Playstation GT Academy. It really was fairytale stuff. I was beaming. I had witnessed an awesome race and my favourite British race series had produced something truly special on my favourite British race circuit.
I stayed to photograph the final F3 race of the day knowing that it was just never going to match the excitement of the GT race. I headed back to the media room and was met by beaming faces all round and discussion of the incredible scenes that they had witnessed. A video still from TSL timing’s camera aimed at the finish lane showed how close the GT race finish really was. It was a fantastic weekend and I was so glad to have witnessed it.
For the full race report visit The Checkered Flag.
I now have two weekends away from the circuit, before my next event which is again back at Brand Hatch on the Grand Prix circuit for a bumper weekend of the F2, GT Open and Britcar. If it is half as exciting as the British GT race, it will be a good weekend and I look forward to finding some more new angles and locations to shoot from.
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.
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.
Friday was to be a bit of a shorter day than Thursday dues to the lack of a night qualifying session, but it was to be no less exciting.
The first session for us for the day was to be the 24hr second qualifying session so we headed straight out to the Nordschleife from the hotel to photograph it. After heading up to Flugplatz we soon realised the Sun was doing our photos no favours, It was another sunny and warm day, so it was decided that we should head somewhere different and come back later. So we headed off and parked at Breidscheid so we could walk up the hill to Wehrseifen.
Walking through the campsite up the hill I noticed again how fantastic the fans were. More scaffolding towers had been erected and some area’s resembled small but busy village communities. One scaffolding tower was created to resemble a pirate ship with disco lights as cannons. There was even a group who had created their own landscape garden with a stream, rock garden and newly planted flowers and vegetation. However, amongst a smouldering bonfire circled by car seats, something really caught my eye. A really nice, shiny green Mark One Volkswagen Golf. But it was just the front section from the bulkhead forward including the front two wheels. It seemed bizarre but all became clear as underneath the bonnet was a gas powered Barbeque grill. This was possible the best Barbeque I had ever seen!
Having made it up to Wehrseifen my grin broadened. This was another great spot. The cars came round the corner into view dropping down the hill and into the tight left hander before a quick right hand bend took them down the hill towards Exmühle and over the bridge out of sight. In the distance you could see the climb up the steep hill through the trees towards Bergwerk. Fans adorned the bank and the hill side on the outside of the corner where we were and the Armco barrier we were standing behind was close up to the edge of the track. There was no need to shoot with a telephoto lens, I had my 18mm in use which was perfect.
Shooting from this point it was soon apparent that there were so many different perspectives you could get from just one area. The Sun was shining, the cars looked superb and the fans were still on top form. The noise of the Mercedes rumbling down the hill or the High pitch scream of the Lexus LFA accelerating out of the tight bend was a joy. Today was another good day.
As the session drew to an end we headed back to the cafe where we had left the car. We had some time before the Classic race was due to be out on track so it was time for some lunch in the German sunshine. For the 3hr classic race we thought we would head to the famous Karussell hairpin. We wouldn’t be able to shoot the whole race as the British GT race one was due soon after and we needed to get back for that, but we made the most of the time we did have.
Having taken to the forest tracks that twisted and turned up the hills we had made it to the infamous corner. Seeing the banked hairpin for the first time was incredible. Again, no pictures or race simulators could do it any justice. The banking was steep and cars bottomed out and sparks flew as they dropped into the corner and again as they exited with some even taking to the air briefly. Again, it was another corner that provided many different perspectives and photo opportunities. There were English Marshall’s on the post at this corner who were very friendly as we were to find out throughout our time at the Nürburgring providing us with tea, biscuits and good conversation. The sights and sounds of classic Porsche 911’s, E-Type Jags and the awesome Warsteiner liveried BMW M1 Procar was just the icing on the cake. A few more images from the Classic race can be seen on my Facebook page or on my Flickr page.
Time must have flown by as it was soon time to head back to the Grand Prix Circuit for the First of the weekends British GT Races. It was a great spectacle and the racing was great. Jann Mardenborough continued to show his form in the Nissan GT-R as he stretched out a lead before the pit stops and handing over to Alex Buncombe. However the RJN team had stopped for half a second shorter than they should have and were punished with a drive through penalty. This gifted the win to the Beechdean Aston Martin of Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard. The cars first win in the Championship. The Full race report can be read here. Also some more images of the British GT can be viewed on the Chris Gurton Photography Facebook page here or on my Flickr page here.
A new qualifying format for the 24hr race saw the top 40 cars compete in a shoot out format on Friday evening and this was to be the last session of the day. With the prospect of the fastest cars pushing hard to set fast times we made our move to Flugplatz. A long straight with a slight crest at Quiddelbacher-Höle where the front of the cars lift off the ground, some even getting all four wheels off the ground.
I took up my position right behind the Armco just feet from the tarmac ready to capture the action. We didn’t have long to wait as we could see the cars drop down the hill at Hocheichen in the distance before roaring up into view on their out laps. Picking up the pace for their flying laps expectation mounted. The first car, one of the Aston Martins, came past with a whoosh, the front of the car lifted as the front two wheel parted with the warm tarmac. Amazing. The following cars were to do the same. This was awesome. The drivers were showing balls of steel as the crest was close to a braking point. I was in awe of these incredible machines and their pilots.
Yet again the session had passed in a blur but I was left with a great feeling inside. It was time to head back to the hotel and get some rest before the big day. Saturday; Race Day.
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.
The weather has been pretty wet and miserable for the last few weeks and it has been a while since I was last out trackside. I was becoming irritable. However, yesterday was the Media Day for the 2012 Silverstone Classic so I was to head there with eager anticipation.
I love classic cars and of course classic racing cars. I love the fact that these iconic vehicles that are mostly from before my time and worth an absolute fortune, are still raced for everyone to see. Those who remember these race cars get the opportunity to see them again and to revoke past memories and those, like me who weren’t about to see them first time get the chance to experience what they were like and gaze in awe of how beautiful these machines are.
Last year’s Silverstone Classic was a huge success. Over 1100 race entries and a further 7000 plus classic cars on display from various car clubs and societies made it the biggest race weekend in the world. Throw in all the additional things to see and do such as trade stands, fun fairs, live music, driving experiences and simulators and the world record for the most E-Type Jaguars on circuit at the same time and you get a good idea of what a fantastic weekend it was. I enjoyed every minute of it and a real highlight for me was the Group C ‘Dusk’ race on the Saturday evening.
The weather back then was amazing, sun all weekend. A huge contrast to the weather that greeted us for the media day. But after parking up in the paddock behind the fantastic Silverstone Wing complex and catching a glimpse of some of the cars in the garages that were to be out on track during the day, the miserable weather was soon forgotten.
After signing on, having a coffee and catching up with friends, the press conference took place. During this, plans for this year’s event were unveiled. The last Silverstone Classic would be hard to beat, but it looks like expectations will be exceeded. A new partnership with the AA was announced and their commitment to the weekend was impressive. They are planning so many off track activities and driving experiences to keep everyone entertained if the racing wasn’t enough. A number of anniversaries will be celebrated such as 50 years of AC Cobra and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Ferrari F40 more than 60 examples of every school boy’s wet dream will be out on track. The celebrity race line up was also announced and joining regulars like Heston Blumenthal, Dave Vitty & Brendan Cole will be Chemmy Alcott and Sir Patrick Stewart to name just two.
After the press conference it was time to head down to the garages to see what machinery was about and to take part in a passenger ride. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go out in an awesome 1962 Jaguar E-Type driven by Andy Dee-Crowne. As I was getting strapped in, Andy told me he would need to take it a bit steady in the wet conditions as he had just spun at Stowe with the last passenger on board. I told him not to spare the horses for my sake, but obviously I didn’t want him to damage his beautiful car. The grin plastered across my face as we headed down the pit lane was not going to be moved for some time.
As we headed out onto the track the car sounded fantastic and despite the age of the machine ran smoothly and quickly. Very quickly. Andy told me the brakes would take a little while to warm up so would take it steady into the first few corners. This didn’t deter him from getting on the throttle as soon as possible though as the car squirmed on the exits as he expertly kept it under control. The conditions were wet and the original style cross-ply tyres the Jag runs on meant grip was at a premium. It also meant fun was in abundance! Drifting and sliding through the corners, Maggots and Becketts were especially fun, Andy was working the steeling wheel masterfully, whilst controlling the throttle to time the acceleration down the straights just right. Not only was I impressed with my chauffer’s ability as was in awe of this incredible machine. We all know how far technology has progressed over the years but this 50 year old beast still knew how to perform and put a lot of modern day machinery to shame. It really was a credit to Jaguar and their engineering.
With the brakes up to temperature on the second lap, Andy was happy to push that bit harder and was loving it. With speeds of 120mph on the straights in the wet the E-Type had impressed me immensely. It was great that people still raced these machines and following the AC Cobra along the Hanger Straight, I got my very own taste of what it would have been like to have raced these cars back in their hay day. The passenger ride was over too soon for my liking, mind you I would have stayed out there all day if I could and not got bored, but as we came back into the pits I knew I had experienced something very special for which I was truly grateful to Andy for. The E-Type Jag has now been added to my list of cars to buy when I win the lottery. If only eh?
After a nice lunch back up in the wing complex, I was back roaming around the garages to check out some of the cars there. This years Silverstone Classic will feature 1980’s & 90’s British Touring Cars, DTM cars and Super touring cars so there were some fine examples of these cars on show. Steve Soper’s BTCC & DTM BMW’s were there along with Tim Harvey’s Labbatt’s liveried Sierra Cosworth RS500, John Cleland’s Vauxhall Cavalier, Anthony Reid’s Ford Mondeo Super Touring car and Matt Neal’s Independent Nissan Primera along with a few others. A couple of Porsche 962’s were there along with some more historic Touring cars such as Mini’s & Ford Cortina Mk1’s as well as a selection of historic single seaters. Most of which took to the track for some test laps giving us a chance to take some photos despite the worsening weather. It was great to see just this handful of cars so it really whetted my appetite for the main event in July.
The day was over too soon but I left with a lasting memory and the excitement of this year’s Silverstone Classic. I cannot recommend the weekend enough to anybody. There is so much to see and do and it is a weekend that should be high on the ‘to do’ list for any car fan young or old. It will be a great event and you really don’t want to miss out.
You can find out more by heading to their website here: http://www.silverstoneclassic.com/ and you can see more of my photos from the day on the Chris Gurton Photography Facebook page or in my Flickr Album.
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.
The Autosport International Show is the first sign that the motorsport season is heading towards us. With driver announcements, new car unveilings and teams setting out their plans for the year ahead, it is a good place for media to get the inside track on what to expect this year and the public’s chance to see new cars and drivers and to get excited about the 2012 season.
I headed to the NEC in Birmingham on Thursday to catch up with friends, colleagues and acquaintances and to set out plans for the coming season. There was certainly plenty to see and keep me busy so much so that I didn’t get a chance to see everything. After signing in and chatting to a few good friends from BTCCCrazy and BTCCBlogs it was time to head to the JRM stand for the unveiling of their new car.
The car that was to be announced was their new Nissan GT-R GT3 car which had already been seen in action as a three race development programme had seen it compete last year including at the Blancpain race at Silverstone in October. Sporting a new Red and Black paint job and a few slight aerodynamic tweaks, the car looked fantastic. With the announcement that the Nissan GT-R will be available to buy I hope to see a few on track this season.
The next announcement came in the form of a new Driver. The AMD Milltek BTCC team had lined up their new driver announcement for the show and Shaun Hollamby unveiled Ollie Jackson as their new driver to mount a charge on this seasons British Touring Car Championship. Ollie drove last season in the British GT Championship in the Lotus Evora GT4 alongside Phil Glew as well as a couple of races in the BTCC at the end of last year so it seems like a good acquisition for a team who are targeting top 10 finishes this year.
After taking a few photos of Ollie on the Pipercross stand, it was off to the Sunoco press conference to hear about the Sunoco Challenge and how Felipe Nasr and Aaron Steele were getting on with their preparations for the Daytona 24 hour race and Grand Am Challenge respectively. It seemed that the pair were taking to it like a Duck to water during the practice days recently, especially Nasr who was setting some incredibly fast times which had regular Daytona 24 hour drivers slightly nervous. It was also good to hear from Mark Blundell during the conference and his take on it all. The challenge, setup by Sunoco, offers a great opportunity for the winning drivers to experience racing in America and help them gain exposure. We all know it is hard for racing drivers to secure drives and sponsorship deals and by being given the opportunity to race at Daytona can open up new avenues in their career’s so it is great to see Sunoco provide this.
Before a meeting to discuss plans with the guys at Britcar, there was time to have a look around the show for a bit. There is certainly plenty to see, from classic rally and race cars, the Ayrton Senna display with a collection of his race cars on show, the new Drayson Racing electric powered LMP car and a number of trade stands to keep everyone busy and entertained. Again this year Ian Cook (Pop Bang Colour) was there on his hands and knees painting some more incredible cars in his unique style. It was good to catch up with him and to see him paint the 1982 Jacky Ickx & Derek Bell Porsche 956. It is one of my favourite ever race cars and the car that won Le Mans the year I was born so I think I will be treating myself to a copy for my 30th birthday later this year. The finished painting is stunning and would look great on my wall.
Having had a productive meeting with Britcar, myself and James were invited for a coffee at the Sunoco stand where it was nice to catch up with Louise who does a lot of their PR during race weekends. Whilst I was sitting down I glanced over to the Corbeau Race Seats stand next to us and my attention was grabbed by an image of the Team Lotus GT4 Evora from the British GT on the back wall. I instantly recognised it as my photo. This was somewhat surprising as it was the first time I knew of it being used. Despite this, it was good to see it up there.
Before heading over to the Charity Karting Race, I bumped into Becki Mitchell who was there working for Radio Silverstone and Kevin McGlone of Red Square Images. It was great to catch up with them both and hopefully will be able to catch up with them again at various times this season. If all goes to plan I’ll be off to the Nurburgring in May for the British GT and 24hr race with Kevin.
As it got late in the afternoon, the Karting Race was due to start and with my friend Nick from Tin Tops UK in a team with Alistair Rushforth, Dave Newsham, Andy Neate & Gordon Sheddon, I went to watch and give him some support. There was a lot of driver talent on show and it was good to see them all fighting it out in the karts. Nick will be writing a guest blog for Trackside Views about his experience so look out for that soon.
As the race came to an end and the NEC started to close its doors, it was time to head home with renewed optimism and excitement for the oncoming season. I can’t wait to back out with my camera and for all the motorsport championships to start up again. However, it will be sooner than I expected for me this year as I will be at Brands Hatch for the Brands Hatch Stages Rally next weekend. I will of course be bringing you news and photos from that in due course.
Last weekend I made my second trip to Le Mans for the 24 hour race along with my girlfriend Liz who was making her first trip to the world’s best motor race. It was certainly a great race to attend for the first time and no doubt Liz will be going again. That’s the trouble with Le Mans, once you’ve been once you just want to go back again and again. Obviously there is some great racing on show, incredible cars and world class drivers, but couple that with the fantastic atmosphere and the amount of things to see and do and you have the recipe for petrol head heaven.
We drove down on Thursday morning and those of you who have been will know that if you took one of those Eye Spy books on Supercars then you will probably have filled it all in by the time you got there. We pulled up at the channel tunnel check-in behind a Lamborghini Murchialago and the services area was filled with various Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, Lotus’ and Aston Martin’s to name a few. Boarding the train we were loaded on right behind a bright orange 200+ mph Ultima, which according to the driver was his toy for bombing down to Le Mans in. Apparently he has already lined up an ex rally Lotus Talbot Sunbeam to take next year.
Having stocked up on food and supplies in Calais, we opted to avoid the toll roads en route to save a few quid. The route was certainly scenic and took us through some nice areas of France. You have to be very careful on the way as the Gendarmerie (the French rozzers) are out in force to cash in on speeding Brits as the drivers of the BMW Z3 and Lotus Elise found out to their cost as the booted it past us only to be pulled in half a mile later.
After arriving at the camp site, setting up and eating/drinking, we headed over to the circuit to catch Thursdays night qualifying session. I’d been waiting months to see the new Audi R18 in the flesh and you had to pay close attention to catch a glimpse as it passed by. They were spookily quiet which meant you couldn’t hear it coming. Just a gentle whoosh could be heard as the menacing beast gracefully sped past. All of the cars were looking great and the two hour session had really got us excited for the race. Funnily enough as we wandered behind the grandstands I spotted my friend James. To be honest, he’s not that difficult to spot as he towers above most people. If you ever go to see a British GT race, keep an eye open for him. He’s usually seen in the paddock or pits wearing a gilet and surrounded by a bevy of beauties. He’s a bit like British GT’s Bernie Ecclestone except twice as tall. Literally.
Friday is the drivers parade so we headed into town for lunch and beer and met up with James and his cousin. We watched the hubbub of everyone setting up the route and the array of classic and supercars on show in the square. Liz and I decided to head for a good location along the parade route and managed to get a spot right at the front getting a great view of the 1991 Mazda 787b roaring past through the French streets. It’s always nice to see the parade and good to see the drivers get involved with the crowd, signing autographs, handing out posters, pictures and gifts. The car carrying the RML drivers had stopped in front of us and Ben Collins was surprised to hear us call his name amidst the mostly French locals, but gave me a great photo opportunity. As did Aston Martin driver Darren Turner. Liz was particularly excited see Giancarlo Fisichella and was in good spirits as we headed back to the campsite on a packed tram. If you are planning on going to Le Mans in the future, I can thoroughly recommend going to the driver’s parade and if you do go to Le Mans and don’t take in the parade then you are missing out.
So race day was upon us and after the morning’s brilliant Classic race, the excitement, tension and nerves were beginning to build. We had seats in one of the Grandstands at the start of the pit straight right next to one of the many big screens and although a grandstand seat isn’t a necessity as there are many good viewing points, it’s nice to have a guaranteed good view especially during the Start and Finish when the crowds are very deep. It was funny to see Jean Todt struggle with the huge Tricolore to start the race as it was as big if not bigger than he was.
As the race began it was clear it was going to be a close battle between the Audi and Peugeot’s and also between the front runners in the other categories. The first hour passed in a blur until disaster struck. An attempt to pass his team mate and a GTE Ferrari at the Esses went wrong and sent Allan McNish and his Audi careering towards the barrier. The subsequent impact sent debris flying everywhere and the dreaded hush descended as thousands of spectators were left reeling in shock. It seemed like an age as we all waited for any sign of McNish to emerge from the mangled wreck but thankfully cheers ensued as he pulled himself out and walked clear. I real testament to the safety of modern racing cars. The image of Audi Team Boss Dr Wolfgang Ullrich wiping away tears of relief on the big screens as McNish got out is one that will stay with me.
Unfortunately, this was not to be the end of the Audi woes. As the race headed into darkness and Myself and Liz had took up a spot at Tertre Rouge, the big screen showed a safety car heading out. The guys on radio le mans were as surprised as everyone to see it but then an image appeared on screen. Something was trackside as marshall’s flocked around. It was unclear as to what it was for a while until collective gasps followed by the awful hush as realisation hit that it was the remains of a Car. Eventually onboard footage came up of Mike Rockenfeller heading at full speed towards Indianapolis flashing his lights at another GTE Ferrari. Unfortunately the as the Audi took the inside line at the second kink, the Ferrari move across and clipped Rockenfeller sending him head on into the barrier at 200mph. The car was sent spinning across the track and into the barriers on the other side before coming to a rest. Everyone waited patiently for news before finally it had filtered through that Rocky had got out of the car unaided but was off to the medical centre for checks. A two and a half hour safety car period ensued as over 120 pieces of Armco barrier were replaced. Liz and I took a night time trip on the Ferris Wheel just as the safety cars came in at 1 am and despite not looking it very big from the ground it was a long way up at the top but you are rewarded of great views, so that is another recommendation.
As day broke the racing was still close as the lead was changing with each pit stop and there were a number of battles throughout each class taking place. From my Grandstand seat I witnessed the unfortunate mistake from Jan Magnussen in the lead Corvette exiting the Porsche curves before the Ford Chicane. Losing the back end the Corvette took out the GTE-am Felbermayr Porsche which smashed into the concrete wall on both sides of the track leading to another safety car period as the cars and debris were recovered.
As the race went on and despite the remaining Audi having to pit slightly more frequently than the chasing Peugeots, it was holding onto the lead. Then, into the afternoon and as the race drew near, I witnessed probably one of the most disgraceful events in motorsport I have ever witnessed. The leading Audi had caught the number 7 Peugeot which was running in fourth place with Marc Gene at the wheel. Already three laps down the Audi attempted to pass at the second chicane on the Mulsanne straight to put four laps between them. Gene had already been weaving to kept the Audi at bay and give the second place Peugeot a chance to catch up slightly. However, this time they were side by side with the Audi on the inside line. This didn’t deter Gene, who was no doubt under instructions to hold the German team up, to cut across the front of the leading car on the turning leading to slight contact. Thankfully it was only minor bodywork damage but had Andre Lotterer not reacted quicker it could have been game over. It was a disgraceful move especially after the other two Audi’s had succumbed to dreadful accidents. The guys on Radio Le Mans were incensed and rightly so and sent their pit reporter to ask the Peugeot team boss Oliver Quisnel why that had happened. His casual response was that there were no blue flags. This was a poor excuse as the TV screens had shown there were indeed blue flags being waved. It was an utterly disgraceful show of sportsmanship and totally dangerous. Possibly a result of Peugeots win at all cost attitude at Le Mans maybe?
With half an hour left on the clock the leading Audi and the leading Peugeot in second place pitted for a final fuel stop. It was to prove very close as Audi had decided to put fresh tyres on which, under the rules you cannot do whilst the fuel hose is attached to fill up the car so their pit stop was longer. This was obviously carefully calculated as the Audi left the pit lane just 2 seconds ahead. Thankfully they held on and took the victory by just 13 seconds. The closest finish since 1969.
Other stories worthy of note were, the second placed LMP2 Oreca Nissan and the third placed GTE AM Robertson Racing Ford GT. The Oreca Nissan featured Lucas Ordonez as one of their drivers who less than three years ago had only raced a car on his Playstation. He won the Nissan GT academy and was picked out and trained up to race in the Dubai 24hr race a couple of years ago as the prize. He impressed so much he has since become a professional racing driver and made his Le Mans debut complete with a podium finish in second place. From PS3 to LMP in a couple of years is seriously impressive stuff and shows what a great initiative the GT Academy is. Other debutants were the Robertson Racing team. The Husband and wife team of David and Andrea Robertson were achieving their dream of racing in the 24 hour race alongside fellow American David Murray. Many, including myself had written the team off before the race and assumed they wouldn’t even finish. But, at 3 o’clock on Sunday, Andrea took the Chequered flag and with it third place on the podium in their class. What made it even more special was that they were also celebrating their Wedding anniversary. They were the first husband and wife team to compete in the race and Andrea was the first woman to take to the podium since the early 1930’s.
So the 79th Le Mans 24 hour race had drawn to a close with some great stories and history being made. A drive along the Mulsanne straight round to Indianapolis, through Arnage corner and up to the Porsche curves in my Astra on the Sunday evening completed the weekend and left both me and Liz looking forward to next year.
So I’ve done it. I’ve faced my fear and got behind the wheel of the ugliest car ever made.
Thanks to the guys at Glynn Hopkin Nissan I drove a new Nissan Juke, and to be honest, after driving it, my opinion hasn’t changed. I still hate it. The Juke doesn’t even know what it is supposed to be. It isn’t four wheel drive, but it is bulky, noisy and looks like it was designed to be a small soft roader. The boot is small and there isn’t much room in the back for passengers. The interior is nothing to write home about, and it drives like a vehicle twice its size. I guess it would be ideal for those people who can’t decide whether to get a Nissan Micra or a Nissan Pathfinder!
So now it is done and I’m glad it’s over. Video evidence can be seen here and my Facebook and Twitter profile photos have now been changed to me behind the wheel. So if anyone still wants to donate to Comic Relief then you still can here.
So the motorsport season starts for me this weekend. I’ll be photographing the MSVR ‘season starter’ weekend at Snetterton this coming weekend. It will be the first race weekend for me this year and I can’t wait to get back trackside. Also, I will finally get to see the new circuit layout at the Norfolk track. On this note, the names of the new corners have been unveiled today so I’ll have to learn them too. In the meantime, I’ll have to get all my equipment ready, batteries charged up and memory cards formatted in preparation. I’ll blog about the weekend and post a few photos next week.
The MSVR weekend will include great racing from the Lotus Elise Trophy, the Lotus Cup UK, Project 8 Saloons, Production BMW Championship, MSV F3 Cup and others. So if you’re chomping at the bit to get out and see some racing then why not get yourself down there. £16 for a weekend ticket is a bargain. You couldn’t watch a league football match for that and they are only 90 minutes!
In other news, I’ve completed another model for my collection. The 1994 Larbre Competition Porsche RSR that was raced at Le Mans. I’m pretty pleased with it and it doesn’t look too bad. I found a great website with all the information on cars, drivers, times etc of all the Le Mans races over the years as well as photos. I was pleased to find some pictures of the car I’ve just built, so if like me you love the 24hr endurance race, then check out www.lemans-history.com Next up, a 1988 Minolta Toyota 88C.
Finally, I’ll be driving my most hated car tomorrow. The Nissan Juke will be taking place with currently £55 pledged to Comic Relief for me to go through with it. Not looking forward to it, but it’s for a good cause. If you wish to donate anything, even just a pound, then you can do here and you will be in with a chance to win a framed A3 Motorsport Print. You can’t say fairer than that surely?
The generosity of others cannot be underestimated. What started out as a joke on Twitter has now turned into a pledge of £50 to Comic Relief. In return for what? Well here’s the story.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know there is one new car that I really hate. Some say hate is a strong word, but in this case it’s just not strong enough. It is the worst car I have ever seen and I mean EVER! It is ugly and pointless. What is the car? It is the new Nissan Juke.
I mentioned Comic Relief on Twitter this week and the new twitrelief thing where people bid to have a celebrity follow them on the popular social networking site. I had a reply one follower, @OldGrumpyTroll said he would give me £5 to the charity if I drove a Nissan Juke. My response was that I’d pay more not to drive one. That £5 was upped to £25, but I still didn’t want to. However, with the £25 doubling to £50, I couldn’t refuse. To me and a lot of others £50 is a lot of money and would go a long way to help Comic Relief.
So, with a call to Glynn Hopkin, the Nissan Dealers in Colchester they agreed to let me drive the motorised monstrosity. What’s more, I need to put up a photo of me behind the wheel as my Twitter and Facebook profile picture for 90 days. Photos and a Video will be taken for evidence.
So as one person has been so kind as to donate a large sum for me to do this, I have set up a comic relief donation page for anyone else who would like to chip in. Now I know some may not be convinced by donating towards me driving a car so I will be making it worthwhile to anyone who does donate. If you donate even just £1 on my page towards Comic Relief then you will be in with a chance of winning a framed A3 sized motorsport print of your choice from my collections. You can’t say fairer than that surely? A pound to a very good cause and the print could be yours. When the final total has been reach I will also be donating to round the figure up to the nearest £10.
So please support a great charity by donating anything you can and feel good that you are helping such a good cause. You can visit my Juke Challenge page here.
On a final note, Today we have all seen the devastating pictures from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and my thoughts are with those who have been caught up in this and affected by it in anyway.