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 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.
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.