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.
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.
Saturday was soon upon us. Race day! It was another early start for us as although the 24 hour race didn’t start until 4pm, the second British GT race was starting at 9.15am so we needed to be there before that to photograph it.
It was another great race and the field of British GT cars looked superb in front of the thousands of on looking fans. Hopefully this weekend will have helped raise the profile of the British GT championship. It was the Ferrari 458 of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin that took the victory overcoming the numerous Porsches which were seemingly going to dominate the second of the two races. A full race report can be read here.
After the race, there was time for some rest in the media room before the main event. The Porsche Carrera cup Deutschland and Renault Clio cup took place and we were able to watch the action out on the Nordschleife on the TV screens whilst sorting photos from the British GT race and making plans for the 24 hour race. I also went to the souvenir stands to pick up a few bits. My Laptop is now sporting an obligatory Nürburgring Sticker.
It was decided to shoot the start of the race from out on the Nordshleife rather than at the first corner where most of the photographers would be. So an hour or so before the race, I had packed what I needed and we headed out. We headed to the inside of Pflanzgarten but at the top of the hill to see the cars come over the crest. Opposite us on the other side of the track was a McDonalds Drive through sign. Not a made up one. An actually proper sign that lit up. Somewhere in Germany a McDonalds was missing their sign! The Germans who were camped out there were already on the beers and like most of the fans, probably had been since Monday.
As the race start neared the German national anthem came on over the tannoy system. The boozed up guys opposite us stood to attention and sang along proudly. After that they had realised we were English and so treated us to a rendition of God save the Queen. We gave them a cheer and showed our appreciation. I was quite impressed. Had this had been a football match we would have been on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse.
Pretty soon the unmistakable rumble of engines could be heard through the trees. I could sense the atmosphere change and the excitement grow. The course car appeared over the crest with orange lights ablaze followed close behind by the front running cars all weaving to keep their tyres warm like a mother duck leading her ducklings. But these were more like caged tigers desperate to be freed to unleash their fury amongst the German pine trees. The sun was beaming down on the paintwork of the cars as they streamed past and down the hill. Air horns, whistles, hooters and horns could be heard over the cheers. I was sure my cheeks would start to hurt soon from the constant grin that was plastered across my face. There was nowhere else I would rather have been at that moment. The next course car led through the second group of cars and soon the final group were to stream past. The field is so big that the rolling start has to be split into three groups to avoid mass carnage at the first corners.
I knew the next car to pass me would be the leading car under race conditions. I waited impatiently for it to come round. It seemed like an age as I readied myself. Then, before I knew it, Whoosh. The Schubert BMW Z4 flashed past in an instant. A couple of seconds passed before the chasing pack followed like greyhounds after the BMW hare. We were racing. Cars continually appeared over the crest towards me and I was firing of plenty of shots to capture them in the afternoon sun against the forest backdrop. A tried various angles and perspective to try and capture the gorgeous machines in an attempt to do them some kind of justice. But there were plenty of places to shoot from and angles to get. Even amongst the trees. I was really enjoying myself.
I wandered down towards the crest towards the bottom of the hill before the right hander which took the cars back up the hill. The majority of the cars were getting air at the crest and I could get pretty close to capture it. The fans opposite that adorned the numerous scaffolding towers and those standing below had a great view. Cheers erupted as cars took to the air. I got a good vantage point to capture the action. Everything had become quite surreal. I had never experienced anything like this before. The track, the cars, the fans, the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere. It was a culmination of the best bits of motorsport all together in the same place at the same time. I wasn’t sure whether to just stand there and take it all in or crack on with taking photos to capture this incredible experience.
I moved further on and round the corner. I was standing behind the Armco as cars were now making their way up the hill. The line they took made it feel like they were heading straight towards me. I was just feet away from them as the roared past. I’m no adrenalin junkie, far from it, I’m even scared of heights, but this was such a good feeling. I was buzzing. Quick glances at the screen on my camera gave me an idea of what I was capturing. I only hoped they would look as good, or better when I uploaded the images to my laptop. Time had flown by but in reality I had been at that section of the track for a few hours. It was time to move on and find another good place to shoot from.
I wasn’t to be disappointed with our next destination, Kleine Karussell. Not a hairpin like Karussell but still a banked left hander. Cars raced through like the wall of death at a fun fair. Like the corners bigger brother, some of the cars jumped out of the exit as the banking ended before they scampered up the hill. Like so many of the other area’s on the Nordschleife, you were spoilt for choice in terms of getting some good angles. I was still hoping the photos I was taking were doing this incredible place some kind of justice. As the evening drew in and the light faded it was a good time to head back to the media room to get something to eat and upload the photos we had taken. My excitement had caused me to forget that by now I was actually quite hungry.
Back in the media room, James was in his element. Making notes, checking timing screens, watching through the window and keeping track of the leading cars on the impressive Ipad car and driver tracker application. I scoffed down some hot stew that had been provided whilst I uploaded the photos and tried to get some kind of update as to what had been going on in the race and who was leading. The night had drawn in and I was pretty pleased with the photos I had taken as I was checking through some on my laptop. The Champions League final was on the TV at the end of the media room. From the German cheers and questions of ‘Are you English?’ followed by laughs on my reply, I assumed some Bloke called Brian Munich had scored. I wasn’t that interested though. Did these people realise what was going on outside? I took this as my cue to head down to the pitlane. As I did the Germans went quiet. Chelsea had equalised.
Down in the pitlane it was still a hub of activity. Some mechanics were catching a few minutes sleep whilst others bustled about or watched the football on TV’s. In fact, most of the garages had the Football on next to timing screens and onboard feeds from their cars. Even some pit walls had the football on. Outside the garages, the pit lane was crowded still. Photographers, Mechanics, Organisers and VIP pass holders all jostled for positions. How no one got hit by a car coming in or going out is beyond me. Or maybe people did get hit and I just never saw. I was conscious that I wasn’t going to be one of them so was on full alert throughout.
I was standing outside the Black Falcon garage as the team had prepared everything for a pit stop as it was obvious one of their Mercedes was due in soon. With up to six or more cars per garage space was at a premium. Some cars had to pit in at an angle between others and get pushed back in order to exit when the stop was complete. One of the Black Falcon team members wandered out with the lollypop board to indicate where their car needed to stop. As he peered up the pitlane into the darkness trying to identify their car from its headlights, two cars came in and filled the spot the team had prepared. Neither were the Mercedes they had been expecting and now there was no space for it’s imminent arrival. With that the whole team grabbed everything they could, tyres in their warmers, jacks, fire extinguishers and anything else they needed and sprinted down the pitlane to a clear spot further down. As they did, the Mercedes rumbled in close behind. It was an amazing piece of team work and I wanted to stand and applaud. Formula One drivers moan about pit stops? They need to experience this!
As I patrolled up and down with my camera in hand, I had become aware from the cheers and shouts that the football had gone to penalties and the Germans were doing well. I wasn’t surprised, were the English really going to beat the Germans on penalties in their own back yard? Of course not. By the time I had got down to the Aston Martin garage the team of mechanics and drivers not racing at the time were all huddled around the TV. There was some commotion. I wandered in and on tiptoes peered over the top of a gaggle of heads. It seemed that Chelsea had the chance to win with the last penalty. I was suddenly a bit interested. It was scored and the British Aston Martin team erupted, drowning out the cries of despair that reverberated from all of the other garages. Chelsea had won the Champions League on Penalties. Pretty Epic. In years to come people will ask, ‘Where were you when Chelsea beat the Germans on Penalties on that fateful night?’ To which I will take pride in being able to respond with ‘Standing in the Aston Martin Garage at the Nurburgring during the 24 hour race’. That response is even more epic. I smiled to myself and walked back into the pitlane.
Back in the media room I checked out the photos I had just taken and glanced at the clock. Midnight. It was now Sunday but there was still plenty of racing to capture……