Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Spa 24H – Day 3 – Curtain Raises into the night…..

Posted by Ed Fahey on August 31, 2010

Chicane

Running behind schedule a bit, so to speed things up a tad heres a review of the 3rd Super Trofeo Race, the GT1 World Championship Race and the first day of the GT2 Europe 24 hour race. Photos of all the scenes described can be seen in the Flickr links at the bottom of this article

It started early when the GT1 cars had a 30 min warmup session here. I decided to go to Chicane, or as it was better formely known – The Bus Stop for 10mins on the outside, a quick 5 min dash under the tunnel onto the inside of the corner and then 15 mins on the inside of the corner which included the cars entering the pit lane, which makes for dramatic photos with a nice backdrop as the climb up the small incline. I did a lot of experimenting with manual exposure also, as auto doesnt take kindly to bright headlights, and over compensates leaving totally dark and un-useable shots. There was then a warmup period for the 24 hour race cars, similar to the GT1 cars

Then followed the third and final race for the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo. Like the previous 2 races, fairly split out and as it was winding down I ended up in conversation with some of Blancpains own representatives. Given Blancpain watches can cost more than €90,000 I was surprised to see their photographic equipment cost rather less than that. Photographers from Ireland are rare at international GT race events, most people commenting with the amount of rallying in Ireland, why would I to travel, but people are surprised to hear there is little to no GT/Sportcar racing in Ireland.

And then it happened – the unmistakable sound of tyres screeching as 1 car got his braking point totally wrong and was skidding backwards at

Ouch!!

speed towards Chicane, just as another car was on the apex of the corner and BANG – heavy contact – and I got a photo, as he lost it then a series of him sliding backwards, out of control into the other car. It seems instinctive now for anyone interested in cars or motorsport in general  to turn towards the sound of screeching tyres, but only a photographer will instinctively raise his camera and press and hold down the shutter. Ill admit my shutter speed was too low but I was happy enough with what I got – I should have got photos of the Blancpain guys face, an equal mixture of horror and amusement, fuelling the argument that people only watch motorsport for the crashes….

Warming up the car before the race

Next up was the GT1 World Championship race so I went down an hour ahead of the race start to look around the pits and then follow the cars out onto the grid for photos of the cars, drivers, officials, team members and not forgetting the grid girls, as there is certainly something in that Belgian water… Most of the cars were still in the garages initially – albeit  jacked up with engines running and in gear, warming up engines and transmissions before driving out to the grid, the sound of the 7 litre Corvette C6R’s V8 pounding away along with feeling the exhaust gases pulsing against your leg is both impressive and a demonstration of the raw power that these cars possess, they dont even have be moving to be impressive.

Onto the grid and being professionals, the drivers wont give your camera the finger, or tell

There is certainly something in that Belgian water!

you to get lost, but usually they are so engrossed in mentally preparing for the race, or deep in conversation with their team personnel, they hardly notice the camera. Of course they can give you a thumbs up or a smile and a nod if required. The grid girls are a different matter though, smiling politely for the camera and being pros, dont need to be reminded to do so, and unless there is a crowd of photographers, dont even need to be encouraged to look into your lens either.

The hour passed quickly as the siren to clear the grid sounded and the cars were started up. I elected to shoot the start from just before La Source Hairpin, then onto the hairpin itself and later moving down into the pits to shoot the pitstops then down towards the chicane again, now that the lighting was better and the cars would be fighting for position, rather than following each other through, as they were in practice. The race started and despite the scrum on the end of the pitwall, I grabbed a spot for the start, 3 laps and then onto La Source, where most photographers were only staying breifly, as you could almost reach out and touch the cars they were that close, so it was easy to get photos.

Getting close at La Source

Then onto the most interesting part of the race – the pitstop window, approx 15mins where each car had to pit to change drivers and tyres. From previous experiance at Silverstone, I knew you had to keep your guard in the pits, as photographers are unimportant and it is essential you dont get in the way, thankfully I didnt, but I did see 1 photographer being forcibly removed from a dangerous spot, as he was right in the path of an approaching car. A ruined stop can mean a ruined race so the last thing you want to do is be in the way, as it can be both embarrasing and expensive as the removed photographer dropped his camera in the process… Its important to watch out for signs – the most obvious one being mechanics bringing wheels out and another standing in the pit lane with

Ready for the pitstop

the lollipop, ready to wave their car in, along with the second driver, helmetted up and ready to go. I shot several stops, some from inside the teams garage which is the safest place to be, some from the outside, behind the car and others alongside. During 1 of the stops for the All-Inkl.com Lamborghinis the wheelnut sheared and fell off just as the car left, leaving the car as a retirement and driver Marc Basseng, who had just got out fuming as all his earlier efforts were now for nothing. Such is motorsport and I dared not go near Basseng as he was not in a position to have his feelings recorded, nor was the angry team manager, who annoyed at component failure, couldnt blame anyone in his vicinity. As I walked down the pits toward chicane I noticed friend and fellow photographer John Brooks, who instead of doing what I was doing, was stood half way up the pitlane shooting each stop – but then again his massive 500mm F4 lens means the entire pitlane is photographable from one position. Food for though when I have plenty of money and want a new lens…

Pitstop window now closed, and down to Chicane where a safety car period to recover debris has bunched up the pack to make for nice group photos and then at Chicane as the cars climb up the brief incline leading onto the Start/Finish straight, as the group bunched up in a sprint towards the end. Just as the last lap board was shown I wanted to get a shot of the winner receiving the chequered flag, but the way the fences were in the pitwall meant this was impossible, so I quickly went to the winners enclosure, where the top 3 finishers pull up to be greeted by their teams, I was luckly to grab a spot right infront of the 1st place marker, so the winning driver, the #25 Reiter/Blancpain Lamborghini of Ricardo Zonta and Frank Kechele would be infront of me. Despite the huge scrum of photographers and Reiter team personel I stood firm at the front of the enclosure and got a

A Job well done

perfect shot of Kechle as he celebrated with his team. The podium was raised so the photos from there are at a bad angle, but I was in the right place at the right time to catch 1 of the Matech mechanics catching the champagne bottle, dropped down from the podium to celebrate their 3rd place, and amazingly he caught it perfectly and didnt drop it! I then took in the press conference afterwards but it all seemed slow and tame compared to the race.

The 24 hour race was due to start at 16.00, so time to grab lunch – in my case a jumbo hotdog and frites (or chips). Unlike some other blogs Im not one to minutely describe my lunch,or upload photos of it, but the Belgians certainly have perfected the art of chip preparation, instead of shovelling them out of the fryer like they would elsewhere, they are gently tossed and salted before being presented to you in a paper cone as opposed to a soggy bag along with ketchup or the famous mayonnaise… I consumed quite a few of these cones over the weekend…

Onto the race and I decided to go with the flow and shoot the start as they tackled Eau Rouge/Radillion for the first time, then down to Les

24H Start

Combes. I didnt shoot the 24H grid though, as lunch and chatting got in the way as always. Onto the 24H start and they were started on the old start/finish straight which leads onto Eau Rouge, rather than the new Start/Finish which would have meant La Source being the 1st bend, with a very clean start as the race was for 24 hours and not 24 minutes, there would be plenty of chances for overtaking. Onto Les Combes via the media shuttle, then a slow walk to Bruxelles,Pouhon,and onto the Fagnes/Campus section which is almost the entire track that is accessable, access to the Blancimont section being restricted to marshalls only.

Something has fallen off

Plenty of photos taken and of course the instincts were required more than once,when the sole Gravity Mosler took a trip through the gravel at Les Combes, when 1 of the Gallardos came sideways thorugh Bruxelles or when 1 of the BMW 645’s lost a wheel at Fagnes, which was then followed by one of Spas famous downpours, so on with the raingear.

No sooner had the rain stopped, the clouds broke to reveal the sun, although sadly with no rainbow to be seen, maybe the next time it rained – which thankfully was never, as apart from a brief downpour at 3am there was no rain for the rest of the race. Given Spa’s reputation for rain, this was quite a shock and a relief to everyone, but as always I was prepared for it! On my return to the media centre I was greeted with much laughter and mockery, as the TV camera at Fagnes had picked me up pulling on my raincoat, broadcast to the world, but at least the commentator was kind enough to describe my brief moment of tv fame as ‘conditions getting worse for everyone’.

At night, Les Combes

Unlike Le Mans, Spa is not lit at night, apart from the pits complex a brief excursion to Les Combes was the only night time track shooting planned, also the media shuttles stopped running at 23.00 and wouldnt return until 09.00, so some rest was planned in the small hours and some pit shooting, as there is always plenty to see and scenes to capture, the human element being the biggest part of endurance racing;  happiness, anxiety and ultimately fatigue, it affects us all and in different amounts.

Ed Fahey August 2010

See Photos from the GT1 Championship Race/SuperTrofeo here

See Photos from the first day of the 24 hour race here

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