Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Spa 24H Day 4 – The morning and day after the night before – not in that order

Posted by Ed Fahey on September 2, 2010

Into the night

00.30 on Sunday and we have just passed into Sunday of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, only the hardcore spectators are left along with the hardcore media – including me, even though Ive just changed my socks,tshirt and Im logged onto facebook for the last hour trying to recharge my batteries, despite the large amount of caffine Ive consumed. There are still 15 hours of racing to go and with no circuit floodlights only the pits complex is the only area of the track devoid of total darkness, so its down to float around the pits and shoot a few night time pitstops. At the moment  the  #78/79 BMW Motorsport M3’s are out front, after AF-Corse led early on with their #2 GT2 Ferrari 430 but the leading Porsche teams – BMS Scuderia Italia and IMSA Matmut are not far behind.

So down to the pits and unlike the GT1 race there is no 20min window to stop in, so while stops may be fast, there is not a massive rush to change tyres,drivers and refuel, although in many cases repair work is needed or brake pads are changed, and many cars are circling bearing battle scars, and plenty of cars have more than their fair share of duct tape holding them together. Again the signs of a stop are when the mechanics assemble in the pitlane, although they are sometimes asleep/resting in the

Taking things easy

garage and need gentle persuasion to get up and get ready, and not all stops are scheduled – usually when they rush out its for an unplanned stop – especially for the Sport Garage Alpinas, which lost a wheel each over the course of the race. It must be quite frustrating for repairs to be undertaken and then the car returns 1 lap later, as the problem still persists. In many cases offs or contact lead to mis-alignment of the car, which can make it harder to drive and makes it wear its tyres unevenly leading to punctures,blowouts and more damage or retirement, so its out with the alignment gauges and bits of string to try and have the car aligned correctly.

The rate of attrition is high and there have been plenty of retirements, mainly mechanical problems,and a fire, but as of yet no big crashes and thankfully no injuries. BMW are still in the lead and watching 1 of their pitstops is a fine display of German precision. Pit rules require refuelling to be done separate to tyres, so when the car pits only the drivers can swop as the car is refuelled, then when this is complete the air jacks deploy and the car goes up for all 4 tyres to be changed, all under the watchful eye of the pit stewards, as the last thing any team wants is a drive through or stop and go for a pit rules infringment that is easily avoidable. Any repairs/checking that needs to be done, perhaps a change of brake pads and a quick clean of the windscreen/headlights (as the cars are now filthy dirty) or a windscreen tear-off (as seen on F1 drivers helmet visors) and the car is away back into the night, in most cases the mechanics can sit back down, or receive a de-brief from the team manager and then go back to observing the timing screens or GPS screen, showing each cars position ontrack. I shot quite a few stops, aslong as you are not in the way, you blend into the background and the pitcrew dont seem to worry you are taking their photos candidly.

BMW Pitstop

Its getting close to 4am now, so time to walk up to Eau Rouge for a night time shot of the cars at the top and bottom of the famous hill, the bottom shot is easy, just rest the camera on the pitwall, 1 sec exposure, set the 5 second countdown timer and done. The top view was a little harder, as Id to shoot with my monopod so it meant a steady hand that was already tired from being awake since 7am. Shot attained, its time to head back to the media centre for some sleep, some media prefer to rest in their cars, but a quiet desk will do me for some zeds – as the Red Bull, Coke Zero,Mars bars and free cans of Mad-Croc handed out in their thousands yesterday can only keep you going so much – a bit of rest works wonders.

I only get an hours rest as Im awoken by the commotion at 05.20 following the sudden news that the #2 AF-Corse Ferrari and the #50 Phoenix Audi R8 have collided heavily at the Paul Frere curve while lapping a backmarker GT4 Porsche and are now both out of the race, the Ferrari had just gone ahead to lead the BMW’s and was running in 1st overall while the Audi was close to the GT3 leaders – so in effect 2 leading cars have been taken out due to being a little impatient while passing a backmarker. The cars are recovered back into Parc Ferme at the top of the pits complex and the damage is present for all to see, leaving the #79 BMW with a reasonable lead over the GT2 Porsches. The fact the Ferraris driver, Eric Van Der Poele and Anthony Kumpen in the Audi are good friends

Night Racing...

(probably not after this!!) and former team mates only compounds the issue. Not long afterwards the second #51 Phoenix Audi R8 hits the barriers at Radillion, just after Eau Rouge and retires.

Like Le Mans, as the sun rises you feel more energy returning, even though there are still 9 hours of the race to go and judging by the various changes in class leads (GT2,GT3,GT4 and GTN) nobody wants to win any of the classes. GTN is the only secure class with the BMW’s so far ahead and with good reliablilty while the 2 remaining GT4 cars both Aston Martin V8 Vantage’s only need to cross the line and stay out of everyones way to ensure they get on the podium. The biggest class is GT3 which sees plenty of competition and lead changes, but GT2 looks set to profit from the  #79 BMW if they fall short, ‘if’ being the important word in this statement as GT2 contains the leading Porsches and the sole remaining Ferrari. The #78 BMW has been slowed by a few minor issues but is still a threat. Like every momentous sporting occasion it aint over til its over! Often the morning after is the hardest time on everyone as the real tiredness kicks in and you are thankful for the small bit of rest you had, coupled with a heavy, high in protein

Driver error

breakfast to keep you going, off on another slow trip around the circuit via the media shuttles and for the second time I manage to capture the #81 Mosler going into the gravel this time at Bruxelles – camera curse? The rate of attrition was really showing now and less than half of the 40 cars that started will eventually finish, not to mention how dirty the cars were and the amount of cars carrying battle damage, with duct tape bandages! The fresh morning air woke me up though and if you feel tired its better to keep moving, shooting the few places Id not shot during the previous day, the outside of La Source, the outside of Bruxelles and finishing on the old start finish straight to get both the winning car passing its pit and the podium celebrations, as these to would be held on the ‘old’ podium.

And then, like the day before – it happened – at 15.20 with 40 minutes to go, the lead #79

The Morgue...

BMW suffered a broken tie rod and was pitched into the barriers at Fagnes as a result. The slow limp back to the pits and the resulting extended stop to repair the damage losing the car its 2 lap lead over the #23 BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche 997 GT2, gifting the red Porsche the overall win,and allowing the #16 IMSA-Matmut 997 GT2 into second, which paid off keeping the pressure on the BMW’s for the preceding 23 hours, despite a gallant fightback by the BMW after repairs were complete, it was not enough and 24 hours and 541 laps later the #23 Porsche took the chequered flag with the #16 Porsche second on the same lap with the #79 BMW third, 1 lap down and the #78 BMW fourth, another strong comeback. Fifth was a good reward for the #1 Ferrari, and sixth was the #53 Mühlner Motorsport Porsche 997, the first GT3 class car home, with the #59 Jota Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage in 22nd and was the first GT4 class car home. For a full race result, click here

The End!

So at the end of 4 days, Ive come to the conclusion that Spa is the finest race circuit Ive been to so far. The natural flowing layout combined with the inclines, backdrop and the infamous weather makes the perfect atmosphere for sportscar photography, coupled with the circuits history. This was more enjoyable than Le Mans – you can have all the atmosphere of Le Mans, but nothing beats a good location and setting and Spa definatley beats Le Mans in that aspect! – I will be back for certain!

Ed Fahey – September 2010

For photos of the second half of the race click here

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