Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Audi’

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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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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Le Mans 2010 – Part 3 – The Race

Posted by Ed Fahey on July 5, 2010

Audi R8 Safety Car - 1 of 3 for the race

After the buildup and support races its time for the big one – The 78th running of the Le Mans 24 hour race. I am standing in the pitlane just before the cars are brought out onto the grid and you can almost physically feel the tension mounting. Drivers, celebrities, team personnel and fans all flooding the pitlane, something you would never get in F1.

Nick Mason with David Brabham and Marino Franchitti

It felt like I was in the old pre 1991 pits with the sheer amount of people wandering about, the walls of people parting, red sea like as the next car was pushed out towards the grid, with plenty of whistle blowing marshals to move people out of the way. The fact some of them had to be pushed throught a 3 or 4 point turn to get onto the grid all added to the amusement of it all. Again a big thanks to Kangaroo TV as Id won a competiton they had organsied to win some pit/paddock passes, without these Id not have got as close. Like the practice/qualifying days previously there was some frantic work going on in some garages, while in others, mainly Audi/Peugeot they were ready and waiting for the task ahead, for them it was going to be a formality – or would it?

In the rush

In the midst of the pits though, the Rolex clock was ticking down the hours towards 15.00 local time and the start, even at 13.00, 2 hours before the start it was busy,in any other race the rush doesnt start until 40mins before the start, and your asked to leave a mere 5 minutes before the start! It was an unusual experiance to feel someone squeezing past you, to turn and find it was a driver or team principal desperatley trying to get to the grid, you just wouldnt see this in F1, its too commericalised! I didnt bother trying to force my way onto the grid as it seemed even busier than the pitlane, a reminder of the Tokyo Subway in rush hour. Inbetween the grid girls, the Patrouille de France flying over and various  people who appeared to be exceptionally wealthy wandering about, at times you forgot a race would be starting soon!

Audi R15 Plus - ready to go

By mingling in the pit/paddock area though, myself and my companion for the adventure – Stephen – had missed the chance to view the race from the terraces opposite the start/finish straight as people had been sat here since 8am. We decided to walk to the beginning of the ‘arena’ side of the circuit – The Porsche curves, and find ourselves landed in a slice of Denmark, evident by the lineup of Danish registered coaches and then several hundred Danes wearing the hats of their heroes – Tom Kristensen or Jan Magnussen. Denmark currently has no F1 drivers so this is the next best thing! Following the action on the Kangaroo TV, you could see the cars being started to head off on the formation lap, and as they went out onto the Mulsanne,you hear them in the distance as they got closer. Despite the loud Danes, a group of loud French fans are close by also, making as much noise as possible for the Pole sitting #3 Peugeot as it glides by, then an even louder roar from behind us as the #7 Audi, which will be driven by Kristensen later, then another cheer for the #63 Corvette, with Jan Magnussen at the wheel, its rare to see such passion in motorsport outside of rallying or F1, its like being at a football game when the teams run on before the start.

Just after 15.00 and still sat amongst the dedicated Danes  the race has begun. Immediatley the 4 Peugeot 908’s LMP1’s shoot off into the distance, pursued by the 3 Audi R15 LMP1’s but already they are a reasonable distance ahead of the Lola Aston Martins and the Oreca-AIM,

Race Start - Porsches at the Porsche Curves

the leading petrol LMP1 cars, so obviously the rule changes to try and equalise the petrol/diesel LMP1 cars at the start of 2010 have not worked. Also noticeable is how quickly the HPD/Acura ARX-01’s are ahead in LMP2 and that several GT2 cars are already ahead of GT1 cars – but then again GT2’s these days are mostly faster than GT1’s !  Like my visit to Silverstone for the Le Mans Series race in 2009, it is not long before the diesels are already lapping the slower GT2 cars,  and just 1 lap in, a car has already ground to a halt on the Mulsanne, the Autocon LMP2 Lola. Within 3 more laps the GT2 Jaguar XKR is lost and the first high profile retirement as the #5 LMP1 Beechdean-Mansell Ginetta-Zytek with Nigel Mansell at the wheel suffers a dramatic blowout near Indianapolis and gets pitched into the barriers as a result, meaning the 3 Audi R8 Safety Cars make their first appearence of the race, the track being so long – 8.5 miles / 13.6 km that 1 Safety Car cannot neutralise the race quickly enough.

Dusk on the start/finish straight

We slowly make our way back to the main start/finish straight area heading to the Esses and Tertre Rouge and then use the paddock passes to have a slow and unrushed evening meal in the paddock restaurant, beating the queues of the main restaurants/bars and being able to sit down and observe the paddock activity. It feels odd seeing Lord Drayson with his kids wandering about or a trio of JLOC mechanics sit cross-legged on the ground eating their noodles, not to mention the highly relaxed Audi mechanics calmly watching the race unfold, all as a dramatic sunset was visible.

The atmosphere seemed different, calmer, as now the initial excitement of the start and first few laps was over, we were settling down now to the night section, approx 1/4 through the race. Already 1 Peugeot has fallen levelling it to 3 Peugeots vs 3 Audis for the overall lead, the only decent scrap taking place ontrack is the GT2 lead battle between the Risi Ferrari 430 and the Corvette Racing C6R ZR1.

007 Lola-Aston Martin leaves the pits to rejoin at dusk

As the sun sets, we go to a bar that overlooks the pit entrance, despite looking like an exclusive VIP bar, its a simple case of elbowing your way to the front and ignoring ignorant Germans who try and claim where they are is ‘private’. Little do they know that the Irish are not renowned as a nation that takes shit of any kind. Anyway, they had not put their beach towels down or similar down on the chairs so, a disregard for their claims their area is ‘private’ and you are rewarded with a fine view of the start finish straight and pit exit, down into the the Dunlop chicane as the cars blast past and exit the pits, once again its the Corvettes that win in the noise stakes here, an ‘explosion’ of V8 as they turn off their speed limiters and give it full throttle exiting the pits, with the Aston Martin V12’s in the Lola LMP1 and DBR9 a close second. As the sun sets, the stands empty slightly, as people drift away from the race for a while, but Steve and I are only getting started and want to get really close so off to Les Hunaudieres or The Mulsanne Straight.

Mulsanne Chicane in the early hours of Sunday

The Le Mans circuit or Circuit de la Sarthe to give it its official name is a mixture of public roads and purpose built circuit, the high speed bits are public road, so when the sat nav tries to send you down these very roads its a case of resorting to map based methods and using a sense of direction. Spectating along the straight is banned and you frequently hear stories of those who risk hiking thorugh pitch black fields, trespassing through gardens and usually ending with a confrontation with the Gendarmes (the no messing arm of the French police) for the thrill of just a few minutes next to the barrier with the cars screaming past. But thanks to the Club Arnage guide a little gem of a place is our destination – Hotel Arbor, which is on the side of the road from Le Mans to Mulsanne – aka Mulsanne straight, so today we must find it using back roads and enter through the back gate. After a little bit of offtrack excursion, a stern but polite female Gendarme directs us to where we need to go and for me the highlight of the 24 hours, a true Nirvana moment, for we are now less than 10 ft away from where the cars are going flat out on the Mulsanne, all for the pricely sum of €10, far better value than a tribune (grandstand seat).

The video below (filmed by me for a change) gives an insight into the raw experiance this was. Not being an official spectating area, there is no PA system, or big screen its just you and the cars. Its one of the few places on the track where the cars can be heard going totally flat out in 5th/6th gear, then dropping down to 2nd/3rd for the chicane, then hard on the power again. You dont hear them, you can feel them, proven when Im sat in the car and there are vibrations in the footwell. We stayed here for at least 3 hours, and somehow I managed to sleep for a tad, if your tired enough you will sleep anywhere….

After this it was off to the Mulsanne corner enclosure just as the sun was beginning to rise, but with a big screen and Radio Le Mans to keep you going it didnt feel as if the race had lasted for 13 hours already. This section of the track was surprising as I didnt think the public enclosure would be as big as it was, so not only could you watch at the corner, but a decent distance uptrack too towards Indianapolis so you could watch the cars

Mulsanne corner in the early hours

accelerating hard, the darkness added to it with glowing brake disks leading into the corner then glowing exhausts visible as they vanished into the night. This being a poor area for clear photos, I spent 10mins getting 1/2 decent shots, then sat down and just tried to do as little as possible, conserving energy and just relaxing, if thats possible at a sportscar event!

The easiest way to relax is to listen to Radio Le Mans, as good as John Hindhaugh and Paul Trusswell are, I think the laid back style of Jim Roller and Charles Dressing are easier to listen to when your half asleep, updating and just talking about the race as it unfolds. The rate of attrition this year is high and already a large number of cars are out, but its not over until 15.00 later which being 10 hours away seems like a lifetime right now. To think that a F1 race lasts no more than 90 minutes and the amount of retirements then, really shows how much of a test Le Mans is on a car, with similar speeds being done also.

Sunrise

It seems only the hardcore spectators are left now, the hoards of people about when the race started are either in their tents asleep or at the numerous bars and restaurants, but plenty of evidence is everywhere of the previous hours actitivites with piles of discarded beercans and bottles about. For some people it seems Le Mans is an excuse to drink as much as possible, then spend the rest of it comatose, but not for me and plenty others it would seem. It feels like Im sat in the crowd at a tennis match, everyone sat in a row, in silence, the sound of the cars passing is the only thing keeping us awake, but as soon as the sun rises you can feel a little strength return, so its time to consume the only can of red bull I intend having, quickly followed by a full bottle of mineral water, to balance out red bulls dehydrating effect and it works as I can feel the energy return over the next 90mins. Being summer its bright by 6am so time to leave the Mulsanne and head back to the arena to follow what is probably the hardest part of the race for everyone, the morning after the night before.

Up until this point its has been a balanced Peugeot vs Audi battle- but at 7am, just as people are beginning to wake up, they get a massive alarm clock call when the #2 Peugeot coasts into Tetre Rouge, flames pouring out of 1 side. This car has led the majority of the race, with a comfortable gap to second place, yet its now all over and its down to 2 Peugeots vs 3 Audis…

7am - the beginning of the end for Peugeot

After a relatively bland night and total domination in practice and qualifying by Peugeot, now it seems a second win in a row could slip from their grasp,and with 8 hours still to go, this race will be anything but dull, as the Audis still circulate. The radio comes alive as their pit reporter witness the crew of #2 behind their garage, clearly despondent, but still they have #1 and the semi works Oreca #4 cars in it and #1 is 3rd as Audi #9 has now inheritied the lead. Over the last 8 hours it becomes a truly unpredictable race as the #1 Peugeot expires, but not before eliminating the GT2 leading #64 Corvette in a controversial overtake, in an attempt to catch the now leading #9 Audi. Reports of a Peugeot pit full of men in tears seemed unexaggerated and it was left to the #4 Oreca Peugeot to take Peugeot honours. but then, just when you thought things had settled, the #4 Peugeot dies in the same circumstances as #1 and #2, leaving the entire team inconsolable, none more than Oreca team boss Hugues de Chaunac who is totally traumatised . By this stage we are in the enclosure beside the start/finish straight, half asleep but in a much better state than some people, the Dutch have perfected the ancient art of sleeping standing up it would seem.

The end - Audi victory

And so as the race concludes its a clear 1-2-3 for Audi, Peugeot just pushed too hard and paid the price on all 4 cars, 1 suffering suspension/chassis damage, most likely due to being thrown over the kerbs and the other 3 all suffering similar engine failures, so it was left to Audi for a clear 1-2-3 finish and another diesel domination. The best placed petrol powered car was the Oreca-AIM LMP1 car and first LMP2 was next, a fantastic 5th overall for the Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01C, beating the highly favoured identical Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01C. GT2 beats GT1 overall,for only the second time,as the Felbermayr Porsche 997 comes home in 11th to win GT2, 7 laps ahead of the GT1 class winning Larbre Saleen S7R – a decade after the S7R had first raced and finally records a class win at Le Mans. The GT2 Porsche took full advantage of the Risi-Ferrari/Corvette retirements, in what was the best door to door racing of the 24H. All 3 Matech Ford GT’s also fall, benefitting the Saleen

In a true race of attrition there were only 27 classified finishers out of 55 starters – but the distance record, set in 1971 was finally beaten with the winning car completing 397 laps, covering over 5410 km (3362 miles), the second/third placed Audis also breaking the record.

The 1971 record was 397 laps and 5,335.313 km (3,315.210 mi) over the chicaneless 13.469 km (8.369 mi) configuration, while the current configuration (ran since 2007) is 13.629 km (8.469 mi)).

So – despite closely following it since 1996, it was my first ever Le Mans and what an experiance, a test for everyone, not just the cars. Ill be doing my utmost to return in 2011!

Ed Fahey – July 2010

For Saturday race photos click here

For Sunday race photos click here

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First time for everything – Le Mans Series 1000km of Silverstone

Posted by Ed Fahey on May 18, 2010

First Time for Everything – originally published on Sportscarpros.com Originally written in September 2009, some of it is now quite historic as numerous changes have happened with class structure etc since this was written.

Race Start

I’ve been a sportscar fan since childhood, when Rothmans Porsche 956/962s and Martini 935s occupied my mind as much as The A-Team and Knight Rider. Into my teenage years, I aspired to owning a McLaren F1 GTR in Gulf or Harrod’s colours, but somehow never saw the attraction of the Mercedes CLK-GTR. Moving on, nowadays I find myself covering Time Attack and drifting events for magazines and websites, but still never forgetting my first love – sportscars. Covering those events led me to cross the path of the Rt Hon Sir John of Brooks and receive the invite to become a contributor for Sportscarpros. Having already covered the Silverstone Classic for SCP, it was time to get some experience of a contemporary series – the Le Mans Series at Silverstone.

Any plans to catch the last of the Friday practice sessions were ruined by the M1 motorway being jammed, so I arrived just as the cars were returning to the pits, before meeting up with John for a quick briefing – I had no orders, I was just told to enjoy myself. So below is the weekend as I saw it.

Saturday was more about the support series, Formula Le Mans, Radicals and CER – Classic Endurance Racing. Here was a chance to see some of my childhood icons. I had seen a pair of Porsche 935s race at the Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1989; both were plain and a little tired looking, but still managed to dominate a grid of racing 911s and 924/944s. The pair racing today looked immaculate, a throwback to the late ’70s and early ’80s, when these cars were the preferred choice of the front-running privateer teams of the time. The 936 was

Porsche 936

also a treat, despite being labelled by certain people in the pressroom as an impostor (seemingly it was the 1981 car in its 1980 livery, 1980 being the year I was born!) but I was happy to see it there no matter what its pedigree. The same could be said for the BMW M1s racing (a mixture of old Procar machines and genuine Group 5 M1s), but whatever they had done or claimed to have done in the past, I was happy to see them all. Onto the race, and after getting over the sight of the grid, which, despite looking huge in the pits, looked even bigger on track, with 44 cars battling it out. On track, and Paul Knapfield driving an ex-Mario Andretti Ferrari 712 immediately opened up a healthy lead, but it was not to last, as he was replaced by a variety of cars at the front, including Rob Hall’s Matra-Simca 670C, a car that I very quickly grew to love, for the looks alone, never mind the howling V12 soundtrack. Another highlight was Xavier Micheron’s Howmet TX, a quirky, gas-turbine-powered car, built before the global fuel crisis arose and made such cars impractical. Despite only running in the midfield, the helicopter-like sound of this car made it stand out immediately. Micheron was another DNF, but when he spun off, the marshals did not immediately run to the rear of the car to push him off, for obvious reasons. At the front it was Bobby Rahal who finished first, driving the Lola T290 that he drove ‘back in the day,’ a car that he now personally owns.

Starting Grid

Onto the main attraction, the Le Mans Series, and I had an ace up my sleeve in the form of my own brand-new Seat Leon hire car. The circuit’s access/ring roads were open, so a 20-minute hike carrying gear from Copse to Stowe was now reduced to a two-minute drive, in air-conditioned comfort, not to mention with the stereo conveying the excited Maccum commentating of John Hindhaugh on Radio Le Mans. A rather packed and busy gridwalk preceded the formation lap and start of the race. After scouting several locations around the track during practice and qualifying the previous day, I decided to head to Vale for the start of the 1000km race to get all the cars bunched up as they slowed for the chicane. The race speeds at the start were more akin to 30-minute sprint than 6-hour enduro, and within 10 minutes, the fastest LMP1 cars were already lapping the slower GT2 cars. Up front, two of the three Gulf Racing LolaAston Martins were slowly pulling away, with the #007 Stefan Mucke-driven car leading, although with the pole-sitting #10 Oreca-AIM never far away. The hard charger though was the #16 PescaroloJudd driven by ex-F1 pilot Jean-Christophe Boullion. After starting at the back of the grid, ‘JCB’ was slicing his way through the field and was halfway up the order within 15 minutes of the start. Time for a change of location, so I decided to head for the pits – on with the compulsory fireproof overalls. Just as I had them on and was about to leave the media centre, there was a commotion around the screens relaying the race as JCB took second place to cheers and applause, so I deferred heading for the pits for a few moments as he was now within sight of the lead #007 Aston. Then,

008 Aston

while lapping a GT2 car at Priory, the Mucke Aston ran wide to overtake the GT2 machine around the outside and JCB dived up the inside for the lead. If the reaction in the media centre was anything to go by, I’d have loved to have been in the Pescarolo garage at that moment. Not long after this move, the pole-sitting Oreca, driven by Olivier Panis, took second place.

Down in the pits, one crucial bit of advice given to me by JB was to watch for the pit marker being placed in the pitbox. This was the signal to the race officials, who observe and scrutinise each pitstop, that the car would be arriving in the pits soon and, in the photographer’s case, to get ready or get out of the way! When the first marker was put out, I decided just to observe what happened and see how close you could stand without hampering things, as the mechanics and pit crew have been known to get physical if you get in their way! In this case, it was the #78 GT2 Advanced Ferrari 430, in for the standard stop of refuel and tyres/driver change. The pits can either be quiet or a hub of activity – the latter mainly when the top runners came in, especially the 3rd-/4th-placed Astons, as nearly every photographer and cameraman

Nigel Mansell

scrambled to get there. I opted to stand at the front of the pit box, but not in any prone position, as the two cars made their stops. While all this was happening, the # 5 LMP1 Ginetta –Zytek driven by Nigel Mansell was sat in the garage having an extended pitstop to replace a broken wishbone, while disaster had struck the leading Pescarolo – a gearbox problem which ruined the outside chance they had of taking the championship overall, the #007 Lola-Aston being champion elect. After a few more pit stops, I moved on from the pits and at this point lost track of the race order, as my small earpiece radio was unable to receive AM signals, so no more Radio Le Mans, only snippets while moving between locations in the car. Perhaps it was a good thing to concentrate on photos and not worry about race positions, I was there to photograph the race after all, not write about it. For the record, after the pits I did Copse (both inside and out), the entrance to Priory, Stowe, the bridge on the Hangar straight, Maggots and Luffield. Those who know Silverstone will realise that that’s more or less the entire circuit covered, including the pits and Vale/Club corners at the start. Silverstone is not a photography-friendly circuit by any means.

In the end, officialdom decided the outcome of the race. The #10 Oreca appeared to have it in the bag until it was called into the pits by officials for a nose replacement, as a front louvre had broken. This appeared to give the #13 LMP1 Speedy Sebah Lola-Aston Martin victory, as they had risen up the field after the Pescarlo had slid down, but in a cruel twist

#10 Oreca - overall race winner

of fate they too were called in to replace a louvre, handing victory to the Oreca team, with the #007 Lola Aston placing third and winning the series overall. In GT1 it was only a three-car class today,Larbre Saleen vs.Gigawave Aston Martin vs.Luc Alphand Corvette, with the Aston coming out tops. This was a sad end to the once-dominant category, and the Corvette won the championship through consistency. GT2 also saw a tight fight, with the #77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 997 only needing eighth place to win the championship, but the second in the championship #92 JMW Ferrari 430GT pushed them right to the wire. At the end of the day, it was not enough to prevent the Porsche winning the title overall with its seventh-place finish . In LMP2, the #33 Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola-Judd had an easy victory over the #25 RML Lola-Mazda.

So, my first time in the deep end at a contemporary sportscar event was certainly an eye-opener compared to the events I’m more accustomed to, especially in terms of the general atmosphere and size of the whole thing. Now that I am in a good position to cover more sportscar events, and with a general resurgence in the sport despite the current economic downturn, it’s my intention to do many more in 2010. Watch this space as this weekend will certainly be the first of many.

More photos are viewable on my Flickr

Ed Fahey

September 2009

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