Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Ford GT’

Belgian Brilliance

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 21, 2011

2011 season is go!Time to get back on track with coverage from 2 trips to Belgium for Rounds 3/4 of the GT1 World Championship at Circuit Zolder and Round 2 of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup at Spa Francochamps

First to Zolder for GT1 and it was my first time at this track, Belgiums ‘other’ race circuit after Spa, after a quick blast up the motorway it was into a large forest, just as the GT1 cars were let out for their first practice session, the sounds of the GT1 cars echoing through the trees is a motivator like no other. This was also the first event for my new camera – a Nikon D7000 D-SLR, which replaces my D300 as the ‘main camera’ but Ill be keeping the D300 also. The D7000 took a little getting used to with numerous teething problems on the 1st day, but nothing too major and it was more a case of me being unfamiliar with it – a quick read of the manual solved everything – RTFM!

Martin Bartek - Gone but not forgotten

After a Friday of exploration it was time to get down to the proper action on Saturday and Sunday, mainly GT1 practice, qualifying and 2 races, although the weekend was a sad one, as in the week leading up to the event, Martin Bartek, founder of the Matech team which had prepared the GT1 and GT3 Ford GT’s for racing had passed away, so on Sunday morning a group photo of the Marc VDS and Belgian Racing Ford GT’s, adorned with Swiss Flags was arranged to remember and give respect to Martin.

For practice and qualifying I went into the forest around the back of the track to try and combine cars and nature, if such a thing is possible that is, a great tip given to me by the ever resourceful John Brooks was to go to the cut outs in the fence at

The Crest

the Klein chicane on the track, to get a nice shot of the cars as they came over the crest before approaching the Gilles Villenueve chicane and then deeper into the forest, a very enjoyable track with natural backdrops and not buildings. Onto the qualifying race and an unfortunate feature of the GT1world races this year has been contact of some shape or form at the first corner of the first lap, so predicting this, about 30 photographers had positioned themselves at the

Sign here please

entrance to the Earste corner, waiting for the inevitable  – we were not to be disappointed as the front row All-Inkl.com Lamborghini Murcielago and Young Driver Aston Martin DBR9 touched, scattering the pack to avoid the spun cars and promoting the SRT / Exim Bank Team China Corvette C6R into the lead, a lead which driver Nicky Catsburg held almost

Ooops - was not expecting that (or was I)

to the pitstop window as Fred Makowiecki finally got past after threatening for a good 24 mins beforehand, but once again it was the HEXIS Aston Martin team who pulled off the slickest of slick pitstops to get their car, now driven by Clivio Piccione into the lead. This was not to last though as Marc Basseng in the second All-Inkl Lamborghini was gradually reeling him in and made a move at the Jacky Ickx chicane, which is the last corner on the track, there was a tiny amount of contact but it was enough to retire the Aston out of a certain victory and allowing the All Inkl team to take their first GT1world race win.

Flame on......

Onto the next day and a quick 20 mins of warmup for the GT1 cars then the championship  race, just enough time to get the de facto flaming Lamborghini shot, then into the paddock for the autograph session, time to get shots of the drivers signing their lives away, then a review on the laptop and then time to get ready for the gridwalk and then the championship race, full of the usual stunning grid girls, and anxious looking team bosses, drivers and mechanics, along with some drivers getting in character.

Onto the race and I decided to go right onto the apex of Earste corner, safely behind the wall, ready to either catch a dramatic shot of the pack being unleashed or another coming together, again it was a coming together as Ricardo  Zonta in the Sumo Power Nissan was a bit to eager at the start, pushing the DKR Engineering Corvette into his Sumo Power team mate Jamie Campbell-Walter and into the wall, eliminating all 3 cars on the spot, and forcing me into making a hasty retreat behind the safety fence as both the Nissans were heading straight towards me at one point, at least myself, marshals and 2 other photographers beat a retreat, unlike one who sat unfazed as the out of control cars and shards of carbon fibre flew right towards him…

After a safety car period to clean up the mess, I shot a few pitstops and the outside of the Ickx chicane, then saw the footage of the earlier accident

This fool was lucky...

that had occured, and realised that I was too close for comfort,and was then called to the media office – I thought I was in trouble, but the stewards wanted my photos as evidence against the (foolish) photographer who had not moved, as I was commended for diving for cover, Id rather miss a shot than possibly never get another shot again. My photo is now used on the media briefing documents as an example of what not to do, the photo that is, rather than the photographer. The most important factor is – always have an escape route

Onto Spa and Round 2 of the ILMC, a circuit which was due a revisit after the 24H race in 2010. This race is traditionally the preview to the Le Mans 24 hour race and this year was the 1st race for the new Audi R18 TDI LMP1 car, against its new rival the Peugeot 908, sadly the Aston Martin AMR-One was withdrawn as it was not ready for the race, citing development issues, but there were almost 60 cars in the race over LMP1,LMP2,LMPC,GTE-PRO and GTE-AM classes, 5 separate races at the same time – which during practice and qualifying proved messy with all of the sessions red flagged with big crashes – enough to have the session abandoned due to the crash barriers/tyrewalls  needing repair/replacement, hopefully the 6 hour, 1000km race would not be safety cars every 25minutes. What was concerning was that most of the accidents were caused by slower/faster cars overtaking, 2 does not go into 1, especially at the level we are at here, but a few of the gentleman drivers should stick to lower level racing or sitting on the pitwall wearing a headset rather than a helmet…

After qualifying was ended early due to barrier damage and a totally destroyed OAK Racing LMP1 car, the 3 Audi R18’s were 1st,2nd and 3rd on the grid

Need for Speed

with the Peugeots scattered further along the grid, due to their qualifying strategy of last second runs being ruined due to the red flags, but would the Audis run away at the front?

Onto race day and the Audis had intended to power off into the distance, even when Allan McNish spun on lap 1, but they were not expecting the 3 Peugeots to casually make their way through the field until they were behind and  starting to pass – all within the 1st hour, strange when the Audi physically looked faster, blasting around the track silently like a stealth bomber, the noise of the tyres and aerodynamics as loud as the engine – not quite what most expect from a racing car but the engineering and technology behind it all is very impressive and already used on roadcars – these days a diesel powered car is as good as the petrol powered version…

What made this race unusual from a Spa point of view was the weather – not one drop of rain fell for the 3 days I was there, given that Spa is famous for its downpours, or 1 side of the track is dry the other is wet, this was unusual and welcomed by all – given that the previous years 1000km race had to be stopped and then restarted due to a power failure in the pit buildings caused by heavy rainfall.

GT Battles - always close

So what of the race? Apart from 1 Peugeot 908 being pushed down the field due to a suspension problem it was one way traffic for Peugeot, taking advantage of Audis collision damage with other cars and teething problems with the R18’s, not to mention being faster too! LMP2 class was a fight between the 3 Oreca 03 cars and the Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01D, the Orecas scoring 1-2 with the HPD arrived in 3rd at the end. The GTE- PRO and GTE-AM classes proved the most exciting and close racing with a Ferrari 458 vs Porsche 997 vs Corvette C6R vs Aston Martin Vantage vs BMW M3 battle. The fastest Porsche and Ferrari clashed at the start, leaving the Felbermayr Porsche down on laps but the AF Corse Ferrari survived to win, just ahead of the Hankook Ferrari and BMW M3, in the AM class the IMSA Matmut Porsche won ahead of the Larbe Corvette and another AF Corse Ferrari 430, The class victory for the one-make FLM cars went to the Pegasus Racing entry.

So enough of the race, what about photography? Having loved my trip to Spa in 2010 I was relishing my return there, and covered almost every

Race Start

decent spot on the track for photography. I had wanted to get the start of the race from the outside of La Source, but the organsiers only allowed 10 photographers to be there, which probably was a good idea given the amount of people there. They also had the top of Eau Rouge/Radillion as a red zone, which disappointed many, but after Christophe Bouchots massive high speed off in the Level 5 Lola-HPD where he ended up in the tyrewall which most photographers would normally stand behind, again this was seen as a fair decision. Personally the Les Combes – Bruxelles section is my favourite part of the Spa circuit for photos as there are so many different photo oppurtunities there and its easily accessable also, 5 mins to move around and easy to move between the inside and outside of the track. This is where I chose to shoot the start, at the end of the Kemmel straight, the first part of the lap where the cars have to slow right down and weave through the Les Combes chicane, then downhill to Bruxelles and onwards. For the pits its time to negotiate to firstly get a pit pass, then on with the fireproof overalls and move about, constantly watching for cars entering/exiting and generally staying out of the way, if you do that, your fine!

Once again Belgium shows its love for GT and Sportscar racing, both events were exceptionally well attended and the crowd present to get drivers photos and autographs was amazing, if only other countries took it this seriously! Ill be back

 

© Ed Fahey June 2011

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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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Spa 24 Hour Race Day 2 – Support Acts – Flaming Good!

Posted by Ed Fahey on August 24, 2010

Trofeo Race 1 entering Eau Rouge

Onto Friday at Spa Francochamps and the first of the weekends races, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo . A one make formula, everyone racing identical Lamborghini Gallardos, with 4wd,steering wheel mounted paddle shift gear changing and 570bhp. The series is mainly aimed at amatuer gentleman drivers rather than professional race drivers,but a few pros drive them also. The nature of most one make series, along with the varying skill levels meant that an interesting race would hopefully be in prospect along with a crash or two. The crash would happen on Saturday, but the prospect of an exciting race was a slight anticlimax as the skill levels meant the pack would split up very quickly with cars going around on their own, or in small packs of 2/3. At least you could still listen to the glorious V10 noises as the cars lapped around during their 40 min race. At least the weather held during the race and thankfully it would for the rest of the day also. So, the first of 3 SuperTrofeo races was slightly boring, would the following GT1 qualifying race be any better?

Racing down the Kemmel Straight to Les Combes

The first big race of the weekend, the GT1 Qualifying race and I elected to go to Les Combes, the S bends just after the long Kemmel straight for some overtaking, and to get nice and close to the cars as they battled it out. The first photo I wanted was a group shot as they blasted down the Kemmel straight, just starting to brake as they came past me. For this I knew I needed a high shutter speed to freeze the cars as they were coming almost directly at me, as their wheels would not be visible, it wasnt a big issue to use a higher shutter speed. Before long the race was on, led by the #11 Mad Croc/DKR Engineering Corvette C6R, it was quite a sight to see and especially hear the Corvette leading the pack, the rumbling roar of the 7 litre V8 engine, flat out in 6th gear at almost 190mph towards Les Combes, then dropping a few gears accompanied by a quick flame from the exhaust. The flames were not easy, with most of the GT1 cars its a quick flicker of flame, with the exception of the Lamborghinis, which emit a big  ball of flame, a bit easier to catch and far more dramatic, which Ill come to shortly!  The only mistake I made while shooting down the Kemmel straight, was that Id left the depth of field too shallow, so while the first 2/3 cars were sharp, the others were too blurred, but then it depends on what you are looking at also, but lesson learned for next time!

DBR9 at Les Combes

Next, onto the Les Combes complex itself, and judging by the amount of photographers here, it was a popular spot, you can get close for a nice clear shot and being a chicane the cars are usually bunched up together. Also the short, 1 hour GT1 races with compulsary pitstops keep the action close, so its often more like touring car racing than endurance racing, with the cars racing in groups rather than split up individually, with more than a little rubbing going on…

Rubbins Racing

Theres a lot more to motorsport photography than front 3/4 pans and my fave aspect is trying to get flame shots. All of the GT1 cars shoot flames, but some more frequently and more importantly BIG flames, none moreso than the 4 Lamborghini Murcielagos, nearly a flame on every gearchange, so I positioned myself on the run into Bruxelles, the hairpin after the Les Combes complex, saw the #37 All-Inkl.com Murcielago coming, so ensuring I was in continous burst mode, held my finger down as I panned it, with a massive flame emitted, checked the review screen on my camera and result…

Anyone got some burgers for the BBQ?? It occasionally takes a second or third attempt to get a flameshot this good, but for once I had caught a winner first time so didnt even try to capture a second. Now all I need is to catch the flicker (rather than the flame) that occasionally emitted from the Nissan GTR and Ill have a flame shot from all 6 models of car that compete in the GT1 World Championship…

Despite concentrating on flames and getting close, there was still a great race going on, right to the end, with a great 4 car battle being particularly close, with the #6 Matech Ford GT holding off 3 Nissan GTR’s, both Swiss Racing Team cars, #3/4 and the #22 Sumo Power car, with light contact between all 4, the Ford coming close to being spun if 1 of the Swiss cars had not backed off, but a little rubbin’ is allowed in racing!

For the record the #11 Madcroc/DKR Corvette C6R took a lights to flag victory, followed by the #25 Reiter/Blancpain Murcielago with the #8 Young Driver Aston Martin DBR9 in third place, an exciting race on an exciting track.

Spin = doesnt win

Next up was the second race for the Super Trofeo, so I elected to stay in the same area, for plenty of overtaking and maybe some rubbing, but once again the driver talent proved otherwise, with the grid too spread out, the only action of sorts was a massive spin for the #1 car, an earlier mistake pushing the car down the field, and trying to make amends he spun again at Les Combes – yet by the time he had rejoined and headed onto Bruxelles, he was still ahead of 3 cars…. I guess some race in the SuperTrofeo just to give their Gallardo a hard run around some of Europes finest circuits.

The qualifying for the 24 hour race took place the day before, like Le Mans took place in darkness, and with the Spa circuit having no lighting apart from the pits complex, I elected to spectate and see how insane night running was, words cant describe it, and I was now pumped up for the following days 24 H race, preceded by the second GT1 race, and the third SuperTrofeo race

Ed Fahey – August 2010

See more photos on my Flickr

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Spa 24 hour Race Day 1 – Buildup

Posted by Ed Fahey on August 19, 2010

Eau Rouge

After Le Mans, I could feel a slight addiction for 24 hour races coming on, so some researching led to flights being booked to Belgium for a trip to Spa-Francochamps, arguably the finest racing track in the world for the 24 Hours of Spa, along with 2 rounds of the GT1 World Championship and 3 rounds of the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo .

After a preview to the weekends weather was given on the drive to the circuit, a 50/50 mixture of rain and sunshine we arrived to find a clear sky, but with the clouds never far away. Spa is renowned for its weather also, which throws another element into the already fantastic circuit, it can go quickly from sunshine to rain and back again due to the circuits location in the Ardennes Forest, high in the mountains. The location also lends itself to some great elevation changes for a great challenge to the drivers, never mind the photographers.

24H free practice

So onto the action and after signing on to represent SportsCarInsider for the weekend it was off to the La Source Hairpin, the first corner of the track, just as the GT2/3/4/N class cars that would contest the 24H race were coming onto the the track for their first practice session. La Source is the slowest corner on the track and also the closest you are to the cars, so close in that a lens with focal length of more than 70mm is too much, I shot here with my 18-50mm F2.8 lens as opposed to my more regular 70-200 F2.8. I might have a general lack of enthusiasm regarding F1, but at least when F1 visits a circuit the facilities tend to be excellent, reflected by the Spa media centre, which is by far the biggest Ive been in so far, with great facilities and plenty of desk space, and even good LAN speeds.

One thing that often frustrates me about visiting a new track is finding the access points onto the track side of the fences, at Spa they are few and far between so plenty of hiking is needed between gates, but after day one Id found most of them so it was not a big problem, just stay on the safe side of them and you are fine.

Eau Rouge, again!

After the 24h cars had finished warming up, it was lunchtime, so a quick wander around the pits and then onto the best corner on the circuit and arguably the best corner in the world – Eau Rouge for GT1 practice. All the TV clips, stories and photos still dont prepare you for it, like Paddock Hill bend at Brands Hatch, what appears on TV to be a gentle hill is infact almost a vertical rise, taken in 5th gear, a right left flick and if taken exactly results in a perfect line through Radillion at the top and then will lead you onto the long Kemmel straight. It is possible for 2 cars to run side by side through Eau Rouge, but its rare to happen, as the results of a mistake at Eau Rouge/Radillion can be spectacular and often lethal as usually grip at the back is lost resulting in a total loss of control and heavy contact with the barrier.

While shooting at Eau Rouge, the famed weather made an appearence, as suddenly the skies darkened and before I knew it, it was pouring with rain. Id come to Spa prepared for this, so out with the rain cover for the camera and quick camera adjustments to cope with the darkened skies. Although I dislike getting wet, Ill freely admit, apart from dawn and dusk, rain often provides my favourite lighting conditions as it makes the lighting more neutral and predictable, together with rooster tails and better reflections off the tarmac, so flames and brake lights will appear to be far more dramatic. Not even 5 mins after the rain started it had gone, replaced by a grey sky for a few moments with lots of standing water, so plenty of rooster tail shots and headlights piercing through the spray

After the GT1 it was time for the Lamborghini SuperTrofeo practice, but given it was still wet, there was not much to be seen here, Ill be reporting

Pitstop practice

on what I thought of the racing later on, but being mainly gentleman drivers with a handful of pros it was very one sided. The GT1 cars being finished for the day I went down the pits for a closeup look at then and try to get the finer photos in and around the cars without the rush of a race or qualifying getting in the way. Also some of the teams were practicing pitstops, so a few photos of those also. Changing drivers, then changing 4 tyres might seem simple and straightfoward but there is a lot that can go wrong and the quicker its done, the quicker the car is back out into the race. So 6 practice stops in a row is not unusual, all run under the watchful eye of the teamboss with a stopwatch. What amused me the most was seeing pitcrew from the other teams observing each others stops, then the teams they had been observing, watching their pitstops. Having a fast car and drivers is only a small part of the racing, a fast pitstop and efficient pitcrew can often win or lose a race for the team, and seeing the body language resulting from a good/bad stop during a race says it all and will often affect the teams morale going into races.

Vitaphone pitstop practice

I spent quite a while floating around the GT1 pits, having a nice close up look and generally soaking up the calm before the storm atmosphere. Not something you would get in F1, as its so secretive at times, the garages remain closed, or with mechanics surrounding the cars, preventing lenses poking in, but not in GT racing and it will hopefully stay like this for the foreseeable future.

Unlike Le Mans, Spa is only lit around the pits complex at night so I elected to watch the 24 Hour qualifying and have a better scount of the track to find locations for Fridays races.

For more photos of Day 1 click here

Ed Fahey – August 2010

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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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Le Mans 24 hour race 2010 – Part 1 – Buildup

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 18, 2010

24 hours, day,night and day again

This is it, the holy grail and mecca of sportscar racing, the longest day, night and day of the year. After following it on tv, magazines and online for many years, 2010 would be the year that I finally attend the worlds greatest race – The Le Mans 24 Hour Race – albeit as a spectator rather than media, but I wouldnt let this affect my enjoyment too much and in the end it didnt.

I was well aware of the track and layout from TV and various computer game simulations but it still does nothing for the track, be it be the drop at the Esses or the sheer speed that some cars take Tetre Rouge at, not to mention the sheer size of the crowd that attended, well over 250,000 people, which compared massively with the smaller crowds to be seen at other sportscar events, but being that Le Mans is almost a festival, of course more people will come and being a week long event stay for a while too, in the massive campsites, but for me a hotel looked more inviting, especially with the poor weather in the week leading up to the race.

In the museum, not going anywhere fast

Arriving for the first day of track action on the Wednesday preceding the race and what better way to start than the circuits museum, full of interesting cars and also some notable Le Mans winners and participants – The 70’s Porsche 917 (restored for 2010),Matra 670C,Renault Alpine A442, and Porsche 935,onto the 80’s with the Rondeau M379, Porsche 956, Courage C28 and Jaguar XJR9, through the 90’s with such cars as the Mazda 787B,Toyota 94C-V,Peugeot 905/905 Evo,Dauer Porsche 962 and Porsche 911 GT1-98, then onto the last decade – Bentley Speed 8,Pescarolo-Courage C60 and Audi R15 TDi, it was great to see them all, but Im not a fan of seeing them stationary in museums, Id rather see them ontrack, but given the 917 has been recently restored theres hope for them all yet.

Onto the 1st practice session,on the Wednesday preceding the race, which lasted 4 hours, preceded by a pitwalk. Id rented a Kangaroo TV before the event, not expecting to win the 2 free pit passes that were on offer, well luck was on my side for a change and I won the pit passes,big thumbs up to Kangaroo TV, so into the pitwalk to get closer to the cars and drivers. Im not one normally for saying much about atmosphere, but here you could feel it, the drivers looking edgy, some stood looking around, others repeatedly practiced driver changes, trying

Corvette racing drivers and pitcrew about to practice driver changes

to save even a second here or there, the mechanics were double checking everything or practicing tyre changes, this is a dangerous track, and the last thing you want is mechanical failure, yet the mechanics seemed calm as it was only practice, qualifying would follow later that evening in the dark. Onto the first practice session and I watched from the Dunlop chicane, just before the famous bridge, then onto the Esses on the outside leading to Tetre Rouge then Tetre Rouge itself. For qualifying I stuck to the inside of the Esses, quite a place to watch the cars at night.

This was the first time Id see full works diesel LMP1 entries from Audi and Peugeot run, the most impressive thing about them was the acceleration from the massive amounts of torque they have onboard and the speed – but that was it, the fact they are a few seconds a lap faster than the petrol LMP1 cars and stupidly quiet made them dull to watch, they might aswell have been in their own class. Was also the first time for me to see cars from the American Le Mans Series, mainly the highly sucessful Acura/HPD ARX01c LMP2, run by Highcroft Racing and Strakka Racing and the GT2 class Corvette C6R’s, with 5.5L V8’s instead of the GT1’s 7 L V8, but still sounding amazing with the devilish thunder soundtrack that is a big V8! Another new car Id not seen before was the BMW M3 GT2, one of the 2 cars entered today was the well publicised ‘art car‘ and the last new car for me being the Rocketsports Jaguar XKR GT2.

BMW M3 GT2 - Art Car

Onto the second night qualifying session on Wednesday evening, I went right to end of the track, the Ford chicane which leads onto the Start/Finish straight, the chicane breaking up another flat out straight and also being the pitlane entrance, so it was interesting to see cars entering the complex slowly or quickly, trying to leave enough space ahead for a fast lap, still despite being one of the slowest parts of the track, people still got it wrong.

For the final qualifying section on Thursday,it was off into the forest at the Indianapolis-Arnage section, braking down from the longest straight into a 90 degree left, then a quick burst of throttle into a 90 degree right then off again into the forest. You literally see the cars for 15 seconds before they disappear again, complete with glowing brake disks and exhausts, just an amazing experiance. Also there was no circuit PA system in this section so instead of the French commentary all you could hear were the cars coming and going in the distance, unreal! The best sounding cars were any of the Corvette C6R’s; The GT1 Luc Alphand Aventures cars or the GT2 Corvette Racing works entries, the Gulf LolaAston Martin LMP1’s,the Oreca-AIM LMP1,The GT1 Matech/MarcVDS Ford GT’s the GT1 Aston DBR9 and the HPD cars including the RML run LMP2 Lola coupe with its HPD engine, whereas the OAK Racing Pescarolo-Judd LMP2 car was painful on the ears, like a drill! If the noise was too much, the excellent Radio Le Mans blocked out the noises with some great commentary and insights into everything.

Racing Box Lola-Judd LMP2 car at Indianapolis

An extra challenge for me at this event was that I didnt manage to get photo accreditation for a media pass, so it was looking for gaps in or over fences, not to mention shooting through the fence also, so with the right settings it was possible and rewarding and in many cases the photos were at a better angle due to being elevated slightly.

So much to see so thats it for Part 1, still to come the Group C racing that supported the race, not to mention the race itself!

Ed Fahey – June 2010

For more photos of the Le Mans Museum click here

For more photos of Wednesdays track action click here

For more photos of Thursdays track action click here

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FIA GT1 World Championship Round 2, Silverstone May 2010

Posted by Ed Fahey on May 13, 2010

Entering Maggots

The 1st post of my new wordpress format blog, its off to Silverstone for Round 2 of the new FIA GT1 world championship. Round 1 at Abu Dhabi had been an interesting if slightly unbalanced affair with the ‘Balance of Performance’ (BOP) testing, designed to make the racing closer not working with some cars having a massive advantage and others an equal disadvantage. Rumours abounded of sandbagging/cars set up wrongly during the BOP testing and there were threats made by more than 1 team to boycott the event unless the BOP rules were changed, whether it was more or less ballast added to a car or a bigger or smaller air restrictor fitted. Sense seemed to have prevailed preceding the round with relaxations to some cars (Aston Martin,Nissan and Lamborghini lose weight), others have weight added (Corvette & Maserati) with the Rd1 winning Ford untouched. Also the     Lamborghinis had slightly less restrictive air restrictors fitted while the Maseratis had a slight increase

Rolling lap of Race 1

So what changes did the BOP give? For a start the Astons and Nissans were instantly faster with the Corvettes and Maseratis somewhat slower with the Fords in the middle of the pack and the Lamborghinis still in the midfield, if a little closer to the front. The Nissans/Astons infact being a bit too competitive, with the  2 Astons and a Nissan taking the 1st 3 slots for the qualifying race on Saturday and transforming this into a HEXIS Racing Aston 1-2 and 4th with the lead #1 Vitaphone Maserati snatching 3rd after the compulsary pitstops, with the #22 Sumo Power Nissans in 5th. The 4th place #7 Young Driver Aston would have finished higher were it not for a drive-through penalty for a pit rules infringement, and as it turned out, the stewards room would ultimately decide the outcome of Sundays championship race.

So, rulebooks aside, was it good? In a word – YES it was! There is still nothing like seeing some of the worlds finest and fastest supercars racing together, the sight and especially the sound. From the sweet sound of the Lamborghini V12 to the eardrum pounding, ground shaking Corvette V8 or the high revving V8’s of the Ford GT and Nissan GTR and the more conventional but still perfect V12 sounds of the Aston Martin and Maserati they were all there to be savoured, and enjoyed. For approx 5 mins of each race I put down my camera and just feasted my senses, primarily sound on what was racing around the track and just admiring the cars for what they were, then it was back on with the ear defenders and back to capturing them at their finest. The relatively cheap entry tickets combined with open grandstands and paddock leads to a rather relaxed event compared to F1 or MotoGP, where a grandstand seat costs slightly more! GT and Sportscar racing appeals to the purist whereas the general motorsport fan would visit F1, whereas MotoGP has an almost cult like following globally

MadCroc Corvette C6R in the new Arena section

The weekend also saw the debut of the new Silverstone Arena track layout,  which loses the legendary, blind, downhill left-hander at Bridge in favour of a new, slow right-hander and a hairpin that leads on to the old National straight, now renamed the Wellington straight. But although the ribbon was officially cut on the Thursday before the event, a great deal of work remains to be done  ahead of the British Grand Prix in July. The new pit complex on the straight after Club corner has only just been started, and will not be used until the 2011 F1 race. Elsewhere, while the tarmac and runoff areas of the new track section were sufficiently complete to allow racing to take place, the surroundings were a mixture of mud, tarmac, construction vehicles and stacked-up pieces of grandstand waiting to be reassembled, and combined with the poor weather made a lot of the track become a swamp. Im glad I brought boots as opposed to my normal flat shoes and my rental car needed a good wash afterwards, as it resembled a 4×4 after being put through its more natural environment!

Pondering

And so onto the main event, Sundays Championship race. The 3 Astons immediately pulled away at the start and would have disappeared only for the safety car to be deployed due to 1 of the Phoenix Racing Corvettes having pulled up, a fuel line failure leading to the rear of the car bursting into flames and retiring. The sole Matech Ford GT, winner of Round 1’s championship race at Abu Dhabi didnt even make the 1st corner, being eliminated in a clash with 1 of the All-Inkl.com Lamborghini Murcielagos which also retired not long afterwards. After 7 laps behind the safety car an intense Corvette/Aston/Maserati/Nissan battle was taking place before the pitstop window had opened, with almost touring car like overtaking and racing at times, mainly due to the race lasting only an hour instead of double or even triple that amount of time, so it wasnt a case of biding your time, always attack!

The BOP changes had the #22 Sumo Power Nissan almost at the front after the #23 car had been a victim of the pre pitstop scraps, the #22 car moving up to 4th, then 3rd, very competitive compared to the Swiss Racing Team R35’s which had been off the pace for the weekend, not helping by a big crash for the #3 car at the fast Stowe corner, resulting in heavy frontal damage and retirement.

In the end though,officialdom decided the race outcome. The second placed #9  HEXIS Aston of Thomas Accary was given a stop-and-go for its engine being restarted when the car was still on the jacks during a pitstop, but he failed to serve this penalty within the required 3 laps, so had 15 seconds added to his racetime, demoting him to second place. The winning #7 Aston of  Darren Turner and Tomas Enge was excluded because its mandatory underfloor skid plank was worn beyond the permitted tolerance, beleived to be less than 0.05mm’s. This promoted the #22 Nissan to 1st place, the #9 HEXIS Aston 2nd,the #25 Reiter Lamborghini of Frank Kechle/Jos Menten to 3rd, the #34 Team Triple H Maserati MC12 of Bert Longins/Mateo Bobbi to 4th and the #8 Young Driver Aston  of Stefan Mucke/Christoffer Nygaard 5th

Flamin'

In F1 I feel this may have been an apt decision to disqualify the winner due to the car not always staying ontrack, but then again F1 is the ultimate motorsport for most with their multi-million dollar budgets and state of the art cars, but not in GT racing where the GT1 World Championship consists entirely of private/semi-works supported teams, due to no works teams being permitted to enter. Also the poor weather and building site conditions made the track have less grip than normal where the track edges were muddy and dirty and had no grip so a trip over the kerbs/grass was often inevitable,whereas before drivers would be in full control and the amount of cars picking up punctures and having to pit or retire was testament to this, not to mention the dirt line up to the ankles on my boots and the muddy footprints everywhere….

Unlucky Number 7

An enjoyable meeting, helped by my media access pass with thanks to John Brooks /  Sportscarpros , and it was refreshing to see a lot of spectators at the event. Whether it was down to the 1st opportunity to see racing on the new Silverstone Arena layout, the new championship,fans encouraged by the live online streaming of all the events on the FIA GT1 website, or just to see the cars themselves racing, the interest in Sportscar/GT racing seems to undergoing a resurgence. Perhaps F1 and MotoGP are pricing themselves out of the market and being stuck to a grandstand seat instead of being free to move doesnt help. With Silverstones large amount of different corners and viewing areas, moving around the track is worthwhile, despite the massive debris fences that have now been erected around the track in preparation for MotoGP, ruining many previous good viewing locations. Being a keen watcher of MotoGP races and having seen what happens when crashes occur in MotoGP, where riders and bikes take to the skies, they are a necessity, and for once the nanny state health and safety laws might just be a good thing.

At least the cars run more or less unsilenced for now, in a weekend of two-fingered salutes to the environmentalists – Long may it continue!

– Ed Fahey, May 2010

Additional Photos can be viewed on my Flickr

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