Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Nissan’

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 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 24 hour race 2010 – Part 2 – Group C Racing

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 26, 2010

Race Start

Kids these days are reared with diesel LMP cars as their heroes, I was reared with Group C cars as mine. I make no effort to hide my love or enthusiasm for them, my mind is still vividly filled with childhood memories of them, and my shelves are groaning under the weight of models and books about them!

After seeing the Group C Racing series race as part of the Silverstone Classic for the last two years, I was happy to hear that they would be supporting the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2010,with a very promising grid, making my first Le Mans even more memorable, so here is a review of the 2 sessions, qualifying and race.

Qualifying in the rain

A massive downpour (the only heavy rain of the Le Mans week thankfully) was the weather that the mostly gentleman drivers had to face, so for a while there were only a handful of cars circulating, mainly to get used to the track as some of the drivers had yet to sample it, others were driving their cars for the first time ever and at Le Mans to boot.

Still though the cars were fast, making massive rooster tails and with wet weather tyres fitted you could see the dry lines appearing as the cars went around. From my dry position in the Dunlop tribune, just before the famous bridge you could see who was committed and who was finding or pushing the limits, proven by several hairy braking moments for the chicane, or some cars going into the gravel. It was also interesting to see how well the cars could put the power down as back then it was a choice of either small – medium capacity turbo or large capacity normally aspirated engines, although with turbo technology not as advanced back then as it is now the N/A cars such as the Jaguars and Spice Chevrolets were having less difficulty than the turbo Nissans or Mercedes in getting the power down

Nissan R90CK - Le Mans 1990

So enough about the conditions, what about the cars? Id experianced the Porsches, Jaguars and Tigas at the Silverstone classic, the noise of the 7 litre N/A V12 fitted to the  Jaguar XJR-9’s still sends shivers down the spine along with the glorious 5 litre twin turbo V8 of the Sauber C11. Mixed into this was the raw unsilenced Chevy V8 in the Spice SE89C and the detuned 80’s F1 sounds of the DFV Cosworth equipped Spices and a much rarer car with the Swiss built Cheetah C2. Also a Kremer built 962C and a Dauer 962 – precursor to the ‘road version’ that won Le Mans in 1994.

One car I enjoyed seeing in action was the #17 Nissan R90CK,driven today by Kent Abrahamson, a car which during the 1990 Le Mans 24H race set a record speed of 227mph with the chicanes in place during qualifying, the 1st year of them being so, a record which I understand still stands to this day. Driven at the time by a then young British driver named Mark Blundell, helped by qualifying boost, close to 1100bhp was available from the twin turbo 3.5 litre V8 for a pole time of 3.27 – a mindblowing time back then, the fastest petrol LMP1’s grid time this year was 3.28 – shows how fast modern LMP1 petrol cars are and this is with a slightly longer lap. A video of the Nissans record lap can be seen here .  In the 1990 race the car failed to finish after a clash with a backmarker. Not sure if the car pictured is THE car from the video/lap, but it looked identical.

Mercedes C11 - Le Mans 1991

Another car I liked was the Mercedes C11,owned and driven by Bob Berridge, the car seen in these photos was the development car, it never raced back in the day but did plenty of testing mileage, including some by an at the time young German F3 driver named Michael Schumacher… A development of the Sauber C9, but with the same 5 litre twin turbo V8 engine, which makes arguably the greatest noise ever heard at any race circuit – click here (and turn the volume to 12, never mind 11). The car only raced at Le Mans in 1991 and none of them finished, but the preceding C9 won in 1989 and recorded the fastest overall speed on the Mulsanne straight ever at 247 mph, pre-chicanes days naturally. To compare to the Nissans potential this cars fastest qualifying lap in 1991 was 3.31 – which is still an impressive time. To gauge a good time at Le Mans, anything in the 3 minute bracket is fast!

In qualifying for the Group C race, it was a Silk Cut Jaguar 1-2-3 with the XJR-9 of Justin Law on Pole, the similar XJR-8 of Alex Buncombe alongside, the twin turbo V6 XJR-11 of Gary Pearson 3rd and Elliot Kinch 4th in his Chevy V8 powered Spice SE89C 4th, his time set before the deluge began. The Jaguar XJR-11 is special to me as it was the first Group C car I ever saw with my own eyes – in 1989! Alongside Ayrton Sennas McLaren MP4/4 to boot!

Only decent scrap of the race - XJR-16 vs R90CK

Onto the race, on a cool grey morning, the Jaguars immediatley took a commanding lead with  the C11 spinning at the start, but very quickly the race went in a downhill direction, reliability problems and cars constantly getting punctures (a problem which affected the main Le Mans race also) not to mention some drivers still struggling with the track and conditions, with a few cars going into the gravel and others hitting the barriers, the Nissan R90CK among them sadly. A true race of attrition perhaps, but in the end only 3 cars finished on the lead lap after a 45min race with 7 more cars a lap down. All but 1 car managed to do at least 2 laps, with Alex Buncombe into the gravel on lap 1. An indication of how fast some of the cars remain these days was the fastest lap of the race, set by Berridge in the C11 with 3.44, during Le Mans 1991 the cars fastest lap was a 3.35, not bad, a 20 year old car and a non professional driver, but sadly the field was far too spread out for any decent scraps to take place, the cars going around singularly or in 2’s or 3’s. From my position on the inside of the Esses and Tete Rouge, the cars were still fast but the field was just too uneven. Whether it was the level that the cars have been detuned, the drivers skill or just that some drivers were happy to just drive and not race, probably all of these factors! For the record Justin Law took his XJR-9 to victory, followed by Gareth Evans in the Nissan R88C second and Gary Pearson in the XJR-11 thord. Despite the dull race (a little like the races back in the day Im told) they are all to be saluted for bringing the cars back out onto the track to which they are most associated, as many less knowledgeable people still refer to them as ‘Le Mans Cars’. Long may it continue!

Click here for Group C qualifying photos

Click here for Group C race photos

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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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