Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Pescarolo’

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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Le Mans 2010 – Part 3 – The Race

Posted by Ed Fahey on July 5, 2010

Audi R8 Safety Car - 1 of 3 for the race

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

Nick Mason with David Brabham and Marino Franchitti

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

In the rush

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

Audi R15 Plus - ready to go

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

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

Race Start - Porsches at the Porsche Curves

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

Dusk on the start/finish straight

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

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

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

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

Mulsanne Chicane in the early hours of Sunday

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

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

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

Mulsanne corner in the early hours

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

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

Sunrise

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

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

7am - the beginning of the end for Peugeot

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

The end - Audi victory

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

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

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

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

Ed Fahey – July 2010

For Saturday race photos click here

For Sunday race photos click here

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

Posted by Ed Fahey on May 18, 2010

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

Race Start

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

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

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

Porsche 936

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

Starting Grid

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

008 Aston

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

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

Nigel Mansell

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

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

#10 Oreca - overall race winner

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

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

More photos are viewable on my Flickr

Ed Fahey

September 2009

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