Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix Racing’

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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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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