The sky was already emptying out its emotions when we arrived onto the track in the morning. Water literally flowed down the parking lots and access streets around the circuit, and as Rod and I hurried into the media tower, we tried our best to walk around deep rivers and ponds that quickly formed from the morning down pour. As we stepped into the dry and warm building, the sensation of wet socks was the first thing that greeted us. I looked down at my watch, and it wasn't even 7am yet….
The rain and the wet socks were the last thing on my mind as the morning progressed. I, Linhbergh, stood on hallowed ground–a true temple of speed. Within the next couple of hours, this circuit would put on a gladiatorial spectacle like none other in the United States. The rainfall subsided from a drizzle to a light mist as we got closer to when the lights go green down at Road Atlanta, signaling the start of the ten hour Petit Le Mans endurance race.
Before this race, I've photographed my fair share of professional drift events, time attacks, wheel to wheel NASA/SCCA races, and regular track days, but the Petit Le Mans was an event that operated on a completely different level. This was the first race track and race event where I've actually felt intimidated.
This was a race track like none other I've been to. The prestigious and world famous Laguna Seca felt nothing like the race track that played host to the Petit Le Mans. Laguna Seca's brown, tan, and dry desert landscape was a complete contrast to the rolling green, forested hills of Road Atlanta.
The light mist steadily enveloped the whole track even as the race started.
Here's a great example of how wet the track was at the start of the race. This shot is also a great example of the most epic view in the whole circuit; the series of chicanes are called "the esses." You are first greeted with a stampede of sound as the pack of racing cars come up to the first corner at the top of the hill; the first car caresses the top of the hill, then it drops down into the chicanes. Witnessing the R15 Audi, piloted by the mighty Alan McNish, come down the hill at full speed, in the wet, was something to truly behold.
The whole grid was comprised of many extremely loud race cars, but no race car could match the absolutely menacing race-driven V8 music that billowed from the pair of Compuware Corvettes. When one of these yellow and black beasts fly by, your chest compresses from what it thinks is a huge explosion. The sound coming out of these cars, when driven flat out, actually hurt without the help of ear plugs!
Rolling green hills, forested back drops, the characteristic red clay … Road Atlanta is a seriously gorgeous track.
Here's a shot of the Audi R15 as its about to pass the Flying Lizard Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
The Road Atlanta back straight with a lone Farnbacher Loles Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
The Intersport Racing Prototype 1 with the Dyson Racing Prototype 2 car looking mighty pretty in the wet at "the esses."
This car really does hurt.
This is the hill before start of "the esses."
The aesthetically menacing, but surprisingly not loud, Audi R15 at turn 4.
As I stepped off the track and into the pits, I was supplied a racing suit by the boys at BMW because a fire-safe suit is required for any personnel in the pits. Let me tell you, walking around in such a racing suit makes you feel super official and overly important. To some, that maybe a nice feeling, but as a photographer, it is strange to get such glances and stares from onlookers, and even from rival teams!
The level of professionalism that Peugeot brought to Road Atlanta is something else–these guys had an intimidating mansion of a paddock setup, and a pit crew that looked and acted like a top notch racing team. Peugeot definitely turns up the seriousness to 11.
Let's not dismiss the level of seriousness that Audi brings to the table, either. These guys did everything right over the course of the weekend. The race was playing very well in their hands with the help from the daring move by Alan McNish at the start of the race. However, we have to admit that team Audi does have a bit more rice in their blood than team Peugeot. The R15 looks like a car designed by a genius 12 year old boy, which is not a bad thing. A car with a whole bunch of fins, wings, and louvres would be a car I'd definitely draw all over my math class notes–like the Audi.
These masked and costumed men have an air of stormtrooper-ness. When they're over the pit wall doing pit crew-y things, they are all cool, precise, and professional; but back behind the pit wall, their guard gets let down a bit and they relax. It's interesting to hear the normal banter between these guys during the course of the race. I've heard conversations about the wife and kids, the latest television shows, amazing YouTube clips that you just have to see, and even conversations about the team's catering. Very rarely did I hear any conversations from pit crews about the actual race….
Race events are all about pacing. There are huge stretches of nothingness … then in a moments time, some pulse-pounding action comes around. Here's a member of the BMW pit crew taking a quiet moment to reflect upon whatever he wants to reflect upon….
A few minutes after quietness, the number 92 BMW rolled in for a pitstop, the skies began to darken and a light mist once again surrounded the track …
… and a few minutes later, the number 90 BMW pulls in and the mist turned into a shower …
… and in seconds the shower turns into a torrential downpour.
This was my last shot of the actual action before the race was red flagged because of the weather conditions. After these cars passed by and made one more lap around, they were ushered into the pits. Four hours later, the checkered flag was waved while still under the red flag race condition. The weather just did not let up for the racing to continue.
What I witnessed, and was able to capture with my camera, was just a glimpse of what actually goes on at a Petit Le Mans race, but it was a race event like none other. There was more drama to be had in the four hours of racing than in this year's Formula 1! I've been bit by the real motorsports bug, and now, I'm a bit feverish for more.