Portugal. September. There was a choice for the last of the season's visitors: warming sun and calm seas of the late summer or hordes of snarling GT cars throwing themselves around the rollercoaster that is the Autodromo Internacional do Portimao. For us, the choice was clear: the Speedhunters posse descended en masse on Portimao for the seventh round of the 2010 FIA GT1 World Championship, which also featured the fifth round of the FIA GT3 European Championship. During the first day of on-track shooting, Will, Linhbergh and me had all gravitated towards one feature at the track.
Not the epic dip at turn 11, or the following skyline shot on the climb up to turn 13. The swooping last turn? The brake-locking smoke display as cars hauled on the anchors for turn three? Nope. This feature was Made Of Metal.
Linhbergh and I soon agreed that it was truly scary. It was too close to the action.
Jonathan: Often I find that shooting at race tracks involves a lot of disappointment with finding the best spots. As you walk round the track sometimes the perfect angle comes into view; you see it coming as the elements line up: the car, the background, the light… But in the way is always FENCE. Photo holes are usually cut in boring places, meaning you get the same shot as everyone else. For instance, that was really the case at Interlagos, where there were amazing angles but always through fences. But then we saw The Bridge.
Linhbergh: I feel the same way with many racetracks that I visit –especially street courses. Those are the most limiting courses as everything is fenced up and the only places you can shoot are at the designated photo holes. This is even the case at Algarve towards the main straight, as the fencing seems to get taller at the best of places without any photo holes.
Linhbergh: I found myself crawling under the fence at turn 1 to get a shot as the light was just getting perfect. Alas, a track marshal waved me down but I did manage to squeeze off a few photos. This is one of them.
But The Bridge, my oh my….
Jonathan: It was funny how we all came across the bridge separately as we were shooting around the track, and no one really went onto it to start with. I think it was just expected that it would be blocked off.
Linhbergh: At almost every race event, I always get the feeling that we photographers are always the bane of everyone's existence on the track; the track marshals, the drivers, and the teams. Naturally, I was skeptical about The Bridge during my first couple of passes around the track.
Can I actually use that to cross the track? Can I stand in the middle of The Bridge and take photos? Or was it a sneaky track marshal trick?
Jonathan: Then gradually we all made our way further up the stairs… onto the top platform… and then finally onto the bridge itself! No one seemed to want to be the first! I spotted you up on the stairs during a practice session.
Linhbergh: A bridge running across the middle of a track without ANY barriers, seemed to good to be true. Every step seemed like I was defying "The Man."
I couldn't help but think to myself "HA HA! I'm on your bridge that you didn't want me to get on!" But alas, my revolutionary thoughts were just figments of my imagination. The Bridge seems to have been built with us photographers in mind!
Jonathan: But then as more photographers turned up people got braver. Initially I saw people striding across, pretending they didn't want to take pictures but just wanted to cross the track. Though I'm not sure what Will was pretending to do here…
Jonathan: He was certainly holding onto everything that little bit tighter than normal.
Linhbergh: I can certainly vouch for holding onto everything tighter than normal. I wouldn't dare change my lenses while on the bridge. I'd have to walk back to the stairs to change lenses. But I should also mention that I have a slight fear of heights….
Jonathan: When I did get up there, it just didn't seem right! I expected to be shouted at by a marshal any second. When I realised that no one was going to interfere, the reality of the place struck me. It was basically the most dangerous thing in motorsport. Period.
Linhbergh: Agreed, Jonathan. I find myself in dangerous situations all the time like being inches away from drift cars, or standing in high impact zones at road race courses, or standing behind a car that's doing a burn out. In those situations, I've never felt like I was in any danger or felt scared. The Bridge is by far the most dangerous thing in motorsports ever. There's no hand railing, its high wind zone, the bridge sways in the wind, and you're literally 20-30 on top of race cars hauling all sorts of rear end. One slip of the foot and you're FIA GT race car dinner.
Jonathan: There's just no way the bridge should have been open. It was basically lethal. Completely open to the wind, no fencing or anything. I went up a couple of times, and was basically tank-taping myself to the uprights.
Linhbergh: There's a reason why we sign a release form at every track we go to photograph. The Algarve bridge just makes it very apparent why.
Jonathan: I found that the worst thing was that when everyone realised the bridge was open and it got busy, it was really difficult to move past people and get across, which made it feel even more precarious.
Linhbergh: When I was shooting and a photographer wanted to pass me, I would grip an I-beam as tight as possible and stood closer to the edge. My hands became sweaty as dozens of scenarios raced across my mind. What if the photographer bumps into me and I fall down? What if the opposite happens? What if a car crashes and a shard of carbon fiber impales either of us and we both fall down? My sweaty hands didn't help the situation since I was losing grip on the I-beam from the moisture. Scariest. Thing. Ever.
Jonathan: Of course the lack of protection is what made it so great for shots: you can rarely get right about cars and see down into the cockpits. You could really see the cars working hard in the transition from the hard right prior to the bridge and then the off-camber uphill left.
Linhbergh: The shots that came out from the bridge section was truly amazing. This is what I managed to squeeze off during my sweaty palmed scare session.
Jonathan: I liked the reverse shot, with the kerbing trailing off out of shot. It showed who was prepared to go above and beyond the call of the kerb as well!
Linhbergh: This shot was taken during those first few moments of "testing the waters" with the track marshals on the stairs leading up to The Bridge.
Jonathan: It was in a perfect location as well, as you could see the cars coming in from the first turns and round towards you. Though I remember us laughing when we both admitted we were simply just damn *scared* up there, and that's why we didn't stay up there that long!
Linhbergh: Even having a laugh on the The Bridge was scary!
Jonathan: Much as the bridge was a fun experience at the track itself, I thought the surrounding area was pretty amazing as well. You can see how the track ended up being so interesting. The landscape is really cut up from seismic activity. Igneous intrusion, from what I've read. It sounds painful. Should we start up a Speedhunters geology section?
Jonathan: I had the chance of hanging around Portimao the day after the race, and visited a bit more of the countryside. It was a shame we didn't see the burn-outs the GT cars did in the marinas, but I did like cruising around the local roads, checking out the cars and buildings.
Jonathan: I'm looking forward to going back: definitely worth a plug for the area!
Jonathan: There was a good amount of advertising around the local towns – and the price was definitely right – so it was a shame that there wasn't a better crowd on race day. Maybe it's an event that needs to build a reputation.
Jonathan: So what do you think the chances are of the bridge being open this year, on a scale of 1 to 10? 1 being closed off and 10 being completely and utterly closed off?
Linhbergh: My hope is that they don't close it off. I'd like to think that The Bridge was made specifically for the media. But the state-of-the-art Algarve racetrack was built to be an F1 destination. So if F1 did make a stop at Algarve, banners would most likely cover it.
But really, the bridge is simply the scariest thing I've ever experienced in my very short photography career. It's the scariest, and frankly, the one best photo spots.
- Jonathan & Linhbergh