JULY: AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia, Spa, Belgium
1/800th, F/5.6, 600mm, ISO200 Canon EOS 5D/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS + 2x Extender
Summer break? Not for Speedhunters. May to August is always one of the busiest times in the racing schedule: the meat of the season, where every weekend seems to involve planes, trains and automobiles – lots of automobiles. And that's never a bad thing. For me it mostly meant tracking Team Need For Speed's progress in the second half of their FIA European GT3 campaign and their attempt on the Spa 24 Hours classic in Belgium. Trekking up Eau Rouge is like a pilgrimage: it's one of the few places in racing where you can take a shot from the same position as someone 50 years ago for direct comparison. That said, it's just as interesting hunkering down low and getting the cars as they hurl themselves up the hill. Breathtaking.
JULY: The FIA GT3 pit-lane at Paul Ricard, France
1/200th, F/2.8, 130mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
Last year a clear colour palette emerged that identified each track in my mind, so revisiting several of them this year immediately made me feel at home. Visiting a track for a second time makes all the difference: with knowledge of the layout and access points, it all feels less rushed. That means you can stand back and watch everyone else milling around, like soaking up the controlled chaos of a pre-qualifying pit-lane.
AUGUST: AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia, Slovakiaring
1/2500th, F/2.8, 300mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS
This year I managed to rack up a couple more tracks that I hadn't visited before, including the brand new Slovakiaring. This was a place that passed with flying colours: literally in the case of the Ferraris and Porsches that took off over the man-made rises built around the track. One of the series photographers had come back to the press room with a white face after the opening session – I went over to take a look in second practice, and was standing next to one of the TV crew who was shooting the acrobatics for the stewards. No one could quite believe just how much air the cars were getting. The GTs were flat-out as they hit the crest, and the angle of the slope launching them over the crest. I think this was both the scariest and most impressive moment of my year!
JULY: McLaren MP4-12C GT3, Spa, Belgium
1/100th, F/6.3, 115mm, ISO400 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
2011 was also a great year for checking out new cars: along the Ferrari 458 and Mercedes SLS was the imminent debut of the McLaren MP4-12C. After a couple of outings in national GT series, the big test would be at the Spa 24 Hours with three MP4-12Cs entered. Their pit was right next to us in the Team Need For Speed garage; sadly things went south pretty quickly and just one McLaren finished the race. I still get slightly dizzy at the mention of the McLaren F1, so seeing three of the new McLaren racers almost required a trip to hospital.
AUGUST: Edward Sandstrom, Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 GT3, Slovakiaring
1/30th, F/4, 300mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS
The second half of the season also gave me a better chance to concentrate on the drivers and teams: Edward Sandstrom has been blisteringly fast in GT cars, and this year he proved no different. He's one focussed driver. Even better, he's one of the few GT drivers who actually helps you out when you're trying to get a picture! I find longer lenses are better in circuit-racing circles, so you can stay at a distance and observe rather than being in someone's face and getting the cold shoulder…
JULY: Hexis Aston Martin DBRS9, Spa, Belgium
1/320th, F/5.6, 300mm, ISO200 Canon EOS 5D/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS
I love watching 24-hour races. The best preparation, the most money, the fastest drivers… if the racing gods aren't appeased none of that means anything. By the end of the races it's survival not just of the fittest – but often the luckiest. Smoking, battered cars crawl round, just looking to make it to the end. You will them on. Not all of them make it.
JULY: Gravity Charouz Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, Navarra, Spain
1/500th, F/7.1, 600mm, ISO200 Canon EOS 5D/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS + 2x Extender
From their debut at the Dubai 24 Hours back in January it was clear that the Mercedes SLS was fast: but it was also quite clearly a handful, particularly in the hands of the non-pro drivers. More often than not I'd hear the low rumble of an SLS be followed by the screech of tyres as it slowly rotated on acceleration out of a corner. Here in Spain the two Gravity-Charouz Mercs almost collected each other at one point, creating their own little synchronised dance routine.
JULY: Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 GT3, Navarra, Spain
1/2000th, F/4, 24mm, ISO50 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L
There was a change of livery for the #6 BMW in Spain – following a tough race at the Nurburgring (which I was frustrated to have to miss yet again!) Team Need For Speed were running out of BMWs, parts, stickers… and time. So, for this race #6 was run out on a new chassis in a pure white livery – which still looked great, even if it wasn't up to our own Andy Blackmore's original design standards!
JULY: Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 GT3, Navarra, Spain
1/2000th, F/2.8, 300mm, ISO200 Canon EOS 5D/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS
ATF stepped up to the international arena admirably this year, pairing up with Edward in the Team NFS GT3 car; he'd already had great results in the Dubai 24 and was Middle Eastern Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion in 2009 (and second the following year). Edward and ATF were in the championship running right up until the last round: a win and a podium were good results in the face of increasingly strong competition over the course of the season.
JULY: Edward Sandstrom, Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 GT3, Paul Ricard, France
1/1000th, F/4, 57mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L
Edward was lucky to make it from Navarra to the next race at Paul Ricard… On the way back to the airport I decided that we had enough time to try and drive up to the top of a hilltop to find a fortified building that was visible from the motorway. The problem is there wasn't a clear road up. Or, more accurately, I couldn't find it, so decided on taking the rally approach of just driving at the hill, up tracks, through fields and over rocks. The hire car really didn't like it, and virtually gave out in the middle of a corn field three-quarters of the way up the mountain. The way back down was even worse. I'm wondering if Edward was thinking back to that when I took this picture. Funnily enough he hasn't been in a car with me since…
JULY: #7 Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 GT3, Paul Ricard, France
1/1250th, F/3.5, 300mm, ISO200 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS
You can't get away from the stripes at Ricard: they continue the azure blue of the sky and frame the modern facility in the middle of this wind-swept plateau surrounded by mountains. Man (well, Bernie) versus nature. Unfortunately Paul Ricard was the beginning of a bad spell of damaging equipment. By the end of the weekend I was one camera, an extender and a flash down. Thank god for insurance.
OCTOBER: The Schubert crew work on the #6 Team Need For Speed BMW Z4, Zandvoort, Holland
1/40th, F/8, 50mm, ISO400 Canon EOS 5D MKII/50mm Lens Baby
Schubert Motorsport have been the force behind the two-year-old Team Need For Speed GT campaign: their close ties to BMW have paid dividends and the Z4 has continued to be competitive against the newer GT3 cars. The German crew are a great bunch of people to be around as well: friendly and welcoming, not seeming to mind the times when hordes of Speedhunters and hangers-on descend on their truck (and all-important coffee machine), and demonstrably ultra-professional.
JULY: Team Need For Speed BMW Z4, Spa, Belgium
1/160th, F/7.1, 200mm, ISO400 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
The Spa 24 Hours, like the Nurburgring 24 and often Le Mans, isn't just a case of coping with the changing light conditions over a 24 hour period, but also throws in its own self-contained climate of total unpredictability. The race is frequently attacked by bouts of rain, but at differing points around the circuit and at different strengths. It's a crazy place, the Ardennes. It's just as well that we all seem to like being out in the pouring rain.
JULY: McLaren MP4-12C GT3, Spa, Belgium
1/25th, F/8, 24mm, ISO800 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L
The La Source hairpin at Spa is one the of the closest places you can get to racing cars, well, anywhere really. The corner is always awash with a mob of photographers all panning like crazy for the traditional La Source image as the cars desperately slow themselves into the tight right-hander and then scrabble for grip on the exit. Throw in the aforementioned rain and a couple of days of tyre debris and oil, and it made the corner a hilarious place to watch cars tackling, taking countless different lines with very few hitting the apex. Usually when drivers got it wrong they'd spin wildly to the open run-off around the outside, but this MP4-12C was particularly accommodating and spun to a halt directly in front of me. It was planned, I'm sure…
JULY: WRT Audi R8 GT3, Spa, Belgium
1/25th, F/2.8, 70mm, ISO1600 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
Part two of my July camera meltdown happened around 5am deep into the forests at Spa. I'd travelled light, to the far end of the track around the Pouhon corner, and was playing around with some long exposures when tiredness obviously hit: I hadn't extended the tripod legs properly and the camera, lens and mounted flash smashed sickeningly to the ground, disturbed by the passing of a course car on the perimeter road. That was the end – temporarily at least – of my beloved 24-70. And another Speedlite. Spa has no lighting around most of the track, but as I walked back to the pits I could at least try to entertain myself by using the only light source available – the headlights – to light up the cars.
JULY: WRT Audi R8 GT3, Spa, Belgium
1/1600th, F/2.8, 125mm, ISO200 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
But then 10 hours later, things didn't seem so bad. It's amazing what the taste of champagne can do for a flagging morale. Not a victory for Team NFS, but oh so very close: an excellent performance against the might of a semi-works Audi entry.
AUGUST: Fischer Racing Ford GT; United Autosports Audi R8 LMS GT3, Slovakiaring
1/80th, F/18, 300mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS
As already mentioned, the Slovakiaring turned out to satisfy on every level: the track layout and access, plus the friendlessness of the local organisers, teams and fans. The track had a much more interesting character than was apparent from the circuit map, helped by the four artificial hills and the white dust that was kicked up as soon as anyone ran the slightest bit offline – this cast a ghostly pall over parts of the circuit.
AUGUST: WRT Audi R8 LMS; Team Need For Speed BMW Z4, Slovakiaring
1/320th, F/6.3, 300mm, ISO50 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
It's just not the way you want to start a race. With a Mercedes already facing the wrong way as the mid-field approached the first corner in Solvakia, it was always then a question of how many cars would get caught up in the accident. GT cars are neither made to fly nor to go rallying. However, Slovakia was anything but predictable, and I hope we'll be back there again in the near future.
SEPTEMBER: Japspeed S15, Silverstone
1/2000th, F/3.2, 300mm, ISO200 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 300mm F/2.8L-IS
My initial introduction to the British Drift Championship was entertaining in an unintentional way: the Northamptonshire weather was uncooperative, and the first runs were held in conditions best described as amphibious. Cars braked for the opening corner – and just carried on, firing straight off the track head-on, sideways, or even completely backwards. Conditions improved, thankfully, the smoke started to come, the rain started to go, and then it all became clear. I'll never want to drive in a straight line again.
JULY: Jaguar E-Type, Goodwood, England
1/3200th, F/2.8, 70mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L + EX580II
An event I always look forward to is the Goodwood Revival festival. A glorious pageant of motoring style and refinement, balanced by all-out on-track battling with often priceless, irreplaceable cars – cars that are not unknown to come back from a race on the back of a truck in several pieces. This year celebrated the Jaguar E-Type, and dozens of examples could be examined both on and off the track. More and more spectators dress the part for the Revival, bringing '50s flair and etiquette to the paddock. It's an event that you can really feel a part of.
JULY: Ford P68, Goodwood, England
1/1600th, F/2.8, 51mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L + EX580II
Plenty of rare metal is brought to play out at the Revival. Prototypes, limited run cars and one-offs can be spotted all around the site. The Ford P68/3L looked beautiful – it's a shame that its performance on track wasn't as impressive…
JULY: Prospective Lotus driver, Goodwood, England
1/2000th, F/2.8, 200mm, ISO400 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
Just a perfect moment. I was smiling to myself about this one all day.
OCTOBER: #6 Team Need For Speed BMW Z4, Zandvoort, Holland
1/100th, F/13, 200mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L-IS
The dunes of Zandvoort provided the perfect backdrop to the finale of the GT3 season; with all the cars at their peak of development the racing was immense around this classic track. It was very strange being at a circuit right by the sea – but a feeling it would be very easy to get used to!
OCTOBER: Nature Loves Racing, Zandvoort, Holland
1/2000th, F/2.8, 200mm, ISO100 Canon EOS 5D MKII/Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L + EX580II
It's not always about the cars – or even the people – but it is always about moments. Here's to plenty more in 2012!