Here’s to the crazy ones. Here’s to the racers all over the world: the professionals, the amateurs, the once-in-a-lifetimers who get out on the circuit no matter the conditions and do what they love doing, no matter the car, the opposition or the track.
Here’s to the teams; there seems to be no such thing as amateur any more as far as dedication and preparation is concerned. Facilities and budgets may vary from club to international teams, but striving to be the best is common to both.
Here’s to the marshals, officials and organisers. The marshals are the unsung heroes of the racing world: volunteers, braving the elements for hours on end to keep the competitors safe and be as close to their beloved sport as possible.
And here’s to the fans: the passionate spectators who turn up to anything and everything. The Formula 1 race, the touring car race, the local club meeting. It’s at events like this that the real fans display their mettle. I salute them all.
In the UK, the main racing season is very much at an end. Northern Europe in general goes into general shutdown come mid to late November, though the odd national championship seems to be stretching out further and further, edging into serious Winter territory.
Britcar has grown to encompass a number of sub-series, and Brands Hatch would be the final round of the Production Cup and GT classes. They introduced the idea of a night-time season finale a while back, and it’s become a popular way to close out the year, giving drivers a rare opportunity to run in full dark conditions.
And dark it was: Brands Hatch is no Singapore or Yas Marina, bathing under a mass of near-daylight floodlamps. This is proper night racing. What you see is what’s illuminated by whatever mass of lights you can strap to the front of the car.
The day after getting back from a very pleasant press trip to the balmy shores of southern Spain, a cold and miserable Brands Hatch was rather a shock to the system. Even getting into the car for the short trip from home to the track was a struggle; interminable shopping traffic on the way further lowered my morale. Did I really want to go to a soggy racing track on a Saturday evening?
Then I broke through into the countryside and the final run to Brands, and reminded myself of what was in store, and just why I love motor racing. Much as I will never pass the opportunity to work in shirtsleeves at a track in sunnier climbs, there’s a joy in shooting in the rain. I know Larry feels the same way.
Everything changes: the cars look and sound more raw. Everything seems more on the edge.
Apart from anything else, you have to take a much more pragmatic approach to shooting trackside. There’s no real opportunity to mess about swapping lenses or playing about with filters. You waterproof yourself, you waterproof your kit and you head out.
Cold and wet gloves numb your fingers; the hood of the waterproof jacket seems to always be restricting your view. Boots squelch through the mud, struggling for traction just like the cars out on track.
Circulating the muddy perimeter trench that lines the track, there’s another humbling reminder about the level of effort that is put into even a relatively low-level event like this. It makes no difference to the marshals: there’s a serious job to be done. A small army was out in force, huddled together in squads every 100 yards or so, most stuck out in the rain except for a lucky few.
Dryer it might have been in the finishing line and timing box, but it looked no less chilly…
But the spirit of British marshals can never be called into doubt!
Commentator Brian Jones is the voice of British racing: his voice was an enthused as ever, booming over the tanoys around the Indy layout and keeping everyone abreast of the excitement out on track – of which there was plenty. There’s no difference in presentation and delivery between this and a major international race.
The Britcar Open GT & Sportscar grid had two races during the gloomy, misty afternoon leading up to the main event, with a compact but exciting and eclectic grid of cars taking part.
The two Ferrari 458 Challenge cars were particularly impressive, their traction control hacking away down every straight as a sea of water was channelled underneath the car and thrown out of the rear aero slots and diffuser in tidal waves.
Conditions don’t get much tougher than this. An ice-cold track awash with water and the warm, humid interiors of racing cars are hardly what drivers dream of. Driving becomes a far more personal experience, with the main opposition the literally fluid track conditions rather than the opposition cars.
Most cars were completely unloading the inner rear wheel as they powered through corners, motorboat-style, with a wash of water breaking what little contact there might have been between rubber and tarmac.
The winning FF Corse 458 came home first in the final race, followed by the Intersport BMW M3 – both had been turning impressive, sub-one minute lap times in the greasy conditions – followed by a Ginetta G55 and the second FF Corse Ferrari.
The pair of GT confrontations sandwiched a rather unexpected gem of a race: the 4Two Cup for race-modified Smarts. There’s rather too much sneering in our world about lower-tier race series, which I’m just plain bored of. Opinions are of course subjective – but often made by people who have little or no experience of being behind the wheel of any kind of racing car.
These Smarts looked like being excellent fun. The racing was insanely close, and the cars threatening to rotate on a constant basis such was their running-shoe shape and ultra short wheelbase. Action packed!
In between sessions the marshals would take to the track, trying and keep the circuit clear of debris: an almost hopeless battle in these conditions.
Whilst the GTs were sailing around, most of the teams (and the officials and journalists in the media centre) were keeping half an eye on the timing screens and the other half on F1 qualifying from Interlagos…
With the GT race over and the cars returning to their garages to dry off, it was time to prepare for the final Production Cup sessions.
The GT cars were backed up through the garages and into their trailers, their season now over.
Teams in the Production Cup were adding whatever they could to supplement headlights: from LEDs and small spots…
…to enormous endurance lighting packs.
The latter seemed like a very sensible option, though it must have blinded the hell out of any car they were following.
There was still evidence of the DTM’s visit from much earlier in the year back in the pit-lane: Team Phoenix’s pit entry arrows and box were still marked out on the ground.
The plan was to have two qualifying sessions for the Production Cup: a half hour into dusk and then a further half hour acclimatisation session in full dark.
With the appalling weather, there was barely any difference between the two sessions of course.
One of the many things I like about racing in the rain is being able to see the traces of the lines cars have taken etched into the standing water.
For the most part, kerbs were to be avoided at all costs for obvious reasons.
Touch one in the wrong place and scary things happen – not just for you but for everyone following as well! Facing the wrong way after spinning down Paddock Hill was likely followed by a pit-stop for a suit change…
Needing a suit change for more weather-based reasons must have been the driver of this Mazda MX-5, the only open-topped car competing.
The car looked like it would have been perfect to race at Halloween, given the flaming pumpkin-style lighting pack!
A pair of BMW M3s would line up at the front of the pack for the main race, due to last 90 minutes. Heading the grid was the #33 M3 of Intersport Racing…
…and next to it on the rolling start would be the Michael Symons’ #11 M3 – he’d be driving solo, unlike the majority of the grid who would be changing drivers come the pitstops.
With the rain lashing down the race was started under the safety car, which splashed around for a lap before releasing the pack.
There were elbows out straight away. The 22 cars streamed round in a big group, jostling for position.
Compared to racing in the dry, where everyone tries to stick to the optimum racing line, wet-weather racing allows more creativity. There’s potentially more grip off line, so wider entries can be tried…
…though they don’t always work.
More than one car ended up being beached in the copious gravel traps around Brands, triggering a safety car and sending the marshals and snatch vehicle into action.
With the pitch darkness meaning flag waving was often a wasted effort, the LED panels around the track came into their own, warning drivers of changing conditions.
The only way to identify cars was by their headlights at this stage, although some carried illuminated numbers on the side or coloured LEDs.
From the rear there was just a blur of brake lights, with just the odd outline illuminated by the headlights of a following car.
The two BMWs held the lead throughout pretty much the whole race, pursued by the #19 SEAT Leon Supercopa.
The pit-lane was the only place with any serious lighting, with drivers emerging blinking from their cars after the driver changeovers.
There were few retirements, which was a surprise – and a testament to the driving of all involved.
For those of us around the track, lenses were immediately smeared by constant attempts to keep the glass clear of water.
At least photographers can keep moving: I had nothing but sympathy for the TV camera crews, soaking wet and stuck in the same position for hours on end.
Time passes seems to pass at a different speed when it’s dark: the first half of the race seemed to last for hours, whereas the final 45 minute run to the flag went at light speed.
And right to the end there were still the most resilient fans up by the fence or huddled under whatever overhangs they could find, ready to cheer home the winning #33 M3. Next weekend I’ll be in the cavernous halls of the Essen Motor Show, but they’ll still be a part of me wishing there was just one more race to attend in 2012. I’ll miss the racing. And even the rain and mud…
Picture 25 bought back a crazy flash back for me. I saw the track layout and immediately remembered playing TOCA Touring cars on playstation back in high school. Man that had some dodgy dynamics. Go around a corner too quick and helicopter off the track for a couple hundred meters hahahahaha.
Jonathan ... this is great! Just great!
"Here’s to the crazy ones. Here’s to the racers all over the world: the professionals, the amateurs, the once-in-a-lifetimers who get out on the circuit no matter the conditions and do what they love doing, no matter the car, the opposition or the track."
Shooting at night is confusing. For example, how did this happen: http://cdn.speedhunters.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Britcar_Brands_Hatch-052.jpg
The light coming out of what seems like a Cooper looks different, like really different. It looks like two small mountains.
LouisYio That's the effect of the lens smearing that I was talking about - it was impossible to keep the rain off the glass completely, but it did give some interesting effects!
I'll echo Paddy on this one, I feel like reaching for my coat just reading that! Brrrr! Top work Jonathan, love the long exposures and the picture of that NC Mx5 with the grill lights. The 458 Race Car really is a thing of beauty.
ahh! first a marcos (two pics of it no less), then what looks like some kind of chevron, and then TWO ginettas
ComJive I am a big Marcos fan! :) The Chevron is the GR8 – it's a very neat little car. The G40s are similarly very smart mini GTs; there was a big G55 GT3 in the Open GT race to provide a good comparison to their bigger brother.
Jonathan Moore Marcos forever! i dunno a lot about chevrons, but those various modern Ginettas tick all my racing car boxes