From the perspective of a drift photographer, shooting rally for the first time is, in one word – amazing.
The logistics of photographing rally versus drift is very different and difficult, and for a first-timer that’s what makes it exciting and thrilling.
At the 2019 New England Forest Rally, held last month in the back roads of Western Maine and Northern New Hampshire, the competing cars were mostly Subarus, but not your typical vape-filled Imprezas. Oh no, there was everything from rally-spec Outback wagons all the way up to full WRC-spec machinery.
Being told not to photograph the engine bay in the #1 Subaru Rally Team USA entry of David Higgins, just made me more curious. Wanting to know what kind of secret sauce they were hiding I did ask for a peek, and I can confirm it was a Subaru engine – just with a crazy amount of attention to detail.
It’s easy to understand why they are usually on the podium.
Speaking of attention to detail, my favorite car of NEFR was the JRD Rallysport Mk2 Ford Escort. Powered by a Mustang V6 and driven by an Irish duo, this thing is amazing.
I was surprised to see some cars competing that wouldn’t look out of place at your local drift event, including a very clean 240SX. Although the Nissan started looking like it had just rolled out of a Cars & Coffee morning in full rally spec, it ended up a lot worse for wear after it was crashed and rolled on one of the stages. There was an even cleaner AE86 Trueno blasting through the mountains like Takumi on a hot tofu run, but definitely spilling that cup of water.
At most drift events you have designated spots to shoot from, which are gone over in the media meeting with some sort of picture being shown of what not to do. With rally, it’s more like ‘if a car could go here, don’t be there’ and ‘be safe and don’t be stupid’. As long as you don’t pick a spot on the stage that’s on the outside of a turn or downwind of a jump – within reason – you’ve pretty much got free rein of where you can shoot.
You just need to make sure you get into the stage before the ‘0’ car (first sweep) comes through and checks that the road is safe for both drivers and spectators.
The trick to finding a good spot is doing some reconnaissance, or ‘recce’ as rally teams call it when they’re compiling their pace notes. I don’t think there’s any other motorsport where you get to take your road car out on the racetrack to find the best vantage point for photos.
Recce for a first-time rally photographer isn’t just driving the stages; you’ll also want to comb through pictures of past events to get a feel for the environment you’ll be shooting in. I think talking to other photographers is the number one resource for finding the best places, though.
With all that information at hand you have to make a plan for your day of shooting. As there’s no way you can shoot all the stages, you have to pick your best spots and figure out a schedule to travel between them, as they could be 30 minutes’ drive away from each other.
Some stages are run back-to-back, meaning you’re stuck on that road until that 000 (last sweep) car has gone though, and by that time the competing cars are already on the next stage.
After talking to photographers and seeing images online, I set out on the first day with a couple of spots in mind – the first being the famous Concord Pond jump. Can you even say you shot a rally if you don’t capture some rally cars flying through the air?
The second spot was what I like to call ‘Block Rock’. There’s a small boulder at the apex of this fast turn, which Ken Block previously hit with his Ford Escort RS Cosworth, which sent it into a roll and ultimately burnt it to the ground.
For day two I had something special in mind. After seeing many images of a bridge running over a river, I had the forethought to bring my Outex water housing to see if I could jump in the water and get a different angle. Besides being pinched to death by crawfish, I would say it was a success.
In fact, I would say the whole weekend was a success. I was able to see a whole new sport that is somewhat similar yet completely different to drifting at the same time, and made some new friends along the way. From the drivers to the fans, the 2019 New England Forest Rally was spectacular. It really renewed my love for motorsports photography, too. After this one time, I think I’ll be forever hooked on rally.
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