The 24H battle of Spa

The biggest benefit of being a photographer is that we visit places or see certain events happen that we would not experience otherwise. I mean, most of the time we’re at the frontline of important issues or happenings because we’re the ones to register it all on our memory cards. However, I’m happy that I don’t concider myself as a photographer who just registers. I always try to take in all there is to absorb and experience because you’ll never know if you will live through it ever again.

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The Spa Francorchamps 24H race was a new experience for me because I’ve never covered a race or event at this track. Given the fact that Spa isn’t the smallest track in Europe, it took me some time to explore and find photo spots that fit me right.

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I’m the weird one who’s entirely on his own during most events. I function a lot better on my own and without too much distraction. Of course I travel with fellow photographers but when we’re out shooting, you’ll most likely see me disapear at some point.

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The pit lane was a bit more guarded than the previous endurance races I’ve done. We could only capture some of the preparation and pre start activities in the pit area. During the race, the access was limited to essential personel and photographers with pit access.

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I oblige myself to capture people. Not that I really have to but I believe it’s only fair to give a face to the sport and showcase those brave few that step into the crucible for the ultimate fight.

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It’s good to see everyones focus and persistance just moments before the race. I love to capture a driver who’s clearly in his zone.

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Those who don’t have to start as the first driver were a little bit more relaxed and that was quite clear during the famous gridwalk.

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A certain satisfaction was visible on the crews faces because their teams were ready and they couldn’t wait to get this show started.

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This is also the point where my heart starts to beat a little faster because the race is about to begin and you have to rush for a good photo spot to capture the start of the race.

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The startgrid is truly insanely busy and I admire the safety personel who get everybody off the track in time so the race can start on schedule. I had a little bit of walking ahead so I made my way to the La Source corner so that I could capture the entire classification of cars in one frame.

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The Spa24H is obviously seen as the ultimate race for pure bred GT cars anywhere in the world. The biggest brands within the motorsport industry with their best GT built cars, one of the most incredible racetracks that our planet has to offer and a 24 hour fight is the right summary for this race.

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The challenge starts here for everyone I guess. Who will finish these 24 hours? Will we all survive? Will nature play a role in the outcome? Who will win?

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I was so surprise how FAST this track is. It was clearly beyond my imagination and I had to step up my shooting game a little because every time I checked my display and did a quick check if my shots were sharp, I thought I could do better.

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Therefore it was kind of hard to get into the race for me as a photographer. When we were about 5 hours into the race I started to get a good feel of the track. It also helps if you do some research about the track and find a couple photospots before you visit a new track. However I always try and find my own way and create my own unique point of view.

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The race started in the afternoon around 4.30PM so when we were 4 hours into the race the sun was already setting. This is where the fun starts for me to be honest.

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Any photographer knows that this time is complete fun to play with light or you’re a little irritated because you’re cranking up the ISO and playing with not that reliable settings for your action shots.

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I honestly couldn’t wait for complete darkness.

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When the sun squeezes out the last bit of light over the horizon you get breathtaking colours and contrasts and I love to play with that natural light because that’s what cameras are designed for and not only to ‘register’ situations.

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This is the point where I’m in my zone. And I know that some of you out there would rather follow the action of the race or only like to see action shots. I’m very sorry but that’s not me.

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Abstract photography is a marvelous way to create visual obscurity and I’m a great advocate of that.

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When you make it through the night you think you’ve made it but there is actually a very big chunk of the race still to be driven.

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A little dazed from a night without any sleep you head out again to capture the day.

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I decided to walk to the La Source corner and continue from there in the opposite direction of the track.

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Slowly but steadily it started to become clear of how the podium would look like during the day session on Sunday. Racing is still racing so anything could happen until the very final moments of the race.

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The chicane just before the new F1 pitlane is pretty cool to shoot. You’re close to the track and it’s an interesting place with shorter lenses.

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Spa Francorchamps is a track for 300+mm at most point I would say.

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This is where the fatigue started to kick in quite a bit for me. I had the feeling I already had the shots I wanted and I was pretty afraid that nature would start to play a role.

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In the afternoon it started to rain and it kept pouring down on us for quite some time. You could see the stress on the track because of the sudden need for tyrechanges.

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We decided to seek cover for the rain in the Ardennes forests surrounding the Spa Francorchamps circuit.

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After the rain we decided to walk our last kilometers trackside and make our way back to the mediacenter and prepare for the final stage of the race. When the race was almost finished I already started to reflect a little on the past 34 hours or so and I realised that I found myself in a pretty happy place. I’m happy to tick the 24H of Spa off my bucketlist.

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Up to 4 hours before the finish, anything was possible but the #99 Rowe Racing BMW of Maxime Martin, Alexander Sims and Philipp Eng ran a faultless race and even resisted the heavy rain for 30minutes in the last hour of the race. It didn’t come as a complete surprise that BMW won for the second time after a team effort such as this. A decent celebration is the natural thing to do after this ultimate challenge.

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I can really appreciate the camaraderie and mutual respect amongst the drivers. It’s such a great feeling to see satisfaction in everybodies eyes even though they didn’t win. They still made it through the race which is not always evident.

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And that was that. This race showed me again that anything is possible during a 24H race both on and off track. It’s the ultimate challenge between men, machine and nature. It’s also a big challenge for me as a photographer to get the most out of myself and end up being satisfied. A big thank you to everybody who makes motorsport competitive in a happy, safe and respectful way. I love this!

-Rens Adams

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