Events: Breaking records at Syntix Speedmasters

A few weeks back the Wangan Warriors blog team went almost full force to an event called Syntix Speedmasters. It was an event I was really looking forward to for various reasons. First, it would be one of the very few events we would cover with multiple team members. Second, and most importantly, it promised to be a weekend filled with tyre smoke and roaring engines.

On Saturday morning I left my apartment at a time many people left the bars and pubs near my home(I nearly hit one extremely drunk girl) for the long drive to the track in Zandvoort, The Netherlands. I was determined to arrive early, because the NL Drift Series were driving their third round in the 2013 championship that weekend on a seperate section of the track. Although I had a severe case of not wanting to wake up, I arrived just in time.

Just in time for what, you ask? Well, for shooting smoke generating machines at sunrise. Ah, I missed the smell of tyre smoke in the morning! It was great to catch up again with a lot of familiar faces before moving to the side of the track to shoot some kick ass clouds of smoke with a car hidden somewhere in it.

The high speed fourth gear drifting on a genuine race track caused a few problems initially for some drivers more accustomed to the small parking lot tracks we normally drift on here in The Netherlands, but soon everyone was blasting through the corners. After an hour car after car screamed past me, with a grinning driver behind the wheel.

Unfortunately I had to leave early, for a spot near the section of the track used for testing the cars for the European Time Attack Masters. ETAM promised to be a major spectacle, and when I walked around at the paddock I started giggling like a little girl. Although the ETAM cars only vaguely resemble the outrageous machines of the World Time Attack Championship they are still far more developed than the cars from the Dutch Time Attack championship.

And the drivers are all having some serious skills and a lot of experience. Something they proved immediately after they got out of the pit lane and on the track. I heard some Dutch drivers snicker about some of the cars, until they got overtaken on the outside of the Tarzan corner on only the second lap of practice. And mind you, except some British drivers no ETAM driver had any experience on this track.

But soon a friendly competition kicked in, both on and off the track. I overheard two drivers from competing teams comparing data from the data loggers on their cars, while Maurice and I were hunting flame shots on the other side of the fence. Luckily we were standing on a good spot for those, so we both ended up with a bunch of shots with huge flames from various cars.

All the action on the track got me really warmed up for the second day of the event. When we retired to a house we rented together with a few Time Attack drivers near the track for the night, we all agreed there were some serious cars and we wouldn’t be surprised if they would break a few records.

When we arrived at the track the next morning the sky had opened up and we prepared ourselves for a day of hard work with an enormous amount of pizza slices for breakfast and lunch. With our mouths full we tried to divide the work between us and make a planning, but as soon as we realised the action was about to start we forgot all that and ran for the pit lane.

In the pits the drivers were strapping themselves in their seats and the mechanics checked the last things on the cars. I always love the buzz in the pit lane, the frantic last minute adjustments to cars, the final preparations for those 20 minutes of racing. And last but not least, the roaring sound of engines coming to life. The raspy sound of a fuel burning lump of metal trying to find a steady idle speed always send a shiver down my spine. It puts me in a state of anticipation, I get more focussed and I know that from then on things get serious.

I think I’m not the only one who feels that way. The drivers get more focussed too. No more joking around, no silly grins on faces. When they line up at the end of the pit lane it’s all business and no pleasure. They know they have to be serious from that moment until the finish, otherwise the guy in front of them will get the win.

I enjoyed that moment for as long as I could, but when the cars started rolling I dashed to one of my favourite spots near the track. From previous visits to Zandvoort I knew that the sun would be in the right spot in this time of year to really accentuate the body lines of the cars at that location. And accentuate it did, especially the wider bodied cars benefited from the light with shadows and highlights in all the right places. I couldn’t decide what was better, the action on the track or the light on the cars so I decided to make the most of it and started shooting.

I kept looking through the view finder of my camera, watching the cars accelerate to the point I pressed the shutter button and then seeing the cars filling my whole field of view until I looked straight into the focussed eyes of the driver. Car after car raced by, getting faster and faster every lap, I was in heaven.

And I wasn’t the only one having fun. Every time one of the ETAM cars approached my spot I heard yelling and screaming from a group of enthusiasts who were sitting on one of the dunes at the other side of the fence. Soon I used them as my unofficial spotters, particularly when I moved to a location a few meters after the hill. I really wanted to shoot my favourite car of the weekend, a KP61 from Finland, there but because I couldn’t see the car approaching I only had less than a second to focus on the car and shoot it before it was too late. Yes, you nameless car fans, I want to thank you for making this shot possible.

Soon it became clear that the battle for the championship would be going between two cars. One of these was the already familiar SVA Imports Mitsubishi Evo, one of the British regulars in the Dutch championship. It was running good lap times that weekend, but Janne Niska from Finland in his black Impreza was giving the SVA guys a hard time. He managed to drive a very quick 1:46.005 at qualifying, more than 2.5 seconds faster than Gareth Lloyd in the SVA Evo who qualified second.

I was trembling with anticipation for the finals, who would win and with what lap time? Would it be the Finnish newcomer or the British regular? When the cars got on the track I had my camera glued to my eyes, ready to photograph the beasts flying by at warp speed. But when the Impreza didn’t show up after at least three minutes I knew something was wrong. It turned out he suffered an engine failure so he ended up with a DNF in the finals.

SVA decided to go all out with their car and turned on and tuned every feature they have on the car. With an earth-moving 700 HP on tap, DRS and a wicked sounding anti-lag system they went for the win. And win they did, with an unheard of 1:44.583. That’s only ten seconds slower than the factory-backed DTM cars and a new Dutch record for Time Attack.

And that cute little KP, thirty years older than the SVA Evo and with only 190 HP? It finished, of course, and managed to do an impressive 2:00.489, only 0.1 seconds behind the class winner, a DC5 Integra. For me, Mikko Kataja in that old Toyota, was the driver of the day in the car of the weekend. And that defines Time Attack for me. The variety of cars and more importantly the surprises every race, are making Time Attack such a blast to watch and shoot. But for now the season is over and I have to spend the winter looking back at these pictures, waiting for the next season. But I can’t wait, can you?

-Alex Kamsteeg