This time last year several members of Wangan Warriors were eagerly anticipating heading over to Germany. Despite them all being lucky enough to have enjoyed it before, it would be my first visit to the Nürburgring, and also my first 24 hour event. Nothing can quite prepare you for what you’ll experience on this trip to the Green Hell, it’s the ultimate event for any petrolhead.
After having the opportunity to tick the item off my bucket list, it’s stuck in my mind well for the past year. Some of my fondest memories of both shooting and also spectating at a race event fell on that weekend. I still have plenty of unfinished business there since it’s impossible to cover the entire track over one event.
I’ve been on a constant quest since then to re-live the feeling of shooting endurance racing, however sadly this year due to calendar clashes and time commitments I won’t be able to attend the ‘Ring.
Obviously it was time to take my search a little closer to home. Luckily, with the season not fully kicked off here in the UK yet, I found that Silverstone’s 24 hour Britcar event would fall on a rare weekend where I’m free – it would be a great opportunity to see what they had to offer.
Turning up on Saturday with a few hours before the race would kick off would give me a good chance to have a browse around. Not only would this be my first Britcar event, but also my first time shooting at Silverstone.
Despite obviously not being quite as substantial as the Nürburgring, it’s still one of the largest tracks in the UK with a total distance of 5.9km (3.7 miles). This would mean that finding some of the best shooting locations over the weekend would require some hunting! Well, unless they happen to fall into the frame, of course.
With the circuit being mostly flat with very few factors of interest, it would quickly become more challenging than I had anticipated. This is always a great time to let the creativity flow a little and get some super slow pans which I’ve not been doing so much of recently!
The Ginetta-Nissan and Radical were definitely the initial stand-out cars for me, coming from a drift-based background it was awesome to see cars with such presence.
Alongside several other supercar brands competing, Aston Martin were showing a typically strong hand this weekend – they’re pleasure to see and hear at any event!
Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy would be amongst the drivers competing in his first 24 hour race. He would be piloting the Ginetta-Nissan LMP3 car which was competing in its first real endurance feat, going from a concept car to race day in just nine months would be a huge test for any car and team.
One thing I had forgotten about endurance racing was just how intense it feels.
Being in the pits surrounded by the drivers and teams means that you’re so much closer to all the emotions they’re going through.
Each turn is crucial, and making one mistake could mean that you and the rest of your team would have to sit out the rest of the race – there’s no room for errors here.
With the race underway, the Ginetta-Nissan would go storming ahead with an early lead, showing just how much potential this car really has. It was here to take the top spot – if the car can cope with it.
With the sun beating down on the track, the race was now well and truly underway.
Seeing some of the crazy cars that were on show here out on the same track as Focus’s and Fiesta’s is one thing I love about these events – you never know what car you’re going to see next.
One of the few landmarks which I’d heard of at Silverstone was ‘The Wing’. It’s a great looking bit of architecture and it can make for a great backdrop in panning photos. I had hoped to get high up here to get some different angles of the action, but sadly the security guys had other ideas.
With the hunt for locations continuing, the light would begin to fade.
It’s amazing just how quickly time passes when you’re shooting somewhere new. Before I knew it the sun had turned to clouds, and had begun to set.
We were heading to night-time, there was no real doubt that this was where it was going to get really interesting.
As the track ascended into darkness, it would turn out that one part of the weather prediction would be correct. Out of nowhere we’d be hit with one of the heaviest downpours I’ve experienced at an event, visibility even as a spectator would now be next to nothing – I dread to think what it must be like as a driver when the weather shifts so drastically.
I ran back to the car to get my waterproofs, but it was so heavy that it was soaking my gear in the car. I hate to forfeit, but I had to sit in the car for a little while to ensure that I’d actually be able to shoot again the next day!
After around 5 minutes of hearing the rain crashing down I realised that this wasn’t going anywhere soon. I headed back to the pits in the hope of catching some of the drivers who had too been caught out by the weather.
As always, there was no shortage of action going down in the pits. Drivers were facing common race-car problems, these don’t come equipped with your everyday basics you might expect from a car. With condensation and visibility becoming a huge problem, I even spotted hairdryers fitted to the windscreen of some cars!
While the constant re-fuels took place, it was only a matter of time before the drivers who had been recently awoken needed to get back into the driving seat.
As the drivers stumbled out of their cars after several hours behind the wheel, there was no time to slack, the race was still going on and every second counts.
Some cars would come into the pits to undergo some minor repairs.
While others would need some more substantial parts fixed – it was around midnight at this point, but we still weren’t even half way through the race.
With the rain showing no signs of ending, and the whole track in complete darkness – I decided to take a much needed rest.
After waking up a couple of times to the sound of roaring engines, it’s certainly not something to complain about. Knowing that those guys were outside giving it their all during the early hours of the morning in treacherous conditions really sums up how much this means to both the drivers and teams.
After an achey start, I headed back to the pits – it was easy to see that the night had taken its toll on the cars.
As the Ginetta-Nissan came back, I was informed that they’d not been quite so lucky overnight as they had the previous day.
After a collision with a GT4 Aston Martin which had caused bodywork damage, this would later on lead to a part getting lodged and subsequently causing a fire – leading to a burnout in the electrical system.
It was great to see that they had got it back up and running by the morning, as they continued to fight with problems in order to reach the finishing line.
Meanwhile, as the Ginetta-Nissan had now fallen 100 laps behind the leaders, the Simpson Motorsport team had taken the lead in their Audi R8 – however they too were going to run into unwanted problems. After facing numerous gear selection issues throughout the night, they had to bow out of the race after 18 ½ hours to gear selection issues.
This now meant that Beechdean had the lead in their Aston Martin, it was their race for the taking provided they too didn’t run into any issues.
As Jonny Adam waited on anxiously after being given the task of taking the car to the finish line, all that was required was a clean finish to ensure victory.
With Beechdean continuing their race to the chequered flag, Ginetta-Nissan would once again be back for an unplanned pit stop with just 15 minutes to go before the end of the race.
Despite a win being out of the question, you could see how much this meant to the team. As Chris Hoy waited patiently in the car, his team managed to replace a drift shaft in just 5 minutes enabling him to head back out and finish the race.
They celebrated like they had won, which shows just what an accomplishment it is to cross the finishing line in an endurance race. This wasn’t just about winning, but also about defying the odds with a new build and getting it to complete the most substantial of endurance races.
As the drivers crossed the finishing line, it came as no surprise that Beechdean had comfortably won the event.
There was no doubt that the emotions and tension of the last 24 hours had taken their toll.
Now was a time to relax and enjoy the moment having taken the win…
… Before heading for a champagne shower!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to both Silverstone and Britcar, this was a fantastic opportunity and a great event to have witnessed. I have no doubt that now the race has been confirmed for the next few years that it will continue to grow and get the recognition it deserves.
I hope to be in attendance once again at one of their races later in the year.
– Bill Jefferies