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24 Hours of Le Mans // 2017

The Le Mans 2017 trip was my fourth, but also very spontaneous, with plans only coming together once the irresistible attraction of a new motor racing season gripped me in the early spring. Time was short (no days off bar Monday post-race), money even shorter, so 2017 was going to be a flying visit, just like the old days when British fans used to be bussed in by the thousands on the morning of the race with nowhere to stay and only the vingt-quartre heures in mind.

Fortunately, and completely unexpectedly, the ACO granted my request for accreditation through my work with WEC-Magazin and all worries of seeking shelter from rain and cold on plastic seats in half-enclosed tribunes disappeared.

Strasbourg proved to be a handy halfway house on the journey from Germany to La Sarthe. From there, I continued my trip by train via Paris and arrived at Le Mans just before 1pm. Being such a latecomer, I only just managed to get a free desk in the press room. Although it must be said that many seats had been taken up by people evidently not interested in the race in the slightest. One kid(!) was even playing Overwatch on his laptop in there, the cheek!

It was hot. Oh so bloody hot. The hottest it has been for years and years. Luckily I had a shaded and sheltered grandstand seat (actually envisaged to protect me from a potential drenching rather than sunstroke), from where I watched the start of the race. After the first couple of hours I wandered up towards Tertre Rouge stopping off some kind of pop-up bar that provided excellent views over the catch fencing and wasn’t actually too busy, all things considered.

That’s where most of my shots from the evening came, on that walk up to Tertre Rouge and back down the other side to the Media Centre. Some I rushed, which in retrospect I obviously regret. I am still getting used to slowing down the whole process and trying to “craft” images rather than just blindly shooting. Still, I got some that I am quite proud of.

In the evening I wrote my six-report hour and then headed out to the Arnage/Indianapolis complex, but not without stopping at the Porsche VIP hospitality, which my media pass miraculously granted me access to. Needless to say, that’s where those long-exposure shots came from, with perfect views across the Ford Chicane and the start of the front straight (shopping list for next year: light metre, cable release…).

Arnage was amazing, as always, and even after renovation it remains my favourite part of the track. At sunrise I got the bus (and caught some shut-eye) back up to the track via an oddly long detour through Moncé-en-Belin before showering in the paddock toilets (oh the joys of accreditation!) and grabbing breakfast at Porsche paddock hospitality.

The remainder of the race was spent up in the grandstand above the pits, where I had never been before. There was some great potential for panning shots from there, and some did come off well. It also provided an excellent view of the podium, as well as shots of the drivers as they made their way back to the paddock. I tried to get Aston Martin’s Darren Turner to look up at me with his trophy in hand, but alas he never heard me.

Incidentally, I made the mistake of not having these images developed and scanned by my usual go-to guys at Mein Film Lab, partly because I was worried about how many shots I would have wasted through incomplete pans or poor focus. In the end, out of the three rolls of film I shot, around 55 of the photos were “usable”. Given that the quality of the post-scanned negatives doesn’t match the quality of MFL, really I should have bitten the bullet and gone with them from the outset. You live and learn, I guess.

Check them out below or in the portfolio page.


Gear:

Camera: Nikon F3 HP with MD-4 Motor Drive
Lenses: Nikon Series E 50mm // Nikkor 80-200mm f4.5
Film: Kodak Ektar 100 // Kodak Farbwelt 400
Developed by local pharmacy and scanned by *can’t remember*

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