The 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans was an odd occasion. Unfortunately my accreditation request was denied, and so like I had planned the previous year I would be attending purely as a fan. Various personal circumstances have gotten in the way of writing about the 2018 race, hence why this post is appearing in March 2019.
I arrived Thursday and leaving (despite the best efforts of a striking SNCF) on Sunday evening. My fifth Le Mans 24 Hours in total – and thoroughly enjoyable it was too. Thanks at this point have to go to Vince, Simon and everyone else at the Tertre Rouge/Ten-Tenths campsite, who took me under their wing and kept me fed. I am very grateful!
The race was a walkover for Toyota, undeservedly so in my eyes considering their maiden victory at Le Mans should have come years ago against much-stronger opposition. I was delighted for them, and the joy in the faces of Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso – all of whom have not had much to smile about recently, for various reasons – was palpable and indeed infectious.
But a part of me was a little disappointed, for want of a better word. Spoiled by the frankly ridiculous race-long battles at the front of the field in recent years, 2018 felt a little “empty”. There was no shortage of drama, but – although before my time – the race seemed to hark back to the days of awful reliability and one car winning by fifteen laps. Although it’s no bad thing to have a taste of Le Mans’ rich history now and again, particularly in the current *content*-driven era in which constant excitement must, for some reason, be offered.
The GTE Pro race, which is normally a guarantee of close racing and wheel-to-wheel battles was effectively ruined by a safety car on Saturday evening, which split the field. The “Pink Pig” Porsche was given an almost insurmountable advantage – although it must be said that it did have a perfect run.
The cars in GTE Pro were very equally matched, which made the ultimate outcome of the class battle somewhat of a shame. The statistics bear this out, too: just a second covered the #91 and #92 Porsches, the #66 and #68 Fords, the two AF Corse Ferraris, the #82 BMW and the #63 Corvette in terms of average lap time over the course of the race.
Oddly I listened back to the race coverage on Radio Le Mans recently, and found the race gripping and exciting. The same applies to YouTube clips of the annual Duke Video Le Mans review, which I intend on purchasing in the near future.
Disappointment was in the air from a photographic perspective, too. Skies were dull and grey, the sunset obscured and only giving us a short burst of golden light. Frustratingly I also overdid the “slow shutter speed pan” and many of my negatives were beyond the bounds of “arty” and just rubbish.
As I was alone, I was also limited in terms of mobility. I didn’t want to leave my camping chair in particular, as I was worried it would get nicked. So I had to cart everything around if I wanted to move to a different location. Hence the lack of night-time shots, despite having my tripod with me.
What’s more, the night was cold and I couldn’t bring myself to get out of my sleeping bag on the Tertre Rouge banking. Maybe a return to the tent for a shower and a coffee would have been the better thing to do, rather than stay put. C’est la vie!
One image I am particularly proud of is the picture of an obviously delighted Fernando Alonso walking along the gangway underneath the tribune after the podium ceremony. In 2017 I was in the same tribune and noticed how the drivers walked beneath the tribune staircases to the paddock – and thought this would be the perfect chance to grab a shot of the winning drivers as they left the podium ceremony.
One other fan had the same idea, and others joined as they realised what we were doing, but I had the perfect vantage point for the shot I wanted. I was actually quite nervous, because I was 99% sure that it was going to happen the way I planned. I prayed to get the focus spot on…
The drivers gradually appeared, the dejection on the faces of the second-place Toyota clear to see. Kaz and Sébastien arrived after the presentation but didn’t respond to my calls. Then Fernando came, and my shout of “Fernando!” caused him to glance upwards and salute us. Click click click went the camera, with no winding required thanks to the wonderful MD4 motor drive.
Frustratingly, the shot of Alonso’s glance upwards is that tiny little bit out of focus. My friends and family think it’s a great shot, but as an amateur photographer I can’t help but think what might have been. It perhaps should also be in portrait mode, but nevertheless it’s still a photo I am proud of – not least because I put some planning into actually getting it. In fact, the next shot of Alonso looking to his right with that huge grin on his face is probably my favourite of the two. I would love to know what others think.
Camera: Nikon F3 HP with MD-4 Motor Drive
Lenses: Zeiss Planar T* 85mm 1.4 // Nikon Series E 50mm 1.8 // Nikkor 75-400mm f4.5-5.6
Film: Kodak Portra 400
Developed and scanned by MeinFilmLab