2018-LM24-011

24 Hours of Le Mans // 2018

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.


Gear:

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

RF_LM

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*