PictureSports Blog ...
I'm a photographer, born again biker and blogger of irrelevant thoughts. The chances of my blog containing thoughtful commentary on the state of the world is highly unlikely. Hopefully coming here is a refuge from such things and my meandering thoughts will bring you some enjoyment. If you wish to contact me, the links at top and bottom of the page will help you ...
According to the V5 registration document, I suffered a rush of blood to the head in June '16. It had been coming for a while. A few years back I got close with a Yamaha 650, then I took a keen interest in a Honda Varadero, only to find that my extended ponderings resulted in me being beaten to the bike by another buyer.
While still working out how to scratch this motorcycling itch, I found myself at Chris Walker’s showroom in Grantham and parting with my cash for a 2008 Suzuki GSX650F. With low miles, a good service history and no signs of having been for an unscheduled trip along the tarmac, I bought the bike on Chris’ suggestion that it would be the closest riding experience to the one I remembered.
To give you an idea of how long it had been since I'd ridden a bike, my last 3 were a CB900F2 Honda (full of Moriwaki go faster bits), a Kawasaki GPZ1100 which suffered a cruel fate when the brakes failed to stop me in the ludicrously short distance I’d given them to perform in before arriving at the back of the Ford Escort that had stopped on the A13 just before the Canning Town flyover, and lastly a Suzuki GS1000S which I sold close to 30 years ago.
As to what had been stopping me from buying another bike before now, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the realisation that I wasn’t as good as I thought I had been. Perhaps it was just the cost of running a bike as a pure luxury while chewing my way through a mortgage and funding two kids. Whatever the reason had been, I was now the proud own of a GSX650F and I didn’t even own a helmet.
In my younger days my head seemed to be the same shape as the inside of a Bell Star helmet, and despite the corporate take-overs and licensing deals, this turns out to still be true. My first choice, however, had been the Schuberth C3 and even though it was a flip-front, the size of the side protection and the recommendation that comes with it being used by police forces around the world made it an ideal choice. That was until Senior Management (the wife) found the Sharp Helmet Safety Scheme. It seems odd that the Schuberth with such a pedigree only rates 3 stars compared to the 5 the Bell M5X scores. I avoided the long and ultimately fruitless discussion with Senior Management and did as I was told, exchanging the Schuberth for the Bell thanks to those nice people at J&S Accessories in Nottingham.
Motorcycle accessories are certainly one thing that has changed over 30 years. Visiting J&S felt more like a trip to a bespoke tailor rather than a motorcycle accessories retailer. Back in the day there were a few helmets on display at the local bike dealer and you took your pick from what was available. The idea of a shop dedicated to helmets and clothing that didn’t sell actual motorcycles hadn’t yet occurred to anyone. Luckily for me, with the concept of dedicated accessory retailers, comes the concept of designer clothing - which also means there's the concept of “last year’s range”. Having tried valiantly to interest me in a pair of £400 boots and the latest in all-weather clothing, the man at J&S finally relented and introduced me to the reduced rail. I may not be the height of designer biking in my mix and match outfit, but it all roughly fits together and came in at under £500 including the helmet and back protector.
Resplendent in my new two-piece all-weather suit, my J&S boots and with my Bell M5X under my arm, I took possession of the GSX on a sunny Saturday morning and faced the prospect of having to actually ride the damn thing away from the dealer that also has a built-in café, which despite the early hour was complete with a selection of early morning patrons who had arrived on a range of exotic equipment.
Having managed to pull off the forecourt, I opted for a little practice - away from the cafe patrons critical eyes - on the service road at the side of Chris Walker’s showroom. It seemed a much more sensible option than immediately playing with the traffic. Amazingly, it seems that the years hadn’t removed all of my skills and whereas I was certainly off my game I didn’t stall it, nor fall off it - I saved that one for a few months later – and successfully made my way out to the back roads of Lincolnshire to mix some of the finer points of riding I once knew instintively with 30 years of additional road sense.
A couple of months and some 3,000 miles later, I find myself a fully confirmed member of the Born Again Biker Club, who judges the weather each day by its suitability for riding. Rekindling a passion after so many years is a gradual process and whereas so much has changed, so much remains the same. That said, finding a solution to the “boil in the bag” all-weather trousers is high on my to do list.
The astute among you will have noticed the absence of recent updates; if those nice people who keep asking me to cover events had their way, I wouldn’t even have time to write this. It is one thing to be busy and another for it to become a chore, which I must admit is a word I never thought I would use when it came to motorsport photography.
Passion and desire are two massively important factors for me when taking photos. Without them, the motivation to be creative isn’t there. The bland and mundane become the norm, and “anyone” can do bland. So in a strange turn of events, I’ve decided to have a year off and see if the photographic drive for my favourite sport is rekindled.
Having made this decision and shared it with a few people, their response was to ask me if I would cover a list of events in the rest of this season, and then cover the 2017 Isle of Man TT Races. Go figure?
So, with a year off, what will I be doing? There are several things cooking. Riding through Death Valley on a motorcycle and a series of articles currently called Confessions of a Born Aging Biker are two possibilities. Another is addressing the ever expanding Off Track photographic assignments that present themselves.
There will be a few changes to the web site over the coming months, not least of which will be the content of the blog posts and the recent images on the home page. All of the current images will, of course, remain online.
I'd best dash - the phone is ringing and I think it's an editor asking me how the first article is going...
Photographing motorsport can take you to some strange places. Take this past weekend; the British Touring Car Championship was at Croft - near Darlington - in North Yorkshire, and so I found myself standing in a wood in the middle of the track most of Sunday. Perhaps not exactly what you might have in mind as a typical location, but it does make a change from the normal motorsport photo. Climbing into a tree to get a better angle was considered, but they didn’t look that strong - and can you imagine the endless stream of jokes if I’d fallen out?
As the inevitable "health and safety" and the need to blame someone makes its slow march into motorsport, which normally means that the photographers are pushed further and further back, it was refreshing to note that Croft has so far managed to resist this onslaught. There were areas where we couldn't go ("Red Zones") - get caught in one of these and normally you will be removed from the circuit, but other than that, as long as we stayed behind the barriers, followed the instructions of the Marshals and absolutely and clearly understood that Motorsport is Dangerous, we were left to complete our own risk assessments.
Perhaps it is due in part to the layout of Croft. The track twists around itself and so there is nowhere that is especially far from any other point on the circuit. With Race Control in the middle of it all, if you threw caution to the wind and tried something stupid, you would be "up in front of the Beek" pretty much as soon as you finished thinking about being daft.
As a circuit to race on, Croft got universal praise from all of the drivers I spoke with. Although it looks very straightforward, evidently it is quite a technical circuit, with both slow and high-speed corners to test the handling and the size of your commitment. The surface is also fairly abrasive, so thinking out the whole race is important if you want to have some rubber left for the final laps of the weekend.
Not that any of that bothered Dino Zamparelli and GT Marques Team over the weekend. Two pole positions, 2 fastest laps, 2 wins, driver of the weekend and team of the weekend. In short, there was nothing they didn’t win. The results also bring Dino back into strong contention for the title after a difficult weekend at Oulton Park.
Passing Dino in the paddock early on Sunday morning, I asked if he was "Having fun yet", a reference to his unmatched pace in qualifying on Saturday. The reply “Not yet, but I’m certainly going to” indicated that everything was going exactly as planned. Even when the rain came for the second race, it was only traffic that brought anyone into contention, such was Dino’s control on the weekend.
In the Ginetta GT5 series, however, Alex Toth-Jones was not having the best of weekends. The repairs from the incidents at Silverstone have made the car “fat”. It is some 30 kilos over its ideal weight. Getting tagged yet again and spun out of a far-from-ideal mid-grid position in race 1 made race 2 even more of a mountain to climb.
A few of Alex’s hallmark overtakes and a series of fast laps that put him 8th fastest over the weekend brought some joy to an otherwise frustrating weekend.
As I write this I have to remind myself that this is Alex's 3rd weekend racing cars. Having watched Alex race karts with great success for several years, I often forget that he still has a novice sticker on the rear of the car. To qualify mid-pack at a circuit he only drove for 20 minutes the day before is in itself quite an achievement.
The other major feature of the weekend was Alex getting the signatures on his license required to race at Spa Francorchamps next month. Eau Rouge is an epic corner for any driver. The run down the hill is made looking at the ever rising track. At the bottom, the suspension compresses, and can knock the wind out of your lungs. As you power up to the blind apex exit, all you can see is sky and the tops of the trees.
Next for me is a couple of trips to the wonderful Donington Park and then a retrun to the woods at Croft for the Dunlop Britcar Endurance races in late July. Happy days!
Before I get around to my standard apologising for being tardy over updates and bleating on about being busy, I'd like to share a quote that made me smile.
“It doesn’t matter how many turbos or cylinders you have, it comes down to feel, good setup and big wedding tackle …”, which, according to Ginetta Works Driver Michael Simpson, is what it takes to be good in the wet, which it absolutely was at Silverstone for the British GT race this past weekend. Whereas normally the rain follows me about, this time they cannot blame me as I wasn’t there! As for Croft this coming weekend, I’ll be guilty as charged.
The rain certainly suited some including the Ginetta GT5 driver we are supporting – Alex Toth-Jones.
In Race 1 he qualified 8th and was doing well, whereupon Alex got clipped and onto the gravel he spun. Frustation was the main emotion but no real problems to worry about, until another car decided to use his parked Ginetta as an aid to stopping and almost wrote the car off. Lots of tape and many hours of work from Richardson Racing later and Race 2 started from P37.
Race 2 was going well and Alex was working his way through the field with his customary finesse, but eventually had to retire the car whilst running 17th (20 overtakes completed, for those of you counting). A hole in the floor was allowing steam, made by the surface water boiling on the exhaust, into the car and had turned it into a sauna.Race 3 and rain of biblical proportions arrived. Although the race was only 4 laps long before it was abandoned, 4 laps was all it took for Alex to move from 38th to 10th - a very smooth 7 overtakes per lap.
Naturally, Alex is keen to suggest he came 8th. So bad was the weather that the majority of the field missed the chequered flag and were half way around lap 5 when the field finally noticed the red flags were out. By this time Alex was up to 8th. “One more lap and that was back of the grid to a podium” was the effervescent suggestion, made while the post-race adrenaline was still pumping through his veins.
Even allowing for the boldness of the statement, there is no denying an awe-inspiring drive in highly challenging conditions. #YorkshireGrit at work!
So, I come to the part where I say that I’ve not been ignoring you, I’ve been out taking photos. Not unlike mythical London Buses, photography assignments have been arriving in groups rather than sequentially and hence the absence of blog posts.
Coming up this week is more Ginetta GT5 racing along with the always entertaining Porsche Carrera Cup, both racing at Croft as part of the BTCC race weekend. I can’t remember the last time I was at Croft; it's an age thing, I'm sure. Regardless of how many years ago it was, I can’t remember the classic places to stand, so I’ll wander up a day early for a snoop about. Any (sensible) suggestion gratefully received.
Motorsport is full of stories of people racing from the back of the grid to finish in the points. Ask any F1 supporter to talk about their favourite Canada race and it will most likely be Jenson Button coming back from stone last to winning the Grand Prix. If you are established in a series and known to be one of the competitive drivers in an equally competitive series, then the TV cameras will focus on you and the commentators’ voices will go up three octaves as to you work your way through the field.
But what happens if you are in your first ever car race, and not one of the names the commentators know?
If you are 19 year old, Leeds and Bradford-based Alex Toth-Jones – you may wish to note that name down for future reference – you qualify ninth, drop a place on the opening lap and then make up two places in the race to finish eighth. Not too shabby for the first of the two races that weekend as part of the BTCC Support package. Yet the marker isn’t just “you can qualify well and finish in front of your grid position”; it is what you do when the race isn’t going your way that are the moments those in racing judge you by.
Starting eighth on the grid for race two, one of those “racing incidents” punts Alex Toth-Jones into absolute last place on the opening lap. The very back of the twenty-two-car field and over 20 seconds adrift. Now what? Alex, when I chatted to him about it a few days later, described the moment as “… so, I sucked it up, took a very deep breath and set off after them”.
Before you can overtake the rest of the field, you first have to catch them, even when the car is damaged in the incident and not handling well. So the first three laps involved Toth-Jones chasing the pack and getting into contention. Being on your own has its advantages, as there is no one to spoil the perfect line through the corners, even if the car due to the damage, has different ideas.
Toth-Jones was putting in some impressive laps, but time was ticking away and it was lap four when the overtaking began. By lap five, another two were behind him. Lap seven, and three more cars were passed and Toth-Jones was up to sixteenth place. More laps and more overtakes, but eventually it was the clock that beat Alex as the twelve-lap race finished. The chequered flag fell, and the results sheet showed Alex Toth-Jones, Car #2, entered by Richardson Racing, classified as finishing thirteenth. What it didn’t show was an average improvement of at least one place per lap. When F1 can’t find twelve overtakes in a whole Grand Prix, here is someone who can find one every lap. If only the race had been another twelve laps long.
Talent, however, only gets you so far in motorsport; eventually the vulgar subject of money always comes around. Lodestone Projects, the Leeds based specialist refurbishment company and Party Perfection are doing what they can to foster local talent. The budget is always tight and every £5 note helps. If you are inclined to do a little something, Alex has a crowd funding page "Keep Alex Racing" where you can help keep “Yorkshire Grit” and sporting talent at the front of people's minds.
I’m slightly confused, which isn’t that unusual for me. It seems for the first time in 2016, I will be neither cold nor wet this coming weekend (7th & 8th May)
The Britcar Endurance and Production series will be racing at Snetterton in glorious summer sunshine, according to the weather report anyway.
And it isn't just BritCar, you can add to your list of motorsport to delights the Caterham Graduate series and the Junior Saloon Car Championship along with three classes of Superkarts.
If you wish to enjoy the twenty degree plus sunshine with Britcar then Claire Hedley is the person to be talking to. There are even a couple of spaces left for Friday testing if you are quick.
Details for the full programme of racing are on the MSV website and more details on BritCar along with contact numbers and e-mail addresses can be found <here>
I wonder if anyone is brave enough to leave the wets in the garage?
I took a photograph this weekend of a gentleman sat overlooking the Craner Curves at the Donington Historic Festival. Sat on a portable chair, the gentleman in question was reviewing the programme while waiting for the 2nd qualifying session of the day to begin. Whereas some may think the image is a celebration of the lengths we will go to as “petrol heads” to enjoy our sport, for me it is much more about … well if I had to explain it, the chances are I couldn’t.
To the casual observer, Motorsport is, perhaps, just about being the fastest. It is popular for the press to present the drivers as 21st century chariot racers living life at an enhanced level and for the drivers to express their adulation for the team and explain how the car is the best and so on and so forth. You get the idea. The populist view of racing. If that view is true, then why is it will we watch and race anything from a Grand Prix car to a Honda C70 ?
I mention the Honda C70 as I spotted a seven and a half hour endurance race, the Plop Enduro (click for details), for the trusty single cylinder commuter motor cycle running at Mallory Park on the 14th of May. Organised by Scarisbrick and District Armada Motor Cycle Club any profits from the race go to the North West Air Ambulance, Blood Bikers and other chosen charities and while these are noble causes, it will be the idea of racing that attracts people. Plainly it isn’t the kudos of winning a Honda C70 race, the adulation of the adoring fans or the non-existent prize money that is attracting these stalwart competitors. It is that indescribable thing called Motorsport coupled with the chance to do something that benefits their chosen charities
The addiction that is Motorsport is a worldwide pandemic. New Zealand – a place I was once informed was geographically the most remote county in the world - for example has a race series entitled “Cheap as Chips”. In a similar fashion to the Plop Enduro, this series utilised Kart tracks to race all sorts of single cylinder, scooter, step though and other assorted commuter machinery.
So what is it that possesses us to spend hours in our respective garages, preparing these machines? As said at the top of this diatribe, if we – and it is we for I include myself among the addicted – tried to explain it, the chances are we couldn’t. It isn’t fame or fortune. It isn’t about just going fast as we introduce all sorts of rules and regulations to ensure that we can’t simply buy a bigger engine and go faster. We control the machine you can enter by age, style and purpose. We prescribe the tyres to be used, the fuel you can use and the clothes you must wear. You can race on two, three, four or even more wheels and if all of that isn’t enough, we will help and encourage you to race just about anything.
You can race on tarmac, dirt, grass, ice and gravel. We race up things and down them, in straight lines and on courses with so many corners it takes years to learn them all. We will even bring our addiction to domestic chores and race lawn mowers. We are happily beyond understanding.
And to the gentleman in the photo that started this whole chain of thought; Due respect Sir. I trust the weekend was enjoyable. Give it a few years and I’ll be there with you.
A few images from Saturday at the Donington Historic Festival. An amazing celebration of motor racing that ranges from "modern" day F1 and Touring cars back to pre 1950s Grand Prix, World Sports Cars and early F2.
There is just something engaging about watching the drivers, because you can actual see the driver rather than just the top of their helmet, wrestling with a 3 feet wide (that is metre to our friends in the metric world) steering wheel, as they try get the tyres to grip. All this while chasing the car in front, who is also having exactly the same handling issues.
More of the same tomorrow (Sunday) Oh and by the way, it snowed again. This time for just a few minutes and it did nothing to the quality of the racing other than put the schedule a few minutes behind.
The weather forecast for Sunday is dry most of the day with sunshine!
To view the other images from today, organised by race number <click here>
If you have not yet discovered the Donington Historic Festival, then you are in luck. This coming weekend (30th April to the 2nd May) sees one of the most impressive collections of classic, historic, F1 and Touring Cars gathered together for three days of competitive-yet-amicable motorsport, anywhere in the country.
I’m biased, though. Cars without sophisticated electronics, where the driver has to work every aspect of the car, are my “thing” – not to mention the event’s at Donington, one of my favourite circuits.
Donington’s fast-flowing corners seem to bring out the best in race cars of all types. Handling is more important than power – but power helps. Chatting in the pits to a driver who had just swapped a more powerful 4-litre engine for a 3-litre with a more progressive torque curve confirmed this theory. Despite the reduction in power he was going faster; the change in weight distribution was making the car turn better.
But, as normal, I’m already wandering off topic. The Donington Historic Festival or DHF is on over the holiday weekend 30th April to the 2nd May. Now in its 6th year, the 2016 Festival features 17 races over the three days plus all the normal qualifying sessions.
As well as the inspiring cars dating back beyond the 1950s, this year’s event also includes demonstration runs from some spectacular F1 cars on both the Saturday and the Sunday.
The newest of these cars, the Jordan EJ12, is from 2002. Add to that Michael Schumacher’s 1992 Benetton B192, and the 1990 Camel Lotus 102 that was raced by Martin Brundle.
Representing the 1980s will be the 1983 Williams FW08 as raced by Keke Rosberg, Jean-Pierre Jarier’s 1983 Osella FA1-D and two Tolemans, the 1985 TG-185 (Teo Fabi) and 1984 TG-184 that was Ayrton Senna’s regular test car.
I do wonder what "art work" the owners will be running on 1977 Hesketh 308E that was driven by Rupert Keegan. It was while Keegan was driving for Surtees that Durex were the sponsors. The 1977 Hesketh was sponsored by Rizla Cigarette papers, Penthouse “Gentleman’s” Magazine, along with British Air Ferries (BAF), the airline owned at the time by the Keegan family. Two out of those three may not be politically correct, but they are very much part of racing heritage, so I do hope they have stayed with them.
Should the howl of early F1 cars not be your thing, then perhaps the DHF can tempt you with the Touring Cars that started the whole BTCC movement that you see today.
Colin Turkington is racing in the HSCC Super Touring Car Challenge driving Steve Soper’s DTM BMW M3 while John Cleland is also in the mix, racing a Vauxhall Vectra (naturally).
Rickard Rydell’s 5-cylinder Volvo S40 machine will return to racing after 17 years, driven by Jason Minshaw, accompanied by a who’s-who grid of 1980 and 1990 touring cars.
Add to all of that historic F2 cars, a dedicated e-Type Jaguar race, a two-hour endurance race for 1964-71 World Sportscar Championship Sports, Touring and GT Cars and a plethora of other machinery that even includes a race converted Morris Minor “Police” car and I ask you, in all seriousness, what else are you going to do this holiday weekend?
Go to B&Q?
Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson won the first round of British GT4 Championship in the PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta. Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke finished second for Century Motorsport with Jordan Stilp and William Phillips made it three G55 GT4s on the podium.
The perfect weekend for the PMW Expo team who also had time to create a video, "walking" you through a hot lap of the Brands GP Circuit.