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!