Join me as we go Access All Areas at the British round of the European Le Mans Series, at Silverstone in Northamptonshire. During a recent photographic assignment, I was able to meet up with Wayne Boyd, a racing driver who I last photographed a few years ago. He was about to take his Formula 3 car out at Oulton Park and was sitting in the Pit Lane. I had a pass that allowed me into the Paddock and Pits to photograph the “behind the scenes” images of a driver and his support crew.
When I was processing that photo, I deliberately darkened the area around Wayne’s car to convey the sense of isolation I know a driver feels before he or she goes out on track. The drivers all sit in silence, concentrating and building focus. Often, their Race Engineer will quitely talk to them and reassure them. It is what sports men and women called “getting in The Zone.”
This type of racing is very different to the world of single seaters that Wayne originally came from. The races last for a total of 4 hours (hence the description “Endurance Racing”.) Wayne does the first hour of driving, followed by his two co-drivers, Christian England and Mark Patterson. Wayne then does the final hour’s driving. When you think that a Grand Prix normally lasts 90 minutes, it means Wayne is spending a third more time at the wheel than a GP driver.
The only British round of this series took part in April at Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire and I was the guest of Wayne and his team. It was great to be able to see behind the scenes of this highly organised Anglo American team. The team uses six HGVs to transport the cars and all the equipment needed to maintain them. There is also a magnificent “Motorhome” that contains office space and a huge awning where the members of the team and their guests can enjoy United Autosports’ excellent hospitality.
They have since raced at Monza in Italy and will also be racing at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, Circuit Paul Ricard in France, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. The 2017 season will end in Portimao, Portugal.
The car they use is a Ligier LMP3, which is built in France. The chassis and bodywork are made of carbon fibre and the whole car weighs just 900 kg. Power comes from a 5.0 litre V8 Nissan engine.
Being allowed to go behind the scenes of a motor racing team is real privilege. I was allowed in to the pits, to photograph the three drivers practising changeovers and could see the mechanics working on the cars. I then saw the drivers signing autographs during a pit lane walk that was open to the public. The rapport between the drivers and the spectators was great to watch. I have been to a few Grand Prix and it’s not like this in Formula One.
On the track these cars are incredibly quick and quite difficult to photograph. On the day I was at Silverstone, the grandstands were closed to spectators. Like all Grand Prix racing circuits, Silverstone has very high wire fences to protect the public. I walked around the track, looking for a location that would give me an uninterrupted view of the track. I found one location on the inside of the first corner that gave me a view that would require very little work in Photoshop to lose the top of the wire fence.
In the race itself, Wayne’s team finished fourth but after another team were disqualified over a technical infringement, Wayne’s team were promoted to third place – a good start to the season.
If you’ve never tried photographing a racing car before but would like to try, the important thing to remember is to “pan” the camera. That means – swing it in the same direction that the car is moving. It needs a bit of practice to get this just right so try it out on slower cars first.
By using the highest available shutter speed you can freeze the car, whilst blurring the background. This gives a good impression of speed.
Racing cars – of all types – are either accelerating or braking. They never coast. I have found that the entry to a corner is often the best place to photograph cars, as they are slowing down.
Camera and settings
To get the shot of Wayne Boyd driving the Ligier, I used a Canon Eos 1Dx camera, with the shutter speed set to 12 frames a second. The lens used was a Canon 300 mm f2.8L MkII. Exposure was 1/1600 of a second at f7.1 and ISO 400. Autofocus was set to Servo mode.