It is a few seconds before 3.00 pm in the pit lane at Oulton Park in Cheshire on the 13th of April 2009 and Wayne Boyd, the former UK Formula Ford Champion from Northern Ireland is about to go racing in his Formula 3 single seater racing car.
I had been taking photographs of racing cars for many years and whilst we’ve loved going to the Monaco Grand Prix, Oulton Park remains my favourite circuit as it is the first circuit I was ever taken to by my schoolfriend, Peter Hall’s father when we were 9 years old. It is probably the most picturesque circuit in the UK, set in the undulating parkland of the former Oulton Hall, in Delamere Forest. Just one visit to a circuit and I was hooked for life!
Racing drivers are different to “normal” people. Not only do they have to be super fit, with the sharpest of reflexes but they also have a degree of self-belief that very few humans have. When they see a gap between two other cars, they have to believe that they can drive into it, without colliding with the other cars and so gain a place. And then keep seeing those opportunities throughout the race. Crashing is an occupational hazard and any crash that you can walk away from wasn’t that bad.
I had started to get passes to go behind the scenes in the pits at a number of circuits and, for me, this was a turning point in my photography. I was able to observe at close quarters the mechanics and engineers at work and the drivers, as they prepared to go out and race. Many of the drivers use iPods to listen to their favourite music and close off the outside world. Few of them want to speak to anyone, other than their race engineer and they become totally oblivious to what is going on around them. If good sports photography is all about story telling, this is the story – it’s about the drivers and the people behind them, the skill, determination, sacrifice and courage.
In the pit lane at Oulton Park, Wayne Boyd sat, ready to go out onto the track. He was completely still and was staring at the tiny steering wheel of his car. Nothing could distract him – it was as if he had become part of the car. He really had gone into “The Zone.”
The area where cars sit in the pit lane is covered in concrete, so that fuel and oil spills don’t go into the ground beneath. When I saw this photograph on my computer, I wanted to do something different with it to all the motor racing photos I’d taken in the past. I wanted to tell a story about the isolation that a racing driver feels before he or she goes out on the track. That is why I over exposed the background, so the grey concrete turned black and Wayne was sitting there, all alone.
I was in touch with Wayne a couple of weeks ago, after he had won the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone. I told him that I wanted to use this photo on our website and to write a blog about it. He told me that his family have a print of it, hanging in their kitchen – which makes me feel very proud.
It’s this photograph that changed my approach to sports photography. Whilst you can see very little of Wayne’s face, the pose tells the story. From that day forward I have always looked for the facial expressions on players and their body language. I want my viewers to feel like they were there with me, witnessing the full gamut of emotion and the effort that’s required to participate in sport at its highest levels.
Photograph taken 13th April 2009 with a Canon Eos 5D Mk II and a 17mm – 35mm lens set to 31mm. Exposure 1/640 second at f 4.5. ISO 200.