I warned you there’d be some car racing appearing here, and here’s the first of it. Don’t worry – I won’t be at any more races until the end of May, at the earliest.
It’s partway through winter, and although there’s plenty going on in warmer parts of the world, here in Southern Ontario we’re mired in the off-season doldrums. Over at the discussion forum for my favourite sportscar series, the American Le Mans Series, the usual speculation about entries, teams, drivers and potential scandals is running rampant. And although the last ALMS race I attended was way back in July, I never got around to posting my usual summary at the old blog. So here it is now.
It all started off with some promotional action in downtown Toronto’s Dundas Square. It was good fun watching the crack Corvette Racing team muscling tires on and off, even if legendary driver Ron Fellows deafened us all as he roared the car into position. Crowds of bemused lunchtime shoppers seemed to enjoy the spectacle.
The race itself was the following weekend, at the hallowed ground of Mosport International Raceway. It’s a classic road course in the old style, threading through perilous high-speed corners and serious elevation changes, in the rural countryside of Durham, east and a little north of Toronto. For the last fifty years it’s hosted some of the most famous names in stock car racing, Can-Am, Formula 1, IMSA sportscars, and other classic series. I missed all of that, but have been a regular for the last three years or so.
As usual, things got going with supporting events. The undercard included the Star Mazda series, part of a development ladder ultimately leading to IndyCar. One of the drivers had a slight “oops” at the ferociously high-speed turn two, conveniently right in front of me. There was also plenty of action from two Porsche-only cup series. I like to use the support races to dust off my technique, re-familiarize myself with favourite vantage points, and try out new angles – literally, in the case of those two Porsches.
A nice aspect of the ALMS is that the paddock, the area where crews work on the race cars, is open. Fans can get up close, and the atmosphere is casual. It’s generally easy to chat with the mechanics, and to occasionally spot drivers. This fabulous looking monster is a Lola chassis, re-styled by Aston Martin – the “coathanger” shaped front grill is vintage Aston, and if you look carefully you’ll see the classic winged logo on the nose. It’s very fast, has a screaming, high-revving V12 engine, and is equipped with two very silly doors.
Even better, there’s an autograph session at lunchtime on race day. I once had one of my photos of former Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran signed by the man himself, which was fun. Although some of these drivers are huge stars in Europe, here in North America, sportscar racing’s lower profile means that while the sessions are busy, it’s still easy enough to chat with them. Here, former Trans-Am series champion Klaus Graf is showing off a fan’s sketch to team-mate Lucas Luhr, an ace on loan from Audi. As a bonus, the photographer turned out to be Rick Dole, one of the best motorsports photographers in the world.
Another aspect of these weekends I enjoy is hanging out with some very talented photographers. One, my good friend Markus, knows the track much better than I, and is adept at finding great locations. We shot the start through a favourite billboard gap behind the finish line, capturing the controlled mayhem of the pre-race: drivers stretching, mechanics and engineers fussing, and various others just milling around. Shooting from behind gives an interesting alternate view of the start. With a long lens, perspective compression leads to a nice massing of the cars, and the rippled heat haze rising from the engines was an unexpected bonus. Even this early, competition is fierce. That yellow Corvette is almost off-track, defending against the Porsche behind it. Don’t bother looking for Luhr in the Lola Aston Martin – he’s gone, already out of shot around the first corner.
Another thing I love about Mosport is its setting – rolling, wooded hills, sandy hiking trails, big trees, big sky. This part of southern Ontario was heavily glaciated in the last ice age, leaving hundreds of lakes scored into the landscape, and the sandy moraines that underly Mosport’s hills. Hiking the track is a walk in the woods, and taking photos of the cars against the forest backdrop is easy. The Ferrari below is running down the slope through the frighteningly fast left hand bend of turn four, nothing but infield woods in the background. The course is so large and forested that I had to go out of my way to find a grandstand full of fans behind the Jaguar, far on the other side of the track.
And so it went – hiking, shooting, stopping for a snack or a breather under the trees – the sun was hot, and some of those hills are steep! We wound up at our usual end-of-race location, the picturesque hairpin of Moss Corner, named for legendary driver Sir Stirling Moss. He suggested it be modified to its current, very tricky, double-apex configuration. It’s a great location for tight shots, but with plenty of room to back away and capture wide-angle groups of cars battling through the corner.
And that’s where the weekend wound up. I’ve photographed post-race podium ceremonies at other events, but here at Mosport the allure of the woods is too strong, and I’m invariably off in the trees come the chequered flag. No matter – one last hike of the day back to the car leaves plenty of time for the first wave of fans to clear out, and all that’s left is a few goodbyes, and a rambling drive home along rural back roads.
The Lola Aston Martin won, by the way.