British Hillclimb Championship at Shelsley Walsh

I paid a visit to Shelsley Walsh on Sunday as they hosted a round of the British Hillclimb Championship. Spectators were allowed in once again, albeit in their own ‘bubble’. Shelsley is fortunate in that it is relatively easy for them to create bubbles, with spectators on the right-hand side of the track and competitors and officials on the left. For photographers it does limit the vantage points and so we all end up taking pretty much the same photographs – and it limits how often we can move around because we are on a live track most of the time.

This became more apparent halfway through the morning when I had a telephone call saying that my electronic sign-on wasn’t registered and so I had to ‘immediately’ leave trackside to sign on in the office. At that time I was halfway up the hill at Bottom Ess and had no way of getting down quickly (the footpath was in the other bubble). Fortunately the marshals came to my aid and during the next batch change one of them drove me down in the pick-up. I thought that I was then resigned to spending the rest of the morning at the bottom of the hill but David Lowe (one of the commentators) was heading up the hill at the next opportunity and kindly agreed to take me back up in his Porsche. So I ended up with an impromptu hill climb experience thanks to the kindness of the marshals & officials.

With regards to the competition itself it was a very enjoyable day. It was wet in the morning but dried out considerably from lunchtime onwards and I certainly felt as though my mojo had returned and the photographs reflect it.

Check out the gallery here.

Goodbye old friend

A number of years ago I bought a Sigma 50-500mm zoom lens off my cousin-in-law who found it uncomfortable on his shoulder (it is quite a hefty beast). I used it for motorsport photography almost exclusively until I purchased a much faster Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 and a 1.4x teleconverter. Since then I have only used it occasionally – usually at Loton Park to get shots of Fallow bend from the top of Museum. Towards the end of the 2020 season I used it and found that the zoom ring was very stiff at the lower focal length end but it seemed to free off and I thought that was the end of it.

However, I took it to Curborough in early May and now found that the zoom ring was pretty much locked solid. I played around with it and eventually it freed up again and I was able to use it – until suddenly it stopped focussing and all I could hear was the internal motor whirring with no movement of the elements.

Strangely, when I tried it again at home it was focussing fine but now the zoom won’t retract fully to the 50mm position which prevents the lens from being locked. I am guessing that there is something loose inside which is why I get these variable faults but a repair charge in the region of £300 has made me think that it is time to let it go. To be honest I don’t use it very often and it isn’t anywhere near as sharp as the Tamron (hardly surprising when you think how much glass must be inside to achieve that focal range). The solution has to be to say goodbye and it will go in with the recycling.

British Hillclimb Championship at Loton Park

In past years Loton Park has always hosted the opening round of the British Hillclimb Championship and so it was a change of the norm’ at the start of the year to see that Prescott had been given the honours for 2021. Fate intervened, however, and the continued Covid-19 lockdown in Scotland & Wales meant that it wouldn’t be fair to hold a round of the championship at that time (April) and so Loton Park once again hosted the first round over the weekend just gone.

With no spectators allowed it sadly lacked atmosphere even though it was a full entry list I certainly couldn’t find much enthusiasm and spent a good part of the morning talking to another photographer over a nice cup of tea and missing photographs of a large number of cars. When a magazine asked me for a list of images of different cars/drivers it was somewhat embarrassing to only be able to supply a very small offering. Must try harder next time!

Check out the gallery here.

VSCC at Curborough

Last Sunday saw me at Lichfield at the Curborough sprint circuit with the Vintage Sports-Car Club. This is one of my favourite events of the year and you really don’t need to have a media pass to get some great panning shots. The only disappointment of the day was to see what was formerly green field opposite now covered with excavators and other plant preparing for the HS2 high-speed rail link. I’m not convinced that the desecration of huge swathes of countryside is really worth it.

Check out the gallery here.

Hill climb at Prescott

Last Sunday I took a trip down to Gloucestershire to the Prescott hill climb venue for their first event of the year. Originally it was planned to be the opening round of the British Hillclimb Championship but the continued Covd-19 lockdown rules in Scotland and Wales meant it would have been unfair to start the championship with those affected unable to attend. Thus it was a lower-key affair albeit with a huge entry which meant the first runs hadn’t finished until nearly 2pm – much to the annoyance of the marshals who only had about 20 minutes of their usual hours lunch break.

Check out the gallery here.

Shelsley Walsh Drivers School

Two or three times a year I have the honour of being Official Photographer at the Shelsley Walsh drivers school. Here, 30 or so drivers turn up in their own cars (some under their own steam, some on trailers) so that they can be taught the best way to traverse up the steep hill. The aim is to learn the correct lines to take for each corner which should, in a competition, lead to a faster ascent. For some it was their first time, for others they had been many times before – but all entrants get at least 8 runs up the hill with a debrief from 4 instructors every two runs.

My job is to take photographs throughout the day – a group shot on the start line, at as many different locations on the hill as possible, and finally the small presentation at the end.

It’s a long day. After the obligatory group shots under the start-line banner the 4 groups have a walk up the hill and back being briefed on the best line for each corner. Then, for me, there is about an hour of photography with a car going past every 30 seconds or so. After their two runs there is then a 40 minute lull whilst the drivers are debriefed on their actual lines – and then it repeats itself 3 more times (with an hours break for a cooked lunch). At the end of the day there are 3 presentations and it’s home for tea.

But it’s not over for me. I then have to check through, on average, 400 photographs and then sort them into a collection for each driver so that I can e-mail them a Dropbox link to their courtesy photographs from the day. This is usually another 4-5 hours – and you’ll be surprised how many cars look very similar when you are trying to sort them out, and that’s not including the dual-drives when two drivers share the same car!

But it’s a great day and I often get very complimentary e-mails back from the drivers after receiving their photographs.

Silverstone Spring Start

Last Saturday was the first motorsport event that I have attended since early-September 2020 due to the Covid-19 restrictions. I went primarily to take photographs of the autosolo – which generally doesn’t appeal to many photographers and so I usually get some pictures published on the back of it. Silverstone as a circuit leaves me cold (usually physically as well as mentally) due to its flat landscape and the fact that it is so wide it is difficult to get any dynamic shots and so I retired shortly after lunch.

Check out the gallery here.