A Weekend With the World Champions
I’ll be honest. Formula 1 cars no longer excite my senses. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the sport. But it’s been a few years since I stood at a corner and had my mouth hanging on the floor watching them dance noisily past an apex with the throttle open and screaming, while the hair on the back of your neck stands at attention. Sportscars however, and in particular the LMP1 class, are something to behold.
Shanghai International Circuit is no one’s favorite destination. The F1 race held annually in the spring is one we all look forward to going, getting our work done and then leaving again. There are always pictures to be made at any part of any track if you try hard enough, but Shanghai is hard work. There are really only a few corners that are staples of any photographer’s brief. You the fans, all know those photos. We, the photographers know them all too well. But there I was standing at a corner Ive photographed several times before, the 90 degree left hander that leads the cars back onto the start/finish straight under the famous Shanghai grandstand. The f1 cars whiz uphill and turn left, getting on the power without much pomp or thrill. It’s all very sedate.
6 months later, I’m standing in the same spot and past me roars the 1000bhp technological marvel that is the Porsche 919 Hybrid. The driver BARELY lifts off the throttle clipping the curb and continuing on his way toward another lap. Wooooooosh. The Audi R18 flies past with barely a sound. VRAWWWWWWWWWW. The Toyota makes it’s noisy entrance and is gone again just as quickly as it came. Your eyes can’t comprehend the speed these machines are carrying into and through the corners.
Though not an entirely fair comparison, the qualifying time of the pole sitting Porsche was a mere half second slower than the fastest race lap set during the Formula 1 race this year. Think about that for a second. A significantly heavier prototype is that close in speed to a modern F1 car. For me, this is just proof that F1 is in a stale era where conservation is key and the dreaded “R” word reins supreme. The drivers unable to push their machines to the limit because the tires don’t work and the fuel limits don’t allow them to go anywhere near the limit of the car’s performance. It’s like taking the shoes off a thoroughbred race horse and expecting the jockey to get the same performance from his steed. It isn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, the Le Mans prototypes are both, relevant (that “R” word), hugely powerful, exceptionally fast and most importantly…..very cool. Want to see the pinnacle of technology? It isn’t flying around the streets of Monaco. I assure you that. It’s going 220mph down the Mulsanne straight, 15 hours into a 24 hour race, and still doing the same kind of qualifying lap times they have to do on Saturday. Excuse my french, but World Endurance Championship cars are F$%KING cool. The leaps and bounds made each year, technologically speaking, are astounding. The 2015 Toyota beat it’s own 2014 qualifying time by more than 2 seconds. But was still far off the pace of the Germans who were a further 4 seconds (per lap) down the road.
Speaking of Toyota…the reason I’m writing this blog is because I was asked to stand in for their usual man behind the camera (James Moy) while he was in Mexico for the inaugural F1 race. So my job was entirely Toyota-centric all week. It was fascinating to be embedded with the 2014 World Champions. The car is a work of art. A noisy, but gorgeous machine designed by the best minds in Cologne and Japan. Simply put, the team could not have been more friendly. From the drivers to mechanics and team management and everyone in-between. It was an amazing experience to work inside, and document a top operation battling for every second with one of the most advanced cars on the planet. Unfortunately, they couldn’t retain their championship title in 2015. That honor goes to Porsche, and deservedly so. But the team is reinventing itself for 2016. Personally, I can’t wait to see what success awaits them. Watch out, Germans.
Huge thanks to James, Al, Evelyn, Jerome, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Jeff and the WEC media staff and the Shanghai International Circuit for their help and welcoming me to the paddock.
All Images © Jamey Price / James Moy Photography for Toyota