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Le Mans 24 Hours 2013 - Diary of a motorsport photographer - Getting stuck in at the famous endurance event pit lane

Published by Lara Platman

Bruno Senna at Le Mans 2013

As a photojournalist I am very privileged to attend some of the world’s most celebrated motoring events and the 24 Hours du Mans is indeed one of these. However, as a photojournalist I often find myself arriving at these events through some dubious means, often I hitch hike - (as I did on this occasion through Twitter) - or conversely arrive in fabulous style as I did with the Grand Prix de Monaco Historic (in an Aston Martin).

At the start of the year most freelance photographers look at the season ahead and apply for press accreditations for events, hoping that magazines will commission them or purchase photographs afterwards. I applied for Le Mans 24 Hour partly because of my new publication Girl Racers (as there are two women drivers, one female race principal and at least two women mechanics in this race). Also Mrs Victor Bruce in the late 20’s drove the ‘Bentley Boys’ Bentley for speed trials at Montlhéry's motor-racing track only a few weeks before they drove it at Le Mans and went on to win.

With one week leading up to the race I still had not decided to make the journey. Whilst on a train to a meeting in London, my racing partner said off the cuff, “Lala, Tweet to see if someone can take you there” and Voila operation #getlalatolemans was put into action. So I tweeted, found a ride with Nick, from a lighting company called Laniro and got myself to Le Mans 24 Hours.

Pit lane dilemma

My first time at LM24, and I discovered that the site is big, having to collect passes from one place and the media centre in another. Also I found out that I was only allocated two hours of pit lane access per day, which to me is catastrophic. Was this really true? Indeed it was! Can you imagine me having to decide when the action might happen? I mean at the Spa 24 hours I got totally engulfed in a Mercedes having a nose job for two hours, or before that at the Spa 6 hours historic race I found a new love for the Porsche 904, who I hung out with for the whole of the night time racing. Things happening at driver changes and fuel fill ups... how was I supposed to know?

I chose the 10pm - midnight slot and 2am to 4am slot the next day… hoping that some action in the pit lane might happen. Thing is, you really only know when pit lane action happens when you feel the race moving, understand the rotation of the drivers, get a clear impression of when the splash and dashes happen. It is really very hard to just say, ok two hours here and two hours there.

I managed to acquire four hours on the track each day and according to everyone who was not at Le Mans… and who wanted to be… I was promptly told to ‘shut up’ with my moaning of pit lane time.

Tabard at Le Mans
Aston Martin Racing at Le Mans
Through the night at Le Mans
Pit lane markings at Le Mans

Photographic shift

I am well prepared for once! Rain cape, Brasher boots, hipster camera bag, race suit, hard hat... Watching photographers gasp for their cameras as the rain pours down and down, I felt quite happy in my cocoon. A good day for photos, I bagged a few but when I saw a paparazzi conquest at Aston and Audi I just backed away. I hate ‘papping’ and perhaps that’s why I have less work!

The race started this afternoon and before I can continue I would like to say as soon as I can that my thoughts and wishes go to the family and team mates of Allan Simonsen who, at 15:10 on the first 4 laps of the race lost his life during the Le Mans 24 Hour race. He died doing what he loved best, yet still his life was cut short. I think that the whole of the motor racing community will recall the 90th anniversary of Le Mans with a heavy heart.

As the rain pours down and down, I felt quite happy in my cocoon

It is just past midnight and after looking round the empty seats here in the press room at the Le Mans 24 Hours race, I decide that now would be the best time to remove my shoes and socks for as little impact as possible. My next photographic ‘shift’ will be at 2.00am. I have been shooting for the past four hours, I managed to get some more pit lane time, so the idea of being able to stretch my toes whilst I pen some tales from what I have now considered to be a somewhat crazy idea to ‘Hitch’ to the Le Mans motor race, might allow me to think that this actually is worth it and has been worth every minute. I am listening to in my earpiece, so please forgive me if I edge away from any single point.

I interviewed Natacha Gachang at Morgan Judd and photographed her. I can truly say that I have one interview down. I planned to meet Leena Gade at Audi before the race for another interview, but what a silly quest, her mind is not for the likes of me before a race. I also bumped into a dear painter friend Anna-Louise Felstead. She has a great work philosophy and is always an inspiration to me.

Refuelling pitstop
Aston Martin driver lineup
Crew member asleep in the background
Atmospheric pit stop for the P2

Organisation and determination and speed

Sunday afternoon - my quick meeting with Leena at Audi today was super and afterwards I return to the press room to evaluate my photos and two interviews. I have made my photographs black and white to commemorate the life of Allan. In fact I looked at everything in black and white last night during the race - it almost became instinctive for me to do so.

Monday morning - waiting for my ride home with the Aston crew. Yesterday or the day before, was quite exhausting, what with the fatality which the world now knows about, and my superb dinner in the Michelin and breakfast in the Automobile Club of France hospitality suites along with sleeping beside the lockers, (after sleeping in a trailer that carries an Alfa Romeo TZ for the first 2 nights then a under a Ferrari LM for the 3rd night) - (with a bucket for the oil drips).

Once again I could play quite happily with the Leica and the Noctilux lens

But what of my passion, the theatre of the pit lane? Well for that I can happily say it was a truly wonderful experience. I managed to acquire many more hours than first allocated (seeing as no one else had signed up for the same hours). It was the highlight of my weekend where once again I could play quite happily with the Leica and the Noctilux lens. The feeling was refreshing after the horrific start to the race. I was able to watch some fabulous pit stop theatres: speed and articulation with Audi, organisation and determination and speed with Aston. Dempsey Racing had loads of cameras following every move.

When Audi had their pit stop it was a pure emotion watching it, a pleasure to witness. I remember watching two Rebellions stops as the vocals, then three Astons as a chorus, then the three Audis as a sort of operatic finale. I wonder if any other photographer had such a feeling of poetic music in their lens.

Audi perform a pitstop
Making repairs in the garage
A look back at the Rebellion
Sleeping on a trolley

Tuesday Morning - I returned home with two Aston team ‘fuel filler’ chaps, (one on a work placement from Mission Motorsport). The journey was heavy but we worked together to get ourselves back to Banbury, I kept quiet most of the time, allowed our minds to be still.

Le Mans 24 Hours, you are legend: you rip us apart, and at the same time you pull us together as one big motorsport family. When will I recover from you?

Monday 7th April 2014 - I look back on this diary with a heavy heart, but quickly think with a huge smile about LM24 2014. Oh my goodness not only do we have ex Formula One driver, Mark Webber in Porsche, another new face is World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb with Nissan. For me, the pit lane is going to be amazing.