So there I was at work on a boring Wednesday afternoon. However, that boring Wednesday was about to become something very exciting. Upon checking my email for the 8th time that day, I discovered a late media approval from WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for that weekend’s IMSA round. Yes, a race weekend only several days from then. Didn’t matter, I was beyond excited. Initially denied entry due to COVID-19 restrictions, this was finally some good news in 2020.
I’ve gotten serious about photography the past year, and one of my goals for the year was to shoot more racing. Well, you know how that went. Pandemic, global lockdown, races canceled and/or postponed – it seemed like the year’s ambition was doomed. But alas, Laguna Seca was calling.
Normally, whatever ‘normal’ now means, I attend Monterey Car Week each year, including the Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca where I’ve covered BMWs for the past few years. But, this was different being a global professional racing series. And, I was taking this more than serious with my newfound desire to be like Jamey Price behind my Nikon.
Being a race in highly-impacted California, spectators were not allowed, but Laguna Seca is a public recreation area with many campsites. So, if you camped, you could see the race and go just about everywhere besides the bleachers. A very neat and convenient loophole.
I left my house near Sacramento at 4:30AM Saturday morning. Camera and gear all packed, I had to arrive before the 8AM practice start time for IMSA. 3 hours later, I was walking into the media center and feeling hopelessly and hilariously outgunned. Armed with my modest Nikon D7500 and Sigma 150-600 superzoom, the sheer value of photography gear in this room was someone’s hard-earned 401k. There 400 and 600mm telephotos left and right, with photographers going into battle with multiple Nikon D5s and Canon 1DXs. I couldn’t let this put me off, I was here to get the best out of the equipment that I had.
Some get excited to meet actors and other celebrities, but meeting several of my favorite motorsport photographers like Jamey Price and Camden Thrasher had me on a cloud, and right now clouds in California are quite rare. But, cars were starting – the sound of a cracking whip in the morning silence – as the sun was barely peeking over the rolling Salinas hills to signal the official start of the weekend. I made my way to above turn 2 to shoot the cars cresting turn 1 on the front straight. The autumnal light was simply perfect.
The cars were released, and instantly the entire valley erupted in a flare of revs and combustion. Racing, for me at least, was back. You can watch Formula 1 or any racing on TV, but it’s never the same as being there. Practice lasted an hour, and it felt like only minutes. It sounded like medieval warfare across the track between the blaring and exceedingly loud Porsche RSRs, the C8 Corvettes, American muscle Cadillacs, and then of course the highly-boosted BMW M8s.
They make an interesting cocktail of a sound, part rumbling V8 coupled with a metallic crescendo that makes it sound like it’s revving much higher. Off-throttle, you can hear what must be an anti-lag system to keep the twin-turbo V8 on the boil plus the gorgeous whooshing noises of boost pressure building when back on the gas. I forgot how great race cars sound in person.
Then came race day on Sunday, with a 1:05 start time. I decided to shoot the start at turn 4, with a long look down towards turn 3 to capture the train of cars exiting one corner and onto the next. I couldn’t see the green flag wave, but I needn’t use my eyes – the artillery fire of the entire field mashing the throttles was an easy tell. The field came around 3 corners later, led by the blazingly fast Penske Acura DPis. The rush and adrenaline were things that I forgot existed, and being only feet from the track peering through a photo window in the fence was the perfect way to regain that buzz.
The M8s in GTLM faded from the front-running Porsches and Corvettes in the early stages, but then held their ground throughout the race, albeit at the rear of the GTLM field. Laguna Seca doesn’t seem like the ideal track for something so large like the M8, which won earlier this year at Daytona and Road Atlanta. The Turner Motorsports M6 in GTD was fighting at the front for the entire race, eventually finishing 2nd in class by the hands of BMW legend Bill Auberlen and co-driver Robby Foley. The M6 is how old of a car again? Amazing to see such a large and aging machine still competing for wins so many years on.
And just like that, it was over. Some 6,000 photos later, my work here was done, only waiting for the same race next year. But, where does that leave this as an experience? The privilege to be shooting motor racing alongside some of the great eyes in the sport is something that few can relate to, but surely all can appreciate. To be part of a global racing series itself, and the organization involved and professionalism sets itself apart, too. On a grander scale, in such a strange year like it has been, we all need something to look forward to and keep us going.
For me and many others that share similar passions, it was cars and racing. I never thought I’d get to see live racing in 2020, but the year keeps on surprising me. As for the photos, you can judge them yourself, but I’m very proud and happy with the results and glad to have the chance to share with the BMW community.
Until next time, Laguna Seca.
[Photos: www.theroadbeat.com and Instagram @road_beat]