In 1992, we belonged to the Formula One Spectators Association run by George Goad and Pamela Lauesen. They would organize your visit to a F1 Grand Prix by providing tickets, hotels and transportation at a reasonable price. On June 14 1992, I was with that group at the F1 GP of Canada in Montreal. I had told them that I was going to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1993. They knew I was a decent race car photographer and we all had dinner, that Sunday night after the race, with Marco Tolama, the owner of the Mexican car magazine “Auto y Pista” (now defunct). I showed him my photos, and after telling him that it will cost him nothing, except getting me a photo pass, he agreed.
In June 1993, I arrived in the paddock, very proud to have gotten a full pass AND a parking spot, thanks to Monique (never knew her name). In the pressroom, I got my own desk with personal TV, which was a great way to rest and still be close to the track. I was an official press photographer at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was going to be that way each year (except 2014) until 2015: 12 races total.
Until 1993, I had shot only Formula 1, as a spectator (Mexico, US, Canada, France, Germany) or as a “real” photographer (Monaco GP 1990, French GP 1991, British GP 1991). The race at le Mans started at 4 pm on June 1993. I shot for 2 hours and I was finished. Well, there were 22 hours of racing yet to go. I kept shooting until I had no more film (remember film). “Auto y Pista”, at that time, was in black and white only! So I had 10 36-Plus-X and 10 36-Tri-X.
The first time, we had a hotel in Laval (1 hour drive). The third time, we decided to sleep in the car. It was pouring, and while having dinner, we met Alain Bouteiller, a horse trainer living INSIDE the circuit. The next year and all years thereafter, we were there (blue cross on the map).
Until 1996, my equipment was entirely Minolta. I got my first Minolta, SRT-101, in 1974 and upgraded it in 1981 with an XD-5, eventually improving with a 5000i and then a 7000i (top of the line). In 1996, I was so upset by the inability of the 7000i to take flash pictures with a wide-angle lens at Le Mans that I bought a complete Canon outfit: EOS-1N, 300 mm f 2.8, Automatic flash, etc.
What a difference! Since then, I have been shooting exclusively with Canon equipment in color. My latest acquisition is a Canon R with 30.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor. Canon really did it right: there is now a ring on the lens where you can change the sensitivity of the “film” from 100 ASA to 40,000 ASA. Wonderful!
Back to racing. Here are some of my favorite photos at Le Mans:
The basic idea of shooting race cars is to make them look real. If you shoot at 1/1000 s, your car will be frozen on the track. The idea is to set your camera at 1/100 (or slower if you are brave) and pan as the car goes by you; the background will be blurred, but the car will be in focus:
In the press room (probably 2002) after we had lunch with Paul Frère, a Belgian journalist who won Le Mans in 1960 with Olivier Gendebien on a Ferrari 250.
June 6, 1998 8:00 am Warm Up
I was on the track at 7:00 am and walked all the way to the bottom of the Dunlop. It was foggy and I got that:
Photo impossible to repeat as they changed the track!
That same year, I also made the cover of my magazine (it was the third time):
More pictures I like:
The Start. There are about 50/60 photographers at this post trying to shoot the start. In 1997, I had a ladder to be above the fray! Obviously, I did not take this picture.
The Start June 15, 2002 (from the ladder)
The Dunlop (Audi, Porsche, Porsche)
Just before dark
The S’s of the Forest:
For this shot, you have to wait for 2 or 3 laps to see exactly when it happens. And then you shoot at 10 fps, hoping you’ll get it! You have plenty of time to do that: the race is 24-hours long !
I like to shoot these types of photos at night. You set your camera to 1/15 and fire the flash at the end:
Yours truly in action:
The winners (1/43) of the 12 races I went to: