It’s been 5 years since I last shot a motor sports photography assignment at Sepang International Circuit. Back then, I completed a 3 consecutive years shoot for the Kencana Racing Team during the Merdeka Millennium Endurance Race (MMER) from 2006-2008.
This round, I was honoured to be commissioned by Audi Singapore to be officially embedded into their racing teams to photo document their journey in a back-to-back participation of the Malaysian leg of Audi R8 LMS Cup and the MMER 2013 as well. This assignment has been a highly charged job in that I was working alone lugging heavy equipment darting in and out of happenings across this sprawling race facility. This included long arduous walks between turn 1-4 a couple of times, adding to that, a sleep-deprived state from a previous day’s job. In the end, I reckoned clocking only less than 10 hours of sleep in 4 days!
There are over 1,300 high resolution unique shots made during this 3-days engagement that serve to simply document events as they unfold for archival purposes or shots taken in a creative light to communicate the atmosphere and interaction of people and machines. More importantly, most shots were taken with intention to facilitate usage in various print/online media by accommodating graphical elements, illustration or double page spreads (e.g. text insertion). Here I’ve shortlisted 60 images that summed up the event.
The Audi R8 LMS Cup Round 7 (on Friday, and Round 8 on Saturday) debut at Sepang, Malaysia saw Alex Yoong delight his home fans by taking the chequered flag in front of Hong Kong racer Marchy Lee. One of the closest fought races of the season saw ‘Franky’ Cheng Congfu taking the final podium position while Adderly Fong kept his overall championship lead by finishing fourth. I was assigned to provide a focused coverage of the key drivers; Alex Yoong, Marchy Lee, Adderly Fong, Massimo Vignali and Aaron Kwok (yes, the Hong Kong superstar and celebrity singer/actor).
As with any events, the usual “key media shots” of a defining moment is crucial to the story and publicity of the event. These shots are to be delivered for press releases; drivers on podium, panning shots of cars on track, drivers preparing, typical activity at pit, grid/pit walk happenings, press conferences, media interaction with drivers and the like. However, I was aiming to do much more.
I’ve given myself the responsibility of capturing the energy and emotion of the teams and crew involved in this race. That sounds easier than it seems. It involves lots of patience and sheer determination, with a high level of observation and focus, the latter two of which I must say, lacking as a result of a previous full-day event. That has not deterred me from keeping my foot on the pedal by having a highly anticipatory sense of the many fast-paced turn of events unfolding.
I mingled with the crew and “camped” out in the vicinity so they could get used to my presence, and spent most of my time peering through the viewfinder with one eye and scanning the surrounding busy environment with the other. This was necessary to produce shots other than the usual bland panning shots of cars on track synonymous and typical of motor sports photography.
When I was peering through the viewfinder, I put myself in the shoes of the viewers and people who may not have stepped into a pit or race track before. What do they want to see? How does the environment feel? What’s this odd looking contraption? What is he thinking? Why are they working as such? The list of questions is endless, and that drives the picture taking endeavour.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t provided with a fire suit so I couldn’t step beyond the red pit lane line, where the true action was. I could only crave for a vicarious action from a zoomed 200mm beyond the line. I really regretted this but there was nothing I could do about it. It’s just pretty haunting thinking about all the superb shots I could have gathered had I the suit.
All in all, it’s been a truly exhilarating experience as I realised a true “event photography” per se should transcend beyond the ordinary “it’s happening, grab it and be done with” mentality, which is highly characteristic of most photographers. This strive for perfection especially applies to events of such magnitude where a photo documentary of a “journey” is to be made, and the success of a story coming to live through stills hinges on the fleeting emotions and delicate details that easily go unnoticed. My job is to identify and capture those moments.
It’s mentally tiring attempting to “read” the environment and the energy brewing in the presence of these professionals, in the shoes of an inquisitive and curious viewer. I have to constantly switch between 3 customized shooting modes and reprogram them through the course of this 12-hours race for faster response. At times, I had to ditch AV and go full manual. It’s crazy but it’s fulfilling in the end having known you’ve done your best, though not quite in hindsight upon close scrutiny of some shots and realisation of missed opportunities.
But there’s still a longing hunger of revenge for the real pit action shots, only possible with a fire suit. Hopefully, the next time around I’ll have access to one.
Otherwise, these carefully and specially edited selection of shots serve to tell the story of the Audi R8 rise to a recognition of excellence in motor sports engineering.