16 May 2013

As good as it gets ?

Some superb photos of Jaguars at the recent Historic Racing Festival at Donnington in the UK from Peter de Roussett-Hall .Who would risk racing in the rain a genuine Jaguar D-Type worth probably well the other side of $5m?
Peter uses a full frame Canon 5D and the image quality is stunning but it's not just down to the gear as he really knows how to capture motor racing action.When I see photos this good it brings home to me that anything less than a full frame sensor is suboptimal in terms of image quality.But life is a series of compromises and if you shoot with a full frame camera you have to resign yourself to a lot of heavy lifting.

 If you are a fan of historic motor racing get out and take in as many events as you can NOW because this is the golden age of historic motor racing and it will be downhill from here and the number of really special cars - such as D-Types,250GTOs ,GT40s and 917s is going to diminish rapidly.
Lots of factors at play here.The cars are becoming so valuable that the number of owners who are prepared to risk them racing is falling rapidly. And can you really blame them? A Ferrari 250GTO changed hands for $35m back in March.

Sadly super affluent Arab collectors in the Middle East are switching from collecting modern supercars to collecting classic racers.And Chinese buyers are also starting to emerge.At the same time many of the owners and drivers of these cars are getting older and will not be around to maintain the enthusiasm for too much longer.And the cars themselves are becoming even more expensive to maintain and race.
The problem is that the next generation of racing cars from the 1990's to recent times is not going to be suitable for historic racing.This is down to two words -carbonfibre and electronics.Most racing cars from the 1990s (and even starting from the 80s) incorporate high levels of carbonfibre componentry and there are big questions about the longevity and durablity of carbonfibre.
 Crash a race car with an old carbonfibre tub and it may shatter with very dire consequences.And in any case the moulds for the tub may very well have been lost/destroyed so replacing it will be out of the question.
Carbonfibre suspension and brake components have unknown durability.McLaren have replaced the carbonfibre suspension parts on many of their display museum cars in their HQ with steel parts clad in cosmetic carbonfibre.That says it all really.

As for the electronics even now historic racers with 1980s F1 cars are reliant on old laptops running long superceeded software to communicate with the electronics of their cars .If/when this software gets corrupted these owners will have big problems as the electronic interface even controls the start up routines for these cars .And the electronic components in the cars are not durable in the long term and they were not designed to be.This week Jeep announced a massive recall of vehicles because a circuit board is cracking sending an error signal to the gearbox which causes it to engage neutral inadvertantly.The electronics of racing cars lead much harder lives than those in a Jeep.Heat,vibration and just age related decay are the enemies.Maintaining those electronics going forward may well be impossible.And in the last 20 years electronics have taken control of most of the interfaces in sports cars and F1 cars in particular.

As well as the issue of carbonfibre and electronics there are the issues of aerodynamics and tyres .From the late 1980s aerodynamics have become a very critical component racing car design -and it is difficult to see how the sophistication of that science could be understood by essentially amateur racers in the future.Late model racing cars really have pushed out the performance envelope in terms of grip and cornering speeds and a small aero adjustment can literally mean the difference between staying on the track or flying off it.Even the mighty Mercedes can get it wrong as we saw at Le Mans in 1998.What chance will an amateur team in the future stand?

Tyres will also also a major problem for future racers of modern racing cars.F1 cars and the highest level sports cars are literally been designed around certain tyre specifications.Unless those tyres are available in the same specification in the future racing those cars will be compromised in their handling and even potentially lethal in amateur racer's hands.Getting the heat into the tyres requires the very highest level driving skills and when those tyres are not at their optimum temperature they have very little grip.

And finally there is the question of maintaining and operating the modern cars beyond the areas outlined above.Modern racing teams come to the races with a team of specialists who understand the complex systems of the cars.Even starting a modern F1 car involves a detailed sequence of actions which requires specialist equipment.It is difficult to see how amateur racers in the future could replicate this support.

No,it all looks as if the golden days of historic racing are here now and that today's racing cars will only be seen in museums or in demonstration runs in the future.
So get out to the Goodwood Revival,the Oldtimer Festival and next year's Le Mans Classic and the other great events.They may be the summit of historic racing.In the short term enjoy Peter's great photos.


  1. Outstanding photos, both technically and aesthetically. As somebody who just sold their last DSLR and bought a Ricoh with a small sensor, I don't know if I will ever own a full-frame camera, but in the right hands, they give mind-blowing results. The improved image quality is striking, even in relatively small photos on the internet. Even though I have never had the chance to attend a vintage car race, you have inspired me to see if there are any in this part of the world - while I still can. Those old cars have a lot more personality in my opinion that their modern offspring.

  2. I love the drifting d type - you can see the driver concentrating intensely, with this tongue hanging out slightly.