It has been 4 long years since the Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia last visited the Chang International Circuit. So, it’s only natural for both teams and drivers to be this eager to race at the Hermann Tilke-designed circuit in Thailand. Likewise, this author was just as keen for the said event as it would be my very first continental series in attendance as a motorsports photographer.
Applying for Media Accreditation
Motorsports is inherently dangerous, not only for drivers, but also for all trackside personnel, photographers included. Hence, its organizers enforce strict media accreditation to ensure that only those who know what they’re doing are given access. Plus, they also want some assurance that your work goes out to legitimate channels on their event.
The application process was pretty straightforward. Accreditation forms and requirements can be submitted directly to SRO Motorsports Group through their online portal. Then the waiting game begins. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure if I was going to get approved. Thankfully, at the very last minute, I got a confirmation through e-mail.
Getting To And Around The Track
With 20 kg worth of camera gear strapped to my back, I hopped on a plane to Bangkok before taking another domestic flight to the small city of Buriram. Upon arrival, you wouldn’t have any idea that a world-class Grade 1 circuit, one that host MotoGP and other international events, lies only about 20 km away.
I arrived on track Thursday morning just in time for Free Practice. No media passes needed here as it was technically not part of the event. This allowed me to freely roam the grounds, meet the teams, and most importantly scout the best spots to shoot from.
The race weekend would officially begin on Friday where I was finally issued my Media Pass (which was quite beautiful in my opinion). Aside from giving me trackside access, I was also granted use of the Media Center where I was lent a locker for my gear, a tabard, and a safety helmet. For events such as this, everyone walking along a live pit lane is required to wear protective gear as race cars regularly come and go at speed. Those with refueling stops even require an FIA certified 2-layer suit just for good measure.
Pit Lane Etiquette
Pit stops are one of the most captivating scenes in endurance races. This is the reason why I spent a chunk of my time shooting from the pits, watching teams practice tire changes and driver swaps. There’s never a dull moment.
From loud wheel guns, hissing air jacks, to mechanics running around, as a photographer you have to think and act fast to get the photos you want. I quickly discovered that 24 mm was my preferred focal length to capture everything in motion. I framed my shot behind the pit box.
But things can get quite busy really fast in such big events. Team personnel, drivers, equipment, and tires from 20 odd cars all occupy such a short stretch of road, lined up side-by-side along their garage bays. While there’s always something interesting going on, you have to keep your head on a swivel and be quick on your feet as you shoot. The last thing you want is to get in a mechanic’s way or worse, get hit by a race car.
Getting My Feet Wet (Literally and Figuratively)
As teams assembled their cars on the grid for the start of Race 1, drops of rain began to fall. It quickly became a heavy downpour and delayed the start by an hour. But as soon as the lights turned green, all hell broke loose on track under drying conditions.
Nothing quite compares to the beauty rain brings with dark clouds above, headlights turned on, and the rooster tails it illuminates as cars drive down the straight. Capturing these elements adds drama to the story, which I was able to capture with the blue-liveried Audi R8 LMS GT3 using my 500 mm lens.
Still soaked from the downpour, I hiked to the top of the grandstands about 6 stories high. Cars speeding past in full song was a sight to behold and was equally tantalizing to my ears. I set my shutter to 1/15 and panned through the crowd with my 50 mm lens to create a delicious image of the Audi Sport Asia Audi R8 racing down the main straight.
Venturing trackside, especially under the rain, was not easy. But once all the race cars returned back to the pits after the chequered flag dropped, I was able to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Even with my clothes drenched, my camera soaking wet (but still working!), and myself tired to the bone, snapping that picturesque shot made it all worth the effort.
I then packed up, headed back to my hotel, and got much needed rest for the final race day.
Make Every Shot Count
Sunday, the final day of racing, would be the least hectic of all as the timetables only had Race 2 on schedule. There was a pit walk where spectators were allowed to get up close to the GT3 machinery and meet the drivers. Although a lot warmer than Saturday, a bit of sunshine was appreciated as I photograph these rolling works of art being wrestled on the limit of adhesion around the 4.554 km circuit.
The season opener of the 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia technically ended after the awarding ceremony. But instead of heading straight back to the hotel, I decided to stick around in the Media Center and hang out around the paddock so that I could soak up the atmosphere a bit more. I also pinched myself to make sure it all wasn’t a dream.
It’s hard to believe that I just completed my first-ever international event. Just being amongst world-class teams and world-class drivers was surreal.
From watching races on TV, to going to local events at Subic, Clark, and Batangas, and now taking my camera with me abroad as a motorsports photographer – the way I enjoy races has obviously evolved. Yet, deep within I am still a hardcore motorsports fan.