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Sunday, Oct 8 09:19am
AUTHOR: Matthew Hansen

Two zero three — what it was like being in the Shell garage

Shooting the top-10 shootout is always memorable.

 

It, perhaps just as much as any other session of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 weekend, is charged with emotion and desire for results. Teams all gather around their monitors and cling on to every apex, every dirt drop, every detail they can as their cars and drivers fly around the mountain.

 

And from a mostly selfish point of view, it's wonderful for photos.

 

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Everyone is so sucked into the moment that they forget that the cameras are watching. For two and a bit minutes, we get to take pictures of the real people without the masks they wear on TV.

 

Those in the media center (and probably the whole paddock) knew that Scott McLaughlin was the most likely contender for shootout glory. So with that in mind I formatted my shoot around being in the Shell V-Power Racing garage for Scott's lap.

 

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I started at Walkinshaw Racing, then moved to Red Bull, then to Prodrive for the three sequential laps of Mark Winterbottom, Cameron Waters, and Chaz Mostert. Then I bypassed Erebus Motorsport to shuffle into Shell central.

 

Walking into Scott's garage as David Reynolds' lap clocked up its first sector, I could tell people were impressed that the perennial underdog (a loving reference to both driver and team) was slamming down green sectors. There was a silence for most of the lap, ending when the Commodore crossed the line to a 2:04.274.

 

Pretty damn good.

 

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In the middle of the Shell garage is an island, with a heap of screens bolted to it showing telemetry, sector splits, and live footage among many other things that a simple photographer can't understand. Sitting around this island are some of the most important people in the team. From drivers to engineeers to mechanics.

 

By this point the garage is packed with media personel. Photographers lose out in the 'mine's bigger than yours' game compared with the video staff from televisionland, forced to play second fiddle. The video people (there must've been about five of them) all zero in on specific targets. One about five metres behind me focuses on Dick Johnson, another seeks Scott's dad, while another focuses on Dr. Ryan Storey.

 

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I end up crouching for a bit to look through a keyhole at Ludo Lacroix. He's been an engineering tour de force for the squad, but more than that he's perhaps the most excitable person in pit lane.

 

As Scott's lap begins, Ludo's hand hurriedly scribbles notes on certain corners. The words spew out like some kind of twitch, though in this case they're probably more to do with passion than mere nerves or anxiety.

 

Sector one unsurprisingly flashes up green, and the team quietly rejoice. They know it's too early to celebrate. Johnson in particular should know — his escapade through the trees in the early '80s while on a hot shootout lap is still fresh to many a fan.

 

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Then Scott runs wide.

 

The Falcon throws two tyres wide and onto the dusty rim of the sandtrap at McPhillamy Park, sending a plume of the stuff skywards. He doesn't appear to lose much time but in the moment everyone erupts in a cocophony of sighs and groans.

 

It's over. Maybe I should've gone to Erebus after all.

 

Car No. 17 snakes down the hill, and to the untrained eye pole is gone. But Ludo and the rest still intently stare at their monitors as the Falcon issues puffs of smoke on the run to the Dipper under full compression. Then there it was — a second green sector time as Scott exited Forest Elbow.

 

How?

 

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Didn't matter. Ludo was screaming at the bevy of screens and the rest of the crew were now going nuts. The collective noise surged, as a good run out of the Elbow further helped Scott's appearances on the timing's microsectors.

 

It was at this point I eyed up the groups of people I'd shoot when the inevitable celebrations would happen. My 70-200mm lens was much longer than this task warranted, but I enjoy the 'fly on the wall' aura longer lenses give shots of people. Pictures tend to come out voyeuristic, more authentic.

 

I knew I wanted to get pictures of Ludo, but in a garage filled with people chances were that there would be ecstatic crew members worth photographing all around me. In a rush I picked three directions I'd blindly shoot in.

 

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When he crossed the line, simultaneously beaming “2:03.832” on timing screens, grand stands, televisions, tablets and phones around the world, it was as if a bomb went off in the bunker.

 

Sudden and complete movement from everyone, as cheers turned into slaps turned into hugs and tears. Ludo slammed his desk repeatedly in celebration before joining in with everyone else. It was a prolonged state of chaos, the kind of thing that one can't help but grin about in both present and hindsight.

 

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Scott gets back to the bay and his parents and partner are among the first to greet him. Supercars organisers arrange the Armour All Pole Award frame and novelty cheque for the press pictures, and Scotty and those close to him are swarmed by hungry media.

 

This is the bit where I should be saying that these pictures are some of the best I've ever taken, creations I'll cherish forever. But the reality is that they're all quite shit. From a technical standpoint I made a very rookie error with my shutter-speed settings, which resulted in shots that mostly aren't in focus. Silly mistakes.

 

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But, they'll exist as a keen personal momento of the time another Kiwi was able to make history at Bathurst. The time when we stood at Ground Zero, shoulder to shoulder with some of the best in the business.

 

Who the hell can beat them today.

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