During the final stages of the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix Ayrton Senna was in second place rapidly catching the leader Alain Prost. But in third place and closing in on Senna was Stefan Bellof who was piloting the only non-turbo powered car in the field. Senna’s drive has become legendary but Bellof’s performance was fantastic. Because of torrential rains the race was controversially stopped before the final positions were decided on track. Bellof later lost his third place when the Tyrrell team was excluded from the 1984 Championship for a series of infringements of the FIA rules.
Natural terrain road courses require spectators to travel to their distant locations. In 1929 Anthony Noghès had the idea to bring racing to the city and with the support of the Automobile Club de Monaco organized the first Grand Prix through the narrow twisting streets of the Principality. My first Monaco Grand Prix in 1984 turned out to be historically significant for several reasons. One event frequently discussed was the spectacular performance of a young Ayrton Senna, the reigning British Formula 3 Champion, in a Toleman F1 car. Senna’s drive established a Formula One career that would result in three World Championships.
The Sublime is a complex concept involving the experience of something grand and awe inspiring that evokes the dual emotions of fear and attraction. The old Österreichring was an excellent example of this combination of terror and beauty. In 1985 I was standing with a group of experienced F1 photographers. At the restart of the race the tightly grouped pack of cars thundered though the turn and screamed up the hill weaving in and out of each other as they jockeyed for position within millimeters of disaster. The noise was deafening and the shock waves of the cars moving through the air pummeled us as we witnessed the drivers’ brilliant car control and precision racing. The moment seemed to stretch out in time and suddenly the pack of cars was gone and relative silence descended. Occasionally I saw something so spectacular in motor racing that my photographer’s brain shut off because I instinctively knew there was no way to put this experience into a picture. I looked around me to see the veterans equally stunned by what we had just seen. Almost everyone had put down there cameras like I did and just watched in amazement.
The Österreichring was a high speed race course with extremely fast sweeping turns, none more so than the awe inspiring Boschkurve. It was a 180 right hand turn where the turbo engined Formula One cars could reach speeds of 185-200MPH with no run off area and only the guardrail and some catch fencing to protect the drivers and spectators. As I stood behind the rail the experience was astonishing. The sound of the turbo engine flat out pierced my ears with a shrieking mechanical scream and the turbulence the car generated as it scythed through the air buffeted my body like trying to stand in a gale force wind. After the final race in 1987 Formula One no longer included it in its series because it the track was too dangerous.
I consider myself fortunate to have photographed at two Formula One Grands Prix at the fabulous Österreichring at Spielberg, Austria. Located about 95 kilometers from Graz it is one of the best of the natural terrain road courses. Situated in rural Austria and surrounded by mountains the nearly 6 kilometer track offered tremendous vistas in every direction.
In 1967 I attended my first road race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington Ohio. The racetrack is surrounded by farmland in beautiful rolling hills about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus. It was a National Sports Car Club of America event and I snuck through some catch fencing on the side of the bridge across from the pits. At the start of a Formula Car heat the field thundered through the first corner just a few feet away from me and I could see into the cockpits as the drivers fought for position. I had never experienced anything so exciting. As each classification of cars raced I wandered the course viewing the action from different vantage points and experienced a second epiphany. Watching a race car move through the curves of the landscape was immensely pleasurable. Years later I would articulate the feeling as an aesthetic response to the elegance of the arc of the car through the turn. Like a beautiful curve drawn by an artist on on paper or canvas the geometric perfection of the line is thrilling.
© Dale Kistemaker 1982-85, 2011-13
Words and Pictures:
© Dale Kistemaker 1982-85, 2011-13