There was once a time in motorsports when race tracks were not hermetically sealed 3.5 mile circles. Many of them were run on complex strings of open roads including the likes of Spa, the Targa Florio, Le Mans, & Hockenheim. The word “run off area” hadn’t been invented yet, the cars were insanely powerful, had very little grip, crashed often (usually going 150+mph) and drivers died frequently along with spectators.
For over 50 years, the pinnacle of viewing this ludicrous display of carnage was a track hidden away in Germany called the Nurburgring Nordschleife. It is a 14 mile, 160 turn beast of a road built as a test track in the late 20′s by German auto manufacturers in order to test the extremes of their vehicles. And oddly enough, it’s open to the public.
Trying to describe the experience is fairly pointless, to drive around it quickly is to wrestle for your life at every corner. Most of the turns are blind, off camber, and the radius decreases as you get further in, with all three of these characteristics having uphill and downhill variants on constantly changing surfaces. The track is so large that it is often raining on one sector and completely dry on the rest, making tire choice that much more of a gamble. Most drivers who have set lap records seem to agree: it was the scariest 7-10 minutes of their lives.
Two particular sectors within the circuit [pictured above] used to produce a fair amount of drama, Quiddlebacher Hohe and Pflanzgarten. The first is a short downhill/uphill straightaway that used to crest so abruptly, most cars would get all 4 wheels off of the ground (especially in qualifying) in an effort to maintain speed through the long sweepers ahead. The latter is a truly frightening downhill heart-stopper with a steep dip that drops the car about 6 feet in less than a second, if you’re not careful you’ll damage your suspension and body work. Both were gradually leveled off over the years, and since Formula 1 moved across the fence it has been less of an issue. Needless to say, I still laid up the rental a bit approaching both.
Both spawned from the “New Class”, the 2002 and E9/CSL models were critical to establishing BMW as not only an international brand, but as a serious contender in automotive racing. The styling of these two cars are as good as it gets for me, on both ends of the spectrum: The 2002 is minimal, sleek, and small- while the 3.0 CSL employed much more radical styling, especially the race-bred models, making extensive use of garish aerodynamic bodywork. Both were hugely influential and paved the way for the best selling BMW in history: the ubiquitous 3-Series.
I’ve never had the priveledge of driving a CSL, but my grandmother had an imported 2002tii in lime green when I was a kid, I have awesome memories of drives through Dutchess County in that baseball glove leather interior.
Until the semi-recent ban of alcohol & tobacco advertising in motorsports, cigarette manufacturers spent heavily in racing sponsorships. Marlboro was no exception, in fact they probably spent more than every other brand combined.
They are probably best known for their involvement in Formula 1, starting with BRM in the early 70′s, moving to Mclaren in the 80′s, and finding an eventual home with Ferrari, whom they still sponsor today (some say subliminally…). Phillip Morris is a hugely profitable company and it is no coincidence that their endorsement of a team has historically resulted in a winning car.
Their bold red, white, and black branding is visually synonymous with many iconic race cars, and as evidenced in the pictures, they had their hands in nearly every reach of the sport. I understand the need to limit mass advertising of a deadly product, but I do miss their colors in racing. I’ve always loved the Marlboro logo, the type is perfectly balanced with the simple geometry above it and it always looks great on the front of a badass car.
Building a fast car is expensive. Title sponsors pay large sums in sponsorship fees to display their brand prominently on a race car, and their brand esthetic usually dictates the color scheme applied to the rest of the vehicle. Some people lamented the arrival of decal-infested machines, but I’ve always been fascinated with how a creative paint job can make a some of these objects much more memorable.
In this first series, I’ve featured one of motorsport’s oldest title sponsors, Martini & Rossi.
Allan de la Plante was a photographer during one of motorsports heavily transitional eras, at a time when F1, CAN-AM, and Indy Car chassis builders were just starting to grasp what they could do with these fiberglass tubs in the way of aerodynamics. A close personal friend of the late great Gilles Villeneuve, Allan captured alot of beautiful images that turned me onto racing to begin with, he always focused on getting a different perspective from the hundreds of other photographers attending any given race.