My first experience of a motorsport rally was back in 2003. Then, as producer of NDTV’s newly launched “The Car and Bike Show”, my job entailed shooting hours of serious reviews with seasoned journalists.
But if you would ask me, the best part of the job was the much-anticipated real hardcore outdoor adventure footage I had to shoot post the reviews and interviews. When I was the guy in the driver’s seat, no layer of grime or sunburn could stop me then.
A quintessential boarding school upbringing could be to blame for nurturing this earnest zeal for travel and the outdoors. A passion that would become a lifelong pursuit.
I believe there are two distinct kinds of motorsport enthusiasts. One who enjoys the thrill of extreme sport rallies and racing and would give anything to catch it from the sidelines, and then the other who has actually done it all.
Shooting motorsport events like the ones you’ve probably seen videos of – high adrenaline action, blink an eye and you miss the exciting bits – is quite like fishing.
Both rely on one key aspect to make the day memorable – finding the best spot!
Just like in fishing, finding the best spots involves a whole lot of walking. But once you have found your vantage spot, chosen carefully keeping in mind the prospective action about to come your way, then all you do is wait with the patience of a saint.
When you watch a race, weaved into a storyline to engage motorsport enthusiasts, with all its power-packed turns, non-stop action, and the whole adrenaline rush, what you’re really watching is a result of hours of multi-camera footage distilled to barely a few minutes of real action and adventure.
Like any true adventurer, there’s no thrill without the hazards and perils. To capture something adventurous one must put up with a lot of stuff. The behind the scenes ass-kicking, the harsh climate ranging from bone numbing chill to baking hot desert winds, are some of the hazards of the job that one has to befriend. The sooner the better.
Once, I remember we were in Leh on a shoot, when a storm caught us unawares. There was nothing we could do, but find a rock big enough to outlast the squall. While, it lasted a mere 30 minutes, it uprooted the entire camp and took some of our belongings as souvenirs.
Just like nature, rallies are quite unpredictable, harsh and yet most rewarding. A car runs unknown tracks, directed only by a navigator with a map, calculator and sharp vision whilst the driver is blind to the bigger picture. So, imagine trying to get perfect shots of a car driven by a driver who himself doesn’t know where he’s going until the last minute. This means there’s really no direction to drive the units towards, no choreography and since the route is not a lap. There are no second chances.
So then why do I? Why do we risk it all? Well, here’s the point.
Wherever you may be from, there is nothing more wondrous than waking up to a new skyline, or the sheer beauty of nature. The outdoors in all their rugged unkempt splendor are truly beautiful. Add to it, the adrenaline and the uncertainty, and you are hooked.
You start following the drivers and riders, you break bread with them and spend every non-racing moment with them. It’s like a boot camp experience with extreme bonding. Every time I cover a rally I get engulfed in it and nothing else matters. The lack of mobile network, since rallies mostly happen in fierce terrains like the Himalayas, the Thar or the coastline of Southern India, allows the soul time to breathe and enjoy the silence. That’s what makes this experience so pure.
Often when we get back to the city after shooting, there is a certain void, and a nagging need to return. Usually when we take on cross-country projects like MTB Himalaya, the Dakshin Dare or the Desert Storm, we work with over 5 camera units and drones. Within my team, there’s always a sense of competition, so in the beginning of the shoot, bets are wagered on the best shot of the event, most usable footage & more.
There is no other shoot I have been on where I have felt more part of a family than I do with motorsport. Every morning you wake up to cheer them on and every evening you are as eager as the contestants themselves to see the score board to check timings, rankings and conversations.
You meet a community of like-minded people and the stories simply flow.
(The author is founder WhiteBalance and a motorsport fan who enjoys shooting car, bike and even cycle rallies across India, when he is not busy planning his next escape from the city.)
(This is a reader’s blog. The views expressed are the author’s own.)