Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dan Wheldon Takes 2nd Indy 500 Win - Rookie Hildebrand Crashes on Last Lap

Dan Wheldon led only one lap today to win his second Indy 500, but it was the most important one: the last lap. Rookie JR Hildebrand pushed into the wall in Turn 4 coming to take the checkered flag and Wheldon scooted by for the win. Hildebrand still finished second just 2.1 seconds behind in his wrecked Dallara. In a race where two-wide restarts were implemented on an Indycar oval for the first time, drama seemed to pop up at every corner. Cars lost wheels in the pits (Will Power) and just after leaving the pits (Jay Howard). Another top rookie James Hincliff skated into the Turn 3 wall after Betrand Baguette passed him down low. Ryan Briscoe and Townsend Bell interlocked wheels and went into the Turn 1 barrier together. KV Racing's bad luck continued as Takuma Sato and EJ Viso were the first two cars out of the race in separate crashes. Yet the story ultimately was a win for the little guys, Bryan Herta Autosport, as Wheldon stalked the leaders throughout the day and never seemed to be out of the top five.

Indy 500 Winner Dan Wheldon Salutes Fans

Ten (10) different drivers led laps and for the first half of the race, it looked like it was going to be another Target Chip Ganassi Racing blowout as Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti took turns battling with polesitter Alex Tagliani for the lead. Together the Target boys led 121 laps and Tagliani led 20 before fading late in the race and also sliding into the wall to end an otherwise incredible month of May for another small team, Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Behind them, Graham Rahal roared through the filed to lead six laps and finish third on the 25th anniversary of his father's Indy win. Orial Servia was also impressive running up front all day and leading a handful of laps. Danica Patrick, Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter and Betrand Baguette also led laps on a hot and breezy spring day at the Brickyard.

The most exciting driver today was Tomas Scheckter in my opinion. Scheckter was a demon on restarts and consistently passed multiple cars through Turn 3 on the high side, seemingly at will. He was incredible to watch and finished 8th ahead of another hard charger, Marco Andretti who came from the last row to take 9th. Danica ended up 10th and looked like she would luck into the win on fuel strategy late in the race but it wasn't to be. One of the most interesting things to me was that the accidents all involved either multiple car tangles or cars pushing on marbles into the wall - no one ran loose and spun to wreck today, which is somewhat unusual for Indy. But with the amount of downforce they currently run, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. What was surprising was how poorly the Penske team ran: Briscoe crashed out, Power had his pit problem and Helio was never really that competitive, especially after he cut a tire in the aftermath of teammate Briscoe's accident. So much for my pre-race prediction of Helio becoming the next 4-time Indy 500 winner.

So another Indy 500 is in the books and the huge crowd on hand thoroughly enjoy the show. This was a race for the ages as a rookie almost won and a veteran who does not have a full season ride did. I look forward to the rest of the season and know this race now sets the stage for how ovals may look for the rest of the year. To see a sampling of photographs from my Turn 3 vantage point, please enjoy the following slideshow.

Ready for the start of the 2011 Indy 500

It's been a bit of a crazy morning with a new route into the Speedway because of a fatality outside the track on Georgetown Road near the credential gate. We got in OK and then others involved in breakfast got delayed so that has been postponed until after the race. So has the group photo for the Third Turn Society photogs and friends but it is a beautiful day and the crowd looks to be the biggest since the split.

Danica just got booed in introductions and I have her in the Turn 3 race pool! Mom drew Helio and my GF has Scheckter so maybe we will get lucky today. It's going to be a great day and with less than 4 hours of sleep last night, I will be running on adrenaline most of the day.

Wind is gusting from the south so the sound will blow right to us in 3. Godspeed to all.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 Won by Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Indy
Joseph Newgarden led a 1-2 finish for Sam Schmidt Motorsports over teammate Esteban Guerr1eri in the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this afternoon. Newgarden and Guerrieri battled hard over the 40 lap distance but numerous accidents meant that 22 laps were run under yellow and Newgarden took the win under yellow and checkered flags. Noblesville, Indiana's Bryan Clauson started on the pole, also in a Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, based on owner points after Thursday's qualifying was rained out. Clauson was the 2010 USAC National Driving champion and earned the ride as a bonus on the Mazda Road to Indy. He finished fifth behind Vincent Garcia and Stefan Wilson in third and fourth. The race never got into a rhythm with four lengthy caution periods chopping the race into short green flag segments, and a wicked accident involving Jorge Concalvez on lap 34 could not be cleaned up in time for the leaders to race to the finish. The action was fierce among the top 5 during what little green flag racing there was and once again Schmidt's cars showed why they are the class of Indy Lights at Indianapolis winning for the 6th time in 9 editions of the Freedom 100.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fanimation GP #Mayindytweetup

I had a blast racing today at Fastimes Indoor Karting facility but even though I was not the quickest out there, I met my goal to make into the A-Main race and ran my fastest lap at 25.505 during that race.

I was 9th fastest out of 16 after three qualifying sessions with a best lap of 25.557 so that put me in the B-main with7 others. The top 6 went to the A automatically; fast time was 23.4 for the event. In the blind draw for B-main starting positions I pulled "3" so I started 3rd and got past one person right away but the red mist took over, I ran out of talent and felt I got pinched by the leader at the hairpin while trying to take the lead. I hit them, they spun and then everyone behind me stacked up. I got hit pretty hard from behind by someone so we had a restart but I was in second. It was an 8 minute race and I knew I would advance to the "A" with a top 2 finish. A couple laps later there was another yellow but the leader didn't see the green come out and I went to P1 for a few laps, then got conservative and got passed to finish 2nd in the "B". We were well ahead of 3rd so we finished it out and then immediately got ready for the "A" where I started 8th.

By this time the rub spot on my back that I always get at Fastimes was starting to bother me and the ribs on my left side were getting tender as the Fastimes track has lots of fast right-handers that throw you left in the seat. I picked up one spot when someone spun but promptly lost it back and then it was just a matter of trying to run good laps on my own before the leaders caught me with a couple of laps to go. I had to wave them by as the top 3 had a pretty good race going and I didn't want to screw it up for them.

Lots of nice race swag was given out and even though I didn't win any of the prizes that were raffled off, I was happy I got the chance to meet some of the Indy twitterati who are as crazy about racing as I am.

Now my Integra feels like a kart on these wet Indy roads as I wind my way to class at Marian U. I'm sure my body will remind me tomorrow how crazy this was after running 87 laps on the day. I can't wait to do it again.

Now it's time for the real racers to get busy with Carb Day for the #Indy500 and the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 tomorrow. See you there!
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

May Indy Tweetup

Getting ready to race at Fastimes Indoor Karting in an event with other Indy Twitter fanatics who also happen to follow Indycar! Should be fun. First time on track for me this year.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Four Days to Centennial Indy 500: Bruno Out - Hunter-Reay In

With tomorrow's Carburetion Day runs set for 11 a.m., Ryan Hunter-Reay has a yeoman's task ahead of him with only an hour of practice to get a totally foreign car set up for Sunday's Indy 500. Anyone who hasn't heard that Michael Andretti bought Bruno Junqueira's seat from AJ Foyt and Ryan Hunter-Reay will start shotgun in the 41 car has been sleeping under a rock this week. Regardless of how you feel about the post-Bump Day switch, the field is set and the Fastest 33 cars will still start the race at Noon May 29th.
I will be in Turn 3 once again to cover the action for American Motor Journal and have put together the following slideshows which depict every driver and car which will take the green flag. I hope to make my predictions here sometime before the race begins this weekend but as of right now I must stick with my January 2011 predictions. I still think James Hinchcliff will be Rookie of the Year and Helio Castroneves will become the next 4-time Indy 500 winner. I've been doing pretty well on predictions this month as I said early on the morning of Bump Day that one (maybe two) Andretti cars would not make the race. But for the fat checkbook that Andretti wields, I would have nailed that one. I feel bad for Mike Conway, whose comeback from his horrific accident in the 2010 Indy 500 has been put on hold after not making the show, and for Bruno Junqueira, who did a fantastic job in Foyt's second car to get it ready to race. I hope they keep the Coyote orange color even with the new sponsor decals that Hunter-Reay will bring to the race day paint scheme. See you in Turn 3!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Indy 500 Bump Day Nightmare for Andretti Autosports - Weather Wreaks Havoc

Marco Andretti Waits to Qualify at Indy

Marco Andretti salvaged an excruciating Indy 500 qualifying weekend for Andretti Autosports today by bumping his way back into the starting field of 33 as the last driver to make a qualifying run on Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had to knock teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay out in the process. Another teammate, Mike Conway, was unable to find speed and continue his Indycar comeback and also missed the show. Danica Patrick nearly had weather nullify her chance to get in the 500 as she was next in line to go out when rain hit the Speedway for the second time on the day earlier in the afternoon. As a result, only 3 of the 5 cars entered by Andretti Autosports made the race, after John Andretti had put his #43 machine in 17th on Saturday.

Anna Beatriz and Graham Rahal were able to complete their runs just after qualifying opened at noon before darkness and a wicked thunderstorm blew through and doused the Speedway, creating the first of two rain delays. Alex Lloyd bumped his way in on his third and final attempt and several competitors went home empty handed after their teams were unable to keep up with the brutal changes in track conditions which effected the entire two-day qualifying weekend. Raffa Matos, and Rookie James Jakes, also joined Conway and Hunter-Reay on the sidelines while Jay Penske's Dragon team lost cars to crashes on both Saturday and Sunday knocking their original drivers Ho Pin Tung and Scott Speed, out of any chance at qualifying. Indy is still Indy, and good crowds both qualifying days were treated to numerous qualifying attempts and high drama right down to the final gun on both Pole Day and Bump Day. Now the field is set and it's time to get ready for Carburetion Day this Friday. The Centennial Indianapolis 500 is now set for one week from today and the field will take the green shortly after noon eastern time May 29th. Better got buy your tickets now - it will be a race for the ages! I'll be in Turn 3 on race day so come out and say hello!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Helio Quickest at Indy's Fast Friday - Pole Day Looms

Helio Castroneves is all smiles after topping
the timesheets at Indy on Fast Friday

Helio Castroneves marked himself as the favorite once again to win pole position for the Indianapolis 500 after besting all his competition today in the final full day of practice known as Fast Friday. A solid six hours of green light time greeted the teams today under warm and sunny skies in what was definitely a change of pace from weather most of the rest of this week of practice. Every available team took advantage of today's track time as more than 2200 laps were run all told, with 39 cars getting on track. The only absentee was Simona DeSilvestro who has not yet been medically cleared to drive due to the burns she suffered on her hands in Thursday's wild practice crash. Roger Penske got all three of his drivers in the top seven today, and if anyone knows how to find speed on Pole Day at Indy, it is Helio and his Penske team. I would not bet against him, but the race for the pole will be fiercely contested tomorrow as multiple drivers topped 228, there was another larger group over 227, and there were at least 33 over 225. My prediction on Twitter earlier today of a pole speed in the high 227's and a bump speed above 224 may have to be revised upward.  It should be quite a show and everyone needs to pray for some Tony Hulman weather for Saturday.

Rounding out the top 10 today were Alex Tagliani who continues to impress, Target Ganassi's Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe in the IZOD colors, Bertrand Baguette (yes!), Ed Carpenter, Will Power, Townsend Bell, Oriol Servia and Dan Wheldon. Baguette was the biggest surprise of the bunch while Bell, Carpenter and Servia continue to show consistent pace. Wheldon is doing a whale of a job for Bryan Herta's small team by Sam Schmidt Motorsports must get the gold ring for the largest team improvement with Tags and Townsend giving the usual duo of Penske and Ganassi a run for their money. We'll see if someone can outright steal the cash tomorrow from Helio as once it hits 4:30 and the day's top nine get three more chances to go for the pole Saturday, it could really be spectacular. Let's hope everyone gets to Bump Day on Sunday safely. See you at the track. Today's photo slideshow follows.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Indy 500 Practice Resumes: Power Fastest - Simona Crashes

Will Power set fast time today with one more practice day before Pole Day
Aussie Will Power knocked Canadian Alex Tagliani off the top spot of the speed charts today at Indy after two straight days of inactivity due to persistent and aggravating rain showers. The Penske boys showed their strength in Happy Hour today as Ryan Briscoe was third ahead of Helio Castroneves. The most surprising times of the day belonged to Townsend Bell and at one point Tagliani and Bell led a Sam Schmidt Motorsports 1-2 on the charts. Rookie JR Hildebrand was next followed by the consistent Oriol Servia, Target's Scott Dixon, Sarah Fisher Racing's Ed Carpenter and then Danica, who made her first appearance in the Top 10. Tony Kanaan and others are starting to pick up speed, with Paul Tracy getting his first significant track time of the week and looking quick. I have been most impressed with Panther and JR Hildebrand who has been in the Top 10 virtually every day, and Oriol Servia is doing a fantastic job for the Newman Haas team. He could be a darkhorse to win this thing, but I would't rule out former winners Dan Wheldon or Buddy Rice either.

40 cars got on track today and the first incident of the month occurred between Turns 3 and 4 in a very scary crash involving Simona DeSilvestro. Barely 30 minutes after practice opened today, Simona wrote off the HVM Racing machine after getting airborne when something broke on the car as she went through Turn 3. I had just gotten to the track and was walking up to pit lane when the track went yellow for her accident  and it took quite awhile to clean up the mess as the car got into the catch fencing and repairs had to be made. Thankfully, Simona was able to walk to the safety vehicle and reportedly suffered burns to her hands in the crash. Here's what was left of the car after it was brought back to the garage area.
Simona DiSilvestro's car on a flatbed after her accident today
The rains have finally ended after Tuesday and Wednesday at the Speedway were essentially total losses for track time. These washouts followed Sunday's lost day so today was the first full day of practice for the teams since Monday. Now there is one day to go before the Fast Nine competition which will determine the pole winner for this year's Indy 500 and Friday should be insanely busy for all the teams. I will be out again and until next time, please enjoy the following slideshow from today's action.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Indy Too Cold for Indycars to Practice

It was a record setting day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today but not in a good way. Most likely a record low number of laps turned in frigid, blustery  and drizzly conditions as only the car of Mike Conway got on the track today as far as I know. Marco Andretti went out in Conway's ride around 1 pm for four or five laps then Mike took it out for a few laps just before 3 pm. We were hearing the air temperature needed to hit 50 degrees before it would be safe to run as the track simply had no grip and the teams would be unable to generate enough heat in their Firestone Tires to generate proper operating temperatures.

The only "action" on pit lane all afternoon was the crews of Oriol Servia and Tomas Scheckter practicing pit stops. At least Tomas was in his driving suit and in the car. Oriol was nowhere to be found.

I set a personal record today too - record low number of photos taken since going digital. Only 64 frames all day, but there was nothing much to shoot. I did see former driver Derek Daly, as well as Bryan Clausson, last year's USAC National Driver's Champion who earned a ride in this year's Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race a week from this Friday and Helio came out briefly to sign some autographs but that was about it.

The garages were buttoned up tighter than an old maid's blouse on a windy day and signs of life were few and far between. Such is life at Indy in the month of May folks. We'll try again tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tagliani Quickest at Indy May 16th - Ganassi Drivers Lurk

Alex Tagliani Checks Timing & Scoring
Canadian Alex Tagliani leaped to the top of the timesheets today at Indianapolis as practiced resumed for the Indy 500 after a total washout Sunday when no on track action took place due to persistent rain showers. Tags made up for lost time in a hurry but I was unfortunately not able to see him run his hot laps today as I got there after 3 from a teaching assignment and had to leave at 4:30 to officiate a soccer game. Such is the life I lead these days but at least I got out to Turn 3 for a little while to get dialed back in from the inside fence where I will most likely shoot on race day again this year. I've got partial days @IMS this week up until Fast Friday when I plan to be out all day. I still have a lot of drivers to catch up with and have not been able to get shots of each car that has run laps yet, so I have a lot of work to do still this week before Pole Day Saturday.

The most impressive runs that I saw today were by the Ganassi teams. Both the Target guys ran well and within a handful of laps, both Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were easily in the top 10 speeds for the day. Nearly showing up the "big brother" team was Graham Rahal in his Service Central machine, running third on the day, although it took him a few more laps to get that done. Ryan Briscoe seems to be growing in confidence as he ran fourth quick today ahead of his more celebrated Penske teammates. Newman Haas continues its resurgence behind Oriol Servia as the man with the Salvadore Dali helmet design wound up fifth on the day. AJ Foyt's primary driver Vitor Meira still knows the fast way around Indy as he ended up sixth followed by Dario. Helio Castroneves in eighth, Marco Andretti in ninth and Will Power in tenth rounded out the quick runners for Monday's full day of practice. The following slideshow has the drivers in order of speed today.

Now there are just four days of practice before Pole Day and the screws will start tightening down soon enough. No one has spun or hit the fence yet, and that is always an anxious time at Indy, wondering who the first will be and where it will happen. Everyone will be getting after it Tuesday and I should have most of the afternoon available to shoot at the track before I have to go to class in the late afternoon. I hate missing Indy's happy hour from five to six, but those are the cards I've been dealt this year. I will play what I've got and get ready for three full days of track activity Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ed Carpenter Indy Opening Day Surprise - Rain Returns For Day 2

Ed Carpenter Drives the Dollar General
car for Sarah Fisher Racing
Yesterday I wrote that if it's May, this must be Indianapolis. Well since that's true, then it also must mean that rain is going to be a factor in the Indy 500. While Ed Carpenter setting fast time on the Opening Day may have been a surprise, the fact that rain interrupted track activity certainly was not. Practice day 2 looks like it may be a complete washout as for once the forecasters seem to have gotten it right, unfortunately. Yesterday the rain came just like clockwork around 3:15 in the afternoon and I wrote on Twitter a few minutes later that it looked like we had lost the racetrack, as it went from the nice grey color to a shiny black in short order. But as the Hoosier saying goes, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change." Which it did: for awhile. I hoofed it back to the Garage Area from the outside of Turn 3 where I had been shooting for only about 45 minutes, and sure enough, the sun came out, the wind started to pick up and things started to dry out. Alas the extra green light time was short-lived as rain came again about 5:15 and shut down the track for good.

As you know, I don't tend to cover results and standings all that much here, since you can get that information lots of other places, and my focus is on the experiences involved in racing as a photographer who has also been a lifelong fan. One of the great things about being a racing photographer is the people I get to meet. Wherever race fans gather, there are always going to be interesting people. Standing alongside the entrance to Gasoline Alley talking to a couple of friends yesterday, we stopped in mid-sentence as a car rolled by with the engine running and we got a strong whiff of ethanol exhaust. We just looked at each other, smiled, and then continued talking. Then there's the complete strangers who see me with cameras and strike up conversations out of the blue when there's time to kill. Or the fanatics like those pictured in the following slideshow who don crazy homemade hats or outfits to attract attention and gather autographs from any driver they see. There's also the inevitable novice who somehow got a pass to pit lane and is taking pictures with a pocket camera and asks me who the driver is in the 82 car when we are standing six feet away from it! But I love it all and race fans come in all shapes, sizes and colors at Indianapolis. We all had to start somewhere and I will talk with anyone who is an Indycar fan.

While I was at Opening Day, I posted quite a few Blackberry photos and comments on Twitter and got to meet another Indy 500 Oldtimers Club member with whom I had been tweeting for quite some time. I knew there were others at the track too, plus I got messages from as far away as England in response to some of my tweets. I enjoy that kind of technology immensely, even though some people think I've lost my mind, and I still have to thank the young man we met at Kentucky Speedway Indycar race last season who convinced me that I should be on Twitter too. The social media aspect of Indycar racing has exploded even since the start of the season, and when Camera makers figure out how to transmit high resolution images directly to the internet from a high speed megapixel pro digital camera, then lookout world. The images will come fast and furious and there won't be enough storage space on web servers to handle all the traffic. For now, having to go home and sort through roughly 900 images from Opening Day to cull a reasonable number for posting is still far better than waiting on film to be processed, but the task is sometimes daunting when looking for the right photos to tell the story. From my viewpoint, the story Saturday was fans, drivers and rain so that's why I've included the images which follow. There will be much more to follow and photograph this week and new stories to tell, so I hope you come back and visit with me again. You might have a better chance of reaching me @alleygroup on Twitter though! See you @IMS for the #Indy500 practice, qualifying and the race. @Indycar rules!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Indy 500 Opening Day Photos - Ed Carpenter Quickest

Indy 500 Opening Day in Turn 3

Got lucky today with a vest for the afternoon. Cars coming right at me.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Indy 500 History to be Made This Month

The Indianapolis 500 is full of history dating back to the first "International Sweepstakes" in 1911. So who will make history this month? WIll Helio Castroneves join the ranks of 4-time winners? Will a newcomer steal the show? Or will a little team, ala Bryan Herta's "Two Men & A Truck" team last year, squeak in at the last minute on bump day to oust one of the big boys? So much drama is likely to be packed into the seven days of practice and two days of qualifying that predicting what will happen with arguably the strongest driver and team lineup in many years would seem foolish. One this is certain:  some very good drivers are not going to make this race. After all, even Roger Penske has felt the sting of not qualifying for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. And while it is said that you cannot win a race on the first lap, the biggest challenge this year is going to be just making the race as at least seven drivers and teams are going to pack up and go home bitterly disappointed after 6:00 p.m. May 22nd.

With that said, this post is dedicated to some other historical tidbits from a personal perspective before the practice action begins in earnest today. The weather forecast is not favorable for opening weekend, and my schedule for going to the track this week is going to be erratic with teaching and graduate school, so I thought a look back at some Indy milestones would help set the tone for the month. Here are some big moments from past months of May:

1946 - 65 years ago Anton "Tony" Hulman bought the Speedway and resurrected it following years of neglect during World War II and staged the first post war race. This race started the current Hulman-George era of Speedway ownership. Tom Carnegie, the public address system announcer with the booming voice and famous sayings who passed away earlier this year, was hired by Tony to man the mic and did so in dramatic fashion continuously through 2006.

Indy 500 legend AJ Foyt

1961 - 50 years ago AJ Foyt won his first Indy 500 after a stirring duel with the late Eddie Sachs, who had to make a late pit stop for tires. Sadly, Sachs was killed just three years later in the 500 where AJ won his second Indy race, the last one won by a roadster. Another Indy legend, Parnelli Jones, was rookie of the year that year.  AJ has gone on to become Indy's first 4-time winner as a driver and first former winner to also win as a team owner. To honor his accomplishments, the Speedway selected AJ to drive the pace car before this year's 500 and replace the dubious selection of Donald Trump who was ousted by fan outrage as much as his own busy schedule. Tom Carnegie is also being honored by the Speedway opening weekend, and rightly so.

1971 - 40 years ago Al Unser Sr. won his second straight Indy 500 in one of the most famous cars at Indianapolis, and one that every kid had to have in their diecast collection:  the Johnny Lightning Special. The year before Al won his first 500 and it was also the first 500 I attended, as a birthday gift from my Dad.

1976 - 35 years ago Johnny Rutherford won the shortest Indy 500 ever run after rain brought out the red flag just two laps past halfway. This race was the first of my college years and I remember huddling under a tarp in the back of a friend's pickup truck in the infield of Turn 3 waiting for the rain to stop. At one point it looked like the track would get dry then it rained again and the race was called. This 500 also started my consecutive string of Indy 500's that I hope to continue this year, God willing.

Turn 3 Indy infield insanity

1981 - 30 years ago controversy broiled for months after the 500 when Bobby Unser initially took the checkered flag but was later penalized for a blend line violation coming out of the pits and the win was given to Mario Andretti, which would have been Mario's second 500 win. After months of legal wrangling, Unser was restored as the winner and was able to retain his 3rd win after all and deny Mario a second Indy victory. It was another of many close calls for the Andretti family as history would prove out. This race was three years before I started as a photographer with United Press International at Indy but I still had a camera handy for shots like the one at left.

Bobby Rahal in his Budweiser gear at Indy

1986 -25 years ago Bobby Rahal won his only 500 just a few days before his team owner Jim Trueman died of cancer. Rahal snookered Kevin Cogan on the final restart with two laps to go and this race still stands as the closest 1-2-3 finish in history as Rick Mears trailed Cogan in third. Bobby's son Graham Rahal is of course now a budding Indycar star and has already won in the IZOD Indycar Series. Bobby has also returned to Indy as a team owner the last few years and will try to join AJ Foyt as a former winning driver who also has been able to collect a Borg Warner trophy as a team owner.

Emerson Fittipaldi pits at Indy 1991

1991 - 20 years ago Rick Mears became 4-time winner after an epic battle with Michael Andretti. Late in the race Michael had passed Mears in Turn 1 for the lead but Mears came back on the very next lap and made a textbook pass on the OUTSIDE through Turn 1 to retake the lead and then cruised to the win. I was shooting in the pits that year for the Indianapolis Star and had a great vantage point for the closing laps after all the pit stops were done.

1996 - 15 years ago Buddy Lazier won his only 500 and did so with broken back! It was also the first race under the Indy Racing League banner after the acrimonious and painful split with CART. Still using the 1995 spec turbo cars, I will never forget the morning practice session on pole day that year as Arie Luyendyk ran over 239 mph for the fastest unofficial lap ever run at the Speedway. Scott Brayton went on to win the pole that day and was tragically killed in practice later in the month, hitting the wall in Turn 2 by the suites directly across from my normal shooting position that year. Thankfully, I was not at the track that day as I did not become a motorsports photographer to shoot those kinds of pictures. The missing man formation to start that year's 500 is still one of my most poignant memories of Indy. God rest your soul Scotty. 

Juan Pablo Montoya won Indy
 as a rookie in his only Indy 500

2001 - 10 years ago Helio Castroneves won the first of his three Indy 500's as Roger Penske led the CART teams which had started to come back to Indy. Helio's win followed Juan Pablo Montoya's dominating win the year before for Chip Ganassi and as everyone knows, the battle at the top in Indycar has been consistently fought by Penske and Ganassi ever since.

Sam Hornish Jr attacks Turn 1
 during Indy practice in 2006

2006 - 5 years ago Sam Hornish won his only Indy 500 in dramatic fashion with pass of Marco Andretti coming off of the 4th turn on the final lap to add more heartache at Indy for the Andretti family. I was shooting in Turn 1 for this race and when the white flag came out, I thought there was no way Sam could overcome Marco's lead and I was shocked to hear he had made the pass at the yard of bricks. Sam has been one of my favorite Indycar drivers ever since he raced for PDM in 2001 and I would love to see him come back to Indy. 

Mike Conway flies at Indy in 2010

2010 - Last year Dario Franchitti got his second Indy 500 win and another one for Ganassi. The race ended horribly for Mike Conway right in front of me but thankfully Mike is becoming one of the best comeback stories of 2011 as he has already won a race this season for Andretti Autosport and could be a real darkhorse to win Indy. Of course you know Dario will be a contender to join Helio and Bobby Unser as 3-time winners in the Hulman-George era. 

If it's May, this must be Indianapolis, and my friends and family all  know where I will be most of the time this month. This is also my birthday month which falls right around race day every year, so I like to joke that it's nice that 300,000 people come out each year to help me celebrate. It is a year of celebration for the Indy 500 after all, and it is going to a very special month indeed as someone, maybe several someones, are going to make history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. See you at the track! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rookies Open Indy 500 Practice

An exciting crop of Indy 500 newcomers, led by former F1, NASCAR and ARCA driver Scott Speed,  took part in the mandatory Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) yesterday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a session which was closed to the general public. Others participating included last year's Firestone Indy Lights pole sitter for Indy's Freedom 100, Pippa Mann for Conquest Racing, JR Hildebrand for Panther Racing, James Hinchcliffe for Newman Haas, Englishman James Jakes for Dale Coyne Racing, the first-ever driver of Chinese descent Ho-Pin Tung, and Graham Rahal's teammate at the second Ganassi Racing team Charlie Kimball. Jay Howard returns this year to make another attempt at the 500 after turning laps as Sarah Fisher's teammate in 2010 but being unable to get up to speed. Speaking of "Speed", Scott's ride with Jay Penske's Dragon Racing team came together only recently and Speed has talked openly about competing for the $5 million bonus in the season ending race at Las Vegas this October.

With 40 confirmed car-driver combinations, only one week of practice and just two days to qualify, pressure will be intense on every team to get their drivers in the show. No doubt there will be some who can't handle it and find the fence, others will never quite get a handle on their equipment, and still others who will simply run out of talent by the time the 6:00 gun fires on Bump Day May 22nd when the Field of 33 is finally set. And yet as the Indy 500 continues its celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the very first 500 won by Ray Harroun, 2011 will pass without anyone named "Smith" ever having raced at Indy. Believe it or not, there has been an Alley who raced at Indianapolis - Tom, not Gasoline. You can look it up.

I'll be running around like a mad photographer this weekend trying to make sure I get photos of every driver entered (and some just walking around with their helmet bags hoping for a ride). As the week goes on, I will also grab photos of every car that hits the track so I can do my annual slideshow pairing drivers with their machines once the field has been set. Indy scenes, people and other unique aspects of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will also be captured through my lenses to bring my viewpoint on "The Most Important Race in History" to the internet through this blog, Twitter and the new American Motor Journal.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

ARCA Slugfest at Salem Speedway Goes to Brennan Poole

Newcomer Brennan Poole took his Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet to victory at Salem Speedway today after a typically wild and woolly Salem ARCA event. On a damp and overcast day that started out looking like the race would be washed out, in true Salem fashion the track got dried and the 200 lap race was run into extra time with Poole surviving and driving away from Ty Dillon and Frank Kimmel after a late green-white-checker finish. There was the usual beating and banging on the bumpy old Salem asphalt and competitors frequently found each other or the wall during the race. The young guns prevailed once again however and extended the winless streak of local favorite and 9-time ARCA champion Kimmel.

Lots of damaged cars were tooling around the track by the end of the event but that is also not unusual at Salem. Today's conditions were very reminiscent of this race three years ago when rain and mist ruled the early part of the day but they got the show in. Kudos to ARCA and the Salem track officials for getting it done today. I don't think the ARCA series gets the respect it deserves from a lot of folks but it does serve a valuable purpose in stock car racing: giving valuable experience to the young, up and coming drivers, crew members and others who seek to make a living from what is generally an unforgiving sport.

You would be hard pressed to find a more accessible bunch of drivers anywhere as they seem to happily endure authograph sessions with a smile and always manage to add a bit of freindly banter. When my assistant and I were going through the autograph line while the track drying work was going on, we talked to both Brennan Poole and Venturini teammate Max Gresham. I told Brennan that he was with a great team and reminded him that Steve Arpin had won at Salem for them in the past and that maybe today would be his day. Sure enough it was. Three years ago during a similar rain delay at Salem, we got to have a nice long talk with Justin Allgaier after the driver's meeting while watching the track drying work together. Look where he is today. These young guys are on their way up too, so get out to an ARCA race when they come to town. This is the only series that runs short and long ovals, dirt tracks and road courses, plus you'll enjoy a great day at the racetrack. See you there! Until then, here's a slideshow of some of my photography from today's race.

ARCA Driver Autograph Session at Salem

Drivers greeted fans this morning under the protection of the main grandstands at rainy Salem Speedway today. Track drying is underway. Watch for the young guns Ty Dillon, Dakota Armstrong and Chris Buescher to battle it out over 200 laps once the track gets dry. Three years ago we waited out similar conditions but they got the race in and it looks like the same thing will happen today. More later!
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®