Saturday, August 27, 2011

US Red Bull MotoGP 2011

Photos from practice for the 2011 Red Bull MotoGP race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Racing Is Life

Everything else is just waiting. That's what Steve McQueen said in the famous racing movie "LeMans" and it seems fitting for everything that has happened in my life since we returned from Mid Ohio last week. I have found it difficult to write as two racing photographers I know have passed away in the last few days. One, Ron Weaver, I did not know very well and the other, Carl Pendleton, was a man who I have known since I first started shooting the Indy 500 in 1984. He was one of my sponsors on my Indy 500 Oldtimers Club application and always had a smile on his face, even as he battled brain cancer over the last decade. His visitation is today; Carl leaves behind a wife and children. Ron's visitation was last Friday; he was laid to rest the next day and leaves behind a brother, Steve, who was equally dedicated to motorsports photography. They were inseparable at Indy and everywhere else from what I know. God rest their souls and may their families find peace in their grief.

The thing that has struck me through these events is how small and close knit the racing fraternity really is. I am so grateful to be a part of it, that words are hard to come by. Back in May, we had heard that Ron had taken ill and wasn't doing well. Steve told me that this Indy 500 was the first one either had missed since 1966 and I'm sure that was a tough day for them both. When news of Ron's passing first came around, it was via an email chain of other photographers who have worked together at Indy for many years. They banded together last year as The Third Turn Society and started a Facebook page. I am glad to be considered part of that group. There are a lot of really nice people in racing and this group of photographers has some of the most dedicated people I know who shoot for the love of racing.

When the news of Carl's passing came, I heard about it from a different photographer connection and I passed it along to The Third Turn Society members to help forge another link between people who often only see each other at Indy but who all seem to feel a common bond. If the racing fraternity as whole is small, then the motorsports photographer community is even smaller, and many of us have been doing it for decades. As we stood together and talked at Ron's visitation last Friday, I looked around the room and saw people I stand next to for hours on end at Indy and realized that our time together is precious. Life is so short and there are many days where it seems I am racing to get things done with no real purpose in mind. Perhaps it really is true as McQueen said in "LeMans", that the race is life. And while it is sad to see friends get the checkered flag, it is good to know that people care enough to support one another based on the common  bond of the Indy 500 and racing photography. We are fortunate in that regard, and these events have made me pause and tell people I care about that I love them while also urging others to do the same wherever they may be. The race is not over, we are not alone and I thank God for the gift of today.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Photo Adventure @FollowMidOhio

Rain wreaked havoc on my equipment at the end of the Mid Ohio ALMS race

Shooting motorsports is not all fun and games, although most of the time it is a thrill. Even though I've been shooting racing since 1984, I still get butterflies before every race I shoot, as so many things can go wrong. It is still hard work and the advent of digital photography in photojournalism has been both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing since you can shoot virtually an unlimited number of frames and see what you got right away. No more waiting for the film to be processed. It's a curse because now editing thousands of images from a race weekend (or hundreds from a race which have to be posted online immediately afterwards) takes a lot of time. Plus everyone with a digital camera seems to think they can be a racing photographer. But if you're willing to fight traffic, come in early for mandatory photo meetings, lug around heavy equipment all day long under all sorts of conditions, and then stay well past the time fans leave in order to finish editing, then come on out and join us! You'll have the time of your life and maybe capture some great images in the process. 

Then there are those times when everything seems to conspire against you and Murphy's Law kicks in. Last Saturday's American LeMans Series race at Mid Ohio did not quite rise to that level, but a late race rain storm presented a serious challenge for me - thus the the title of this post, "Photo Adventure @FollowMidOhio". I had been in the Carousel turn after shooting pit stops when ALMS teams began changing to wet weather tires with about 30 minutes to go in the race. Several cars had spun off on the damp track and the race was under caution but the rain was beginning to pick up in intensity. I decided to go to the area of Turn 1 since I thought it could be a prime spot to shoot the next restart as everyone would have to funnel under the Mid Ohio bridge and calamity could ensue. I put my plastic bags over each of my cameras and had towels to dry them tucked into my belt bag. As I walked behind the paddock to Turn 1, a torrential downpour began and I began to wish I had grabbed my poncho when I had changed into my firesuit before shooting the ALMS pit stops. By the time I got to the fence in Turn 1, I was completely drenched, and I was shooting every car splashing past me, but the sunglasses I had on were suddenly a liability and covered with raindrops, so it was hard to tell if I was even in focus using my main camera. I managed to shoot about 50 frames before that camera quit working and flashed an error message at me that I had never seen before. I knew that was bad news so I headed back to the paddock where victory lane was as the ALMS officials finally red flagged the race with about 10 minutes remaining. Now even my towels were soaked so I ducked into a port-o-let behind pit lane and removed the memory cards from both cameras, fearing they might also be compromised by the rain. I put a new card in my second (and only working) camera, but now it started malfunctioning, as the shutter was hanging open, the auto focus wasn't working and the rear display went black. I muddled through the ALMS victory lane ceremonies shooting on full manual (just like the old days) and prayed that I'd get a couple of usable shots. I wasn't ready to panic but it was sure nerve wracking since I still had the Indycar race to shoot the next day and only one other usable camera as a backup.

Back at the hotel that night, I downloaded everything and pulled my cameras apart in hopes they would dry out overnight, but Sunday morning my main camera was still flashing the same evil error message at me. During the Indycar warmup that morning, my second camera began to come back to life and work normally. I had left my primary camera sitting in the sun inside the media center to hopefully bake out whatever moisture was effecting its electronics. Thankfully, I had no further trouble that day and everything worked fine for the Indycar race, but I said quite a few prayers along the way and trusted that my Canons wouldn't let me down. This whole episode reminds me that I am still learning every time I shoot a race and I'm grateful that the lessons I am learning haven't been too painful to overcome so far. Granted this was a rare occurrence but it is an example of what can happen on a race weekend. While trying to get the right vantage point to get "the shot", weather in the form of severe heat or drenching downpours can intervene. Equipment failures happen unexpectedly. Being distracted instead of being ready to shoot can create problems. Maybe access is what you'd like it to be. A good race coverage strategy can be spoiled by poor execution of technique, or simply not being in the right place at the right time. I've heard that luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and racing photogs need a lot of both sometimes.

So what is a good racing shot anyway? There are probably as many opinions on that as there are photographers, and I have learned from some of the best around over the years who have graciously given me tips on techniques that I am still trying to master. I love this work and am happy to share what I know with anyone who wants to talk about the craft of motorsports photography. The following photos are examples of some of the things I try to do when I get to the track. See you there!

I want to see the driver inside the car working the steering wheel. This was taken in the Carousel.

It's always better to get more than one car in frame if possible. The background on this shot in the Keyhole could be better though.

Dario's hands are working the wheel through the Keyhole turn and everything is crisp.

Crowd shots are always good for a sense of place - note the Mid Ohio bridge in the background. This is on the grid before the ALMS race.

Angled compositions can emphasize photo elements - speed in this case, with a slower shutter speed.

This is a "mirror" shot - Tony Kanaan is visible in his right side mirror as the car leans left while he's turning right.

Thanks to all drivers with clear helmet visors! We can see your face! His hand is also up on the wheel and visible.
Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes! Marco Andretti obliges with a clear visor.

Photos of open cockpit sports cars make it easier to show the driver at work; another slow shutter speed shot.

Simona is leaning on it hard in this shot! Note the right front wheel is off the ground.

This one involves some luck - to get the driver's eyes visible through a small opening in the window on a super tight pan.

On a large road course like Mid Ohio, catching a spin is often just being in the right place at the right time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scott Dixon Takes Honday Indy 200 at Mid Ohio

Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay in Victory Lane

Scott Dixon outlasted teammate Dario Franchitti to keep his IZOD Indycar Series championship hopes alive. Dario was under tremendouse pressure most of the race from Ryan Hunter-Reay but held on for second and extended his series points lead. Takuma Sato had a nice run in 4th for KV Racing and his teammate Tony Kanaan took fifth. The Penske team did not fare so well today as pit strategy caught Will Power out, and Helio had to make an early stop for a new nose wing from which he could never recover. After all the crash & bash from the last couple of street races, and the recent probations announced against several Indycar drivers, the 85 laps at the scenic road course near Lexington, Ohio were run largely without incident. It was a beautiful day at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course and fans were treated to a clinic put on by the Target Ganassi team under bright blue skies. Thankfully, rains held off today until well after the race was run. With six races left in the 2011 season, Will power has a huge hill to climb now and will be under threat from Scott Dixon the rest of the way.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Luhr & Graf Splash to Mid Ohio American LeMans Series Win - Dixon Takes Indycar Pole

The Muscle Milk Aston Martin took the 2011 Mid Ohio Sports Car Challenge
Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf hung on in what turned out to be deplorable conditions at Mid Ohio this afternoon to take the LMP1 class and overall win for Aston Martin. On a day that started out sunny, hot and humid, a light drizzle started with about 40 minutes left in the race which was scheduled for 2 hours and 45 minutes. The track got wet, most teams came in to change to grooved rain tires, and then chaos ensued. The Rizi Ferrari got involved in a tussle on a damp restart and crashed out. As the field circulated, the rain became more insistent until it was an absolute deluge and the race had to be red flagged with about 10 minutes left in the scheduled distance. Graf & Luhr managed to keep their Muscle Milk car out front despite crawling around behind the pace car at about 40 miles per hour, as the Dyson Racing Mazda had two late spins and several other cars slid off course in the final minutes before the red flag.

Dyson still managed to finish second on the day but the GT class became a complete jumble as the Falken Tire team led by Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers catapulted to the class win after all the late race spins experienced by others during the blinding rainstorm which ended the event. The Dyson and Muscle Milk teams had a spirited battle for LMP1 honors most of the race, while the GT class had several different contenders including the Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen who finished second in GT, followed by the BMW of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner.

Scott Dixon works through the Carousel on his was to pole position
The Mid Ohio Sports Car Challenge drew a large Saturday crowd to the track, as the ALMS race followed the final IZOD Indycar series qualifying session for Sunday's 200 mile race. Scott Dixon took pole position and his teammate Dario Franchitti will occupy the front row. The Fast Six qualifying was highly competitive down to the last seconds but it looked pretty clear to me that Dixon had the bit between his teeth the whole time and was not going to be denied. This race could go a long way towards deciding this year's Indycar season title. Let's hope the weather is a little more cooperative. Back soon with more - until then, here's a slideshow from today's wild and action packed American LeMans Series race.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Follow Me To Mid Ohio for Indycar & American LeMans Series Battles

IZOD Indycar Series points leader Dario Franchitti crests the hill in Mid Ohio's "esses"
My first trip to Mid Ohio was in 1982, a scant three years after CART was formed back when the late Jim Trueman owned the track and Red Roof Inn signs were everywhere. I went as a spectator that year and I recall shooting a Tom Sneva spin in the esses with my puny camera equipment and thinking there's got to be a better way. Two years later, I started my journey as a motorsports photographer at the Indy 500 with United Press International and my life has not been the same since.

I had to miss last year's Indycar/American LeMans Series weekend due to a credential snafu, but that has been rectified and my assistant and I will be leaving early tomorrow morning to begin working the event. in 2009, I made the trip solo for all three days of on track activity and remember sitting in Victory Lane after the Indycar race Sunday afternoon feeling totally spent, as the weekend was hot and humid and I had walked untold miles to shoot what I needed for American Motor Journal. Naturally there was rain mixed in during the weekend, as it always seems to rain at least once during the Indycar weekend at Mid Ohio. I can't even count the number of times it has rained, then stopped and dried up, then rained some more, making tire choice an essential element of any team's race winning strategy. That is one of the things I love about this race weekend. The weather is unpredictable. Wets, reds and blacks will probably all get used. Driver talent means more here than almost anywhere. Hills, valleys, blind corners, the kink. Signature turns like the Keyhole, the Carousel and the esses - also known as "Madness". Much to like as a photographer.

Scott Dixon navigates the keyhole in 2009
This year the IZOD Indycar series points battle is headed by Dario Franchitti with only seven more races to go, including this weekend. In 2009, Scott Dixon dominated this race and won. He needs to have a similar weekend to make up ground on his Target Ganassi teammate Franchitti and Penske rival Will Power. Scottie D cannot jump past Power into second place in the series points standings this weekend, but he can sure add a lot of pressure to the championship race if he does well and Dario and Power have trouble. Lord knows trouble can be just around the next bend at Mid Ohio, and with the recent announcement of several drivers being placed on probation by Indycar, everyone will need to mind their manners and get to the final pit stop so the real racing can begin. Dario and Power are likely to continue their season long battle at the front as each now has four wins with Power the most recent winner at Edmonton two weeks ago. After this weekend, there are three road courses and three oval tracks remaining to close out the season, so if anyone is going to make a championship charge, this is the weekend to get it started.

Two Compuware Corvettes compete in the ALMS GT class.
Aside from the physical beauty and natural competitiveness of the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course is another reason I am thrilled to be going back this weekend.  The multi-class racing in the American LeMans Series is a spectacle in itself. The machines are simply gorgeous, have a variety of engine notes which reverberate through places like Thunder Valley leading to the Carousel, and the series provides intense sports car action all around the track. All the big names in high end sports cars compete tn the same time with the full blown prototypes:  Corvette, Porsche, BMW, Jaguar, among others.  It would be nice if there were more prototypes and I sure wish the Audi diesels would come back to the ALMS, but you can't have everything. As the ALMS is a leader in environmentally friendly motorsports competition, it will be great to witness and photograph the variety which is a hallmark of this great series.

Dyson Racing ran an ALMS Mazda prototype in 2009

Another reason I am excited to get back to Mid Ohio is I had the chance to drive the course myself in 2006 when I took the competition driving course in the Acura Mid Ohio School. By no means does driving an Acura TSX compare to what the Indycar and ALMS drivers will do this weekend, but in my mind's eye, I see every corner and rumble strip as though I were behind the wheel. I drove faster than I ever had in my life then and loved every second of it, so I understand why these pros enjoy coming to Mid Ohio so much. And I am fortunate to have the chance to take their photographs while they wring this course's neck for the next three days.

My next blog post will most likely be from the racetrack, and it will be my 300th post since starting this blog in early 2007. Much has changed in my personal life since then but the constants have been racing photography and hitting the road to chase this crazy passion I have for motorsports. I hope you catch the bug soon. If you do, then look me up at the track. Or follow me on Twitter @alleygroup. See you soon!

Flying Lizard Motorsports will be back with their signature Porsche in the ALMS GT class this weekend