Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Indycar Heats Up at Sonoma - Power Gifted a Win

Scott Dixon pits at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course
One of the great things about shooting motorsports is the ability to get up close and see things from the inside which a lot of fans don't get to experience. So as I was watching the telecast of the Indycar GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma, I began to get a sense very early in the race that something wacky was going to happen. Sure enough, it did, as a pit incident occurred involving members of Will Power's crew getting knocked over by Scott Dixon as Dixie left his pit box on the final set of stops. Team managers Tim Cindric (Penske) and Mike Hull (Ganassi) were politically correct in their television interviews afterwards talking about the need to protect the guys that go over the wall. Of course that is true, but was this situation really worthy of a penalty on Dixon which cost him the race win and handed it to Power? I think not.

Will Power, Sonoma winner
After listening to Beaux Barfield's explanation, I must say that I understand his reasoning but everyone knows the pits are dangerous and shit happens. Thankfully no one on Power's crew was seriously hurt, but in my opinion, Dixon's collision with the tire held by Power's right rear tire changer was just a racing incident. Barfield said the pit boxes were not being determined by the painted white lines on pit road since those were there for NASCAR but instead were sized by the banners hung by the teams on pit wall. That is just a load of crap frankly, and leaves too much open for interpretation. Did Power's tire changer walk into Dixon's car with the tire on purpose as Mike Hull suggested? I doubt it. But you can't legislate intent and where there is room for interpretation, decisions ought to favor letting the race play out with no intervention by the officials. If everyone had said something like "We do everything we can to protect crewmen on pit lane and it's an unfortunate situation which can sometimes happen on a crowded pit road", then I don't think anyone would have complained. As it turned out, Barfield's decision may end up having a huge impact on the season championship and my guess is we haven't heard the last of the fallout from Sonoma. The best part of the whole deal was hearing Dixon's interview afterward when he said "It was a dick move" by Power's crew member. Scottie D is usually as cool as they come but you could tell he was furious with a comment like that! And I don't mean to diminish the pit lane risks by any means, as I've taken hits from air guns while shooting pit stops and those things hurt! But let them race!

Tony Kanaan counsels Sage Karam at Mid Ohio
While I had to be in Indy couch racing this past weekend and haven't been able to shoot a race since the Mid Ohio event, August has been a whirlwind for me and I will likely only have two more race events to shoot this year:  ARCA at Salem Speedway September 14th and NASCAR at Talladega in October. Those races will bring my 2013 total to a nice round 10 race events and if I could find people to pay me to do more then I would love add to that total. Two days after getting back from Mid Ohio, I got a lead on a new teaching job and by that Friday evening I had the job and then started teaching the following Monday. With soccer officiating added to the mix on the rest of my August weekends, I have been crazy busy but loving every minute of it. I've told many people recently that I've gone from the outhouse to the penthouse with this new job and as much as I love shooting motorsports, I have to say that my cup runneth over and I have been truly blessed to do all the things I'm doing.

Until next time, I will leave you with a few more shots from Mid Ohio which show the variety of racing that occurs at great road course weekends. Be sure to check motorsport.com, my Picasa web galleries or alleygroup.net for more! See you at the track!

Randy Pobst wheels the K-Pax Volvo in Pirelli World Challenge action at Mid Ohio
Pro Mazda runners had to contend with a wet track at Mid Ohio

Jack Hawksworth navigates a turn in Indy Lights
Johnny O'Connell in the carousel in his gorgeous looking (& sounding) Pirelli World Challenge Cadillac

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Back on the Road: Indycar Weekend at Mid Ohio Next

Scott Dixon returns to Mid Ohio in the favorite's role
After a hectic weekend shooting at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week to wrap up July's racing calendar, I am excited about returning to the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend to shoot the Honda Indy 200 Indycar race and support events for motorsport.com. This scenic natural terrain road course is an annual fixture on my racing schedule and Indycar is my first racing love, so the chance to shoot here again is quite special for me. It is also a track that I have driven myself in the Mid Ohio Acura High Performance Driving School, so I can empathize (somewhat) with the drivers as they negotiate the undulations and rolling terrain of the racetrack. When track announcers talk about competitors racing through the Keyhole, Thunder Valley, Madness, or the Carousel, I know exactly where they are and have a view in my mind's eye of what that looks like.

Scott Dixon
But the man to watch this weekend is Scott Dixon. Scottie D has been the master of Mid Ohio more often than not the last few years and with his recent hot streak of three wins in eight days, he must be considered the favorite this weekend. Naturally the other Indycar competitors are going to do everything they can to break Dixon's recent stranglehold on Mid Ohio, but his recent win streak has vaulted Dixie into second place in the season points battle behind Helio Castroneves. The 2012 IZOD Indycar Series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay is third in the standings and within striking distance of a repeat championship although he needs a win this weekend to regain his early season momentum. While these three focus on the top step of the podium and the series points battle, drivers like Marco Andretti, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are stalking the favorites and hope to use this weekend as a springboard to a late season challenge for season honors. Pagenaud got his first Indycar win earlier this season and has been strong on road courses so he's my darkhorse candidate to pick up a Mid Ohio win.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Hunter-Reay was quickest in this week's open test at the track followed by Pagenaud and Power so clearly these three are on their game and prepared to challenge Dixon for Mid Ohio supremacy. Sebastian Bourdais's recent second place finish in Toronto's second race bode well for Dragon Racing and he was fourth quick in this week's testing session. Helio and Dixon were fifth and sixth in the test so all the top guns are locked and loaded for this weekend.

Carlos Munoz has shown speed and talent in Indycar and Indy Lights
The Firestone Indy Lights Series returns to Mid Ohio after a two year absence and Indy 500 rookie sensation Carlos Munoz is hoping to grab the first series championship for boss Michael Andretti and his Andretti Autosport team. Munoz was spectacular at Toronto filling in for the injured Ryan Briscoe at Panther Racing in the second Indycar race of that weekend after jumping into the car on race morning, so the road course prowess he has shown in both series should transfer well at Mid Ohio in Indy Lights. Given his dominance of the Lights race at the Barber Motorsports Park road course this past April, Munoz should adapt quickly to Mid Ohio which is similar to Barber in many ways and should pad his slim series points lead over Sage Karam.

Carlos Munoz has been Michael Andretti's prized pupil in 2013
The car count for Indy Lights this weekend is up to eleven and recent announcements about chassis updates and new management for the series should boost the competitiveness of the series in years to come. Perhaps these changes come too late for this weekend, but there is little doubt that those running Indy Lights are serious about winning and moving up to Indycars. Munoz has his eyes on the big prize in the series which is a $1 million "scholarship" that he can use to move up to the big cars next season. He is certainly deserving and has shown the speed and adaptiveness necessary to be competitive.

There are other changes afoot for this weekend with new competitors in Indycar as well. Alex Tagliani is out at BHA Racing and Luca Fillipi is in - at least for this race. Former Indy Lights competitor and two time Mid Ohio winner in Indy Lights James Davison is also running an Indycar this weekend - for Dale Coyne's team. Oriol Servia is back with Panther for Mid Ohio as the open driver auditions continue for the Panther seat vacated by the mid-summer dismissal of J. R. Hildebrand following his Indy 500 crash and string of mediocre results. One of the great things about shooting Mid Ohio is the plethora of on track action, so these drivers not only will benefit from the open test seat time but from the multiple on track sessions. Support series on the Mazda Road to Indy are also on the weekend schedule as well as the Pirelli World Challenge, so the photo challenges will be numerous.

And did I mention that it always seems to rain at some point during this race weekend? Everyone needs to be prepared for that likelihood as well. My only regret about this weekend is that the American LeMans Series is not on the schedule, so it will be interesting to see how that effects the crowd, especially on Saturday when ALMS has traditionally raced. My photog friends still tease me about getting drenched during the ALMS race a couple of years ago, and they know I am shooting this weekend, so I'm sure I will hear about being the "rainmeister" if we do get some "moisture". Y'all just better be ready! See you at Mid Ohio!

Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in the July 31st open test at Mid Ohio and should challenge for victory this weekend