Thursday, May 31, 2018

More Penske Power in Indy 500 as Will Wins His First

Will Power got his first Indy 500 win on the hottest race day ever
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway continued to be a Penske playground this May as Will Power waltzed into Victory Lane at the Indy 500 to take his first ever win on the big Indianapolis oval. This was the 102nd rendition of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and most teams struggled to find grip on the melting asphalt of what some said was the hottest Indy 500 in the history. While it was Will's first Indy 500 win, it was Roger Penske's 17th win as a team owner, and there has rarely been a more excited winner than Willy P. Will's usual demeanor is all Aussie cool but he was going absolutely nuts in Victory Lane which was so out of character for him. During his lap around the track for the fan salute after he drank the winner's milk, he just kept saying "I can't believe I won the Indy 500". He did it in style with a calculated victory as other top contenders dropped out with self inflicted crashes or couldn't make the fuel numbers work to pull off a win similar to Alexander Rossi's two years ago. It was an amazing display of emotion from a guy who is usually as outwardly emotional as dry toast and it was awesome to be there to photograph it. I'd love to see more emotional displays like that from Will when he wins and I'm happy to see him finally grab the big prize at Indy.

Danica did well after being away from Indycars for several years
One of the big stories before this 500 was the fact that it was Danica Patrick's last race. She held station early on but crashed out on her own when her car snapped loose in Turn 2. Defending champion Takuma Sato had gone out just a few laps before Danica after running into the back of James Davison's awful handling machine in Turn 3. Before the day was through, there would be several other incidents involving some surprising names who struggled with the handling of their Dallaras with the new aero kits. Helio Castroneves spun and crashed on his own. So did Tony Kanaan, Sebastian Bordais, Ed Jones and Sage Karam. Danica couldn't explain what happened in her crash and it seemed to be the same mystery for just about everyone. From the outside it looked like a combination of factors: a ridiculously hot day, lack of grip on the slick surface which had been washed clean by a downpour the previous day, and the cars would suddenly get loose coming off the corners as a result of lower downforce levels, especially when drivers were running in a group. The most impressive drive of the day was put in by Rossi who came from 32nd starting position to finish second. He seemed to have a handle on his car like no one else and I saw him make some crazy outside passes in Turn 1 that had me flinching when I was shooting down there, but he made it work in spectacular style.

Sunrise on race day is special - quiet before the mayhem and roar of the event
It was a fun race for me and everything seemed to fall into place as the day went along. I got to the media parking about 5:00 in the morning and went into the track about 45 minutes later so I could shoot the sunrise over the Pagoda Tower. There are usually a lot of other photographers in the Penthouse sections on the front straightaway doing the same thing and this year the sunrise was absolutely gorgeous. That was a portend of things to come for the day as the skies above central Indiana were powder blue with cotton candy clouds all afternoon during the race which made for some spectacular scenic shots. My initial shooting position for the race has been the same since 2013 and even though I don't like heights, I am going to keep going up on the Penthouse roof over Stand E to shoot the pre-race pageantry and the start. The view from up there is incredible and though I only stay up there for about the first 10 laps, I love starting my race from that vantage point.

I managed to get photos of Simon Pagenaud's final pit stop
I more or less followed my normal "10 laps and move strategy" as the race went on since I was the only photographer representing French media company MPS Agency in order to get some variety in my photos. For the day as a whole I shot roughly 2600 images and walked over 15,500 steps by the time I got back to my car at 7:30 that evening. After starting on the roof, I went trackside at the end of the front stretch, then around to the outside of Turn 1 and then on a yellow, went inside Turn 1 for awhile as I had a feeling there might be a crash there. When that didn't materialize, I went to the inside of Turn 2 past the halfway point and then to the pits around lap 125. At the time I was debating whether to go on the top of the stands behind the pits or go directly to pit lane. I decided to go straight into the pits and am glad I did, as not long after I got there. I could see teams on the south end of pit lane were laid out and pole winner Ed Carpenter soon came in for service. I love shooting pit stops in Indycar and capturing the air guns as they get tossed aside and the smoking tires as drivers peel out to get back in the race. I continued to work pit lane or on the top of the stands behind the pits until about lap 180 when I decided to look for an angle to shoot Victory Lane since I did not have a reserved spot this year.

Will Power had calmed down by the time of the winner's photo shoot Monday morning
I went into the media center to grab a bottle of water and see if I could get a vantage point from one of the balconies but there were already too many people gathered around so I went back to ground level adjacent to the photographer's stand and just waited for the finish. It was cool to watch the late race fuel gamblers drop by the wayside and I was especially happy that Stefan Wilson led some laps but he couldn't stretch his fuel far enough, nor could Jack Harvey or Oriol Servia, Will Power was there to claim victory when those guys all had to pit for a splash of fuel in the last 10 laps. I wasn't finding a decent angle to shoot the winner's celebration so I decided to take a gamble on positioning myself next to the photographer's stand. That decision paid off as I got some great celebratory shots of Will when he first got out of the car. After his lap around the track, and the kissing of the bricks ceremonies, I went back by Victory Lane and got invited in to photograph the remaining hat dance and trophy celebrations, so I got photos I hadn't even planned on when the race started. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but on this race day I felt I was both. I trusted the universe Sunday and I am grateful that everything woked out so I could do a good job representing MPS Agency.

My view from the roof
With the Month of May now in the history books, I finish out our school year in a couple of weeks and then get to take a week's vacation so it will be nice to relax and unwind. I gear back up in July to work more races for the ARCA Racing Series and work on 2019 which I hope will include Sebring, Indianapolis and Le Mans for MPS Agency. I turned 61 the last day of May and I am not ready to slow down by any stretch of the imagination, so I'm excited about what the future may hold. In the meantime, enjoy a few of my photos from the 500 or go to the MPS Agency website to see all of the photo galleries I contributed this month by clicking here. Come on out to a race sometime and say hello. I'll take your picture!

I was surprised that Josef Newgarden (1) wasn't more of a factor
Will Power (12) had the car to beat all day
Alexander Rossi seemed to be able to pass at will during the race
Passing this year occurred mainly on the straightaways and made for great photos

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Penske's Power Takes Indycar Grand Prix - Again; Carpenter Upsets Penskes for 500 Pole

Penske Racing owner Roger Penske - "The Captain"
There's a special connection between the Indycar teams of Roger Penske and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), and they proved it once again as Will Power got his third win in the Indycar Grand Prix on the IMS road course out of the five times the event has been held. That Penske stranglehold on P1 at IMS did not hold up for Indy 500 qualifying however, as local favorite Ed Carpenter was the only driver in Sunday's Fast 9 to crack the 230 mph barrier in taking pole position and holding off Penske's four horsemen,  Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. Power took the Grand Prix pole position to kick off the month of May and then followed that up with a masterful drive on the road course to claim his 30th career Indycar win. It was also the 200th win in Indycar for Penske. The drive of the day was turned in by Scott Dixon however, who had a miserable qualifying effort and started 18th. After "throwing in the kitchen sink" before Saturday's final Grand Prix practice session, Dixon managed his fuel and tires to snag second place over rookie Robert Wickens who had another impressive outing after starting on the front row. Wickens admitted he did not have the experience to manage the dwindling late race fuel supply like Power or Dixon, but he managed another podium finish while holding off Alexander Rossi.

Robert Wickens (6) has been the series' most impressive rookie so far
Having a race on the IMS road course to start off the month of May is a relatively novel concept since it was only introduced in 2014 and this year's event was held Friday May 11th and Saturday May 12th to very receptive crowds. A little over a week later after several practice days on the oval, the field was set for the 102nd Indy 500 on Sunday May 20th. The Carb Day final practice period is already this coming Friday and the 500 is Sunday! Where did the month go? I have been so busy since the month started that I haven't been able to finish this blog post even though I started it over a week ago. For me, May is like working two jobs as I take care of my teaching responsibilities and then banzai out to IMS to catch time during practice on the weekdays. Then I am up until 10:30 or 11 each night to finish editing my images for the day and then upload them to the MPS Agency website and another French site every night. The time difference means my French counterparts will just about be getting up around the time I upload my images since they are 6 hours ahead of us. Then Saturday and Sunday brings Indy 500 Bump Day and Pole Day with very early photo meetings both days and 14 to 18 hour days taking photos or editing and transmitting them. It is physically exhausting but I don't mind for a second. My fiance calls me the "Energizer Bunny" since I keep going and going!

The Pagoda Tower plaza is quiet after practice
Whether it's the Grand Prix or the 500, I cover a lot of ground at the Speedway whenever I am there, and my step counts reflect that as I have to make my way around the circuit on foot. I have always felt like IMS is a home away from home since I've been going out there so long. I once calculated that if I added up all the days I have been at the Speedway for practice, qualifying or a race since I first started going in 1970, and you put all those days back to back, then you could say that I had spent almost 2 years of my life at the track! The coolest part is I am still learning as a photographer, even though my first race with credentials was in 1984. And I never take any of the experience for granted as it is humbling to think that I am contributing to the documentation of a great American sports institution at what one of my photographer friends called "The Cauldron of Speed."

Will Power is almost unbeatable on the IMS road course
While IMS feels like home to me, Will Power is turning the Indycar Grand Prix into his personal playground. Power said afterward that this year's race was the toughest he had driven on the IMS road course. I would chalk that up to a number of factors. First, the newer Indycar body kits with less downforce were noticeably slower in the corners and drivers were all having to work much harder to get their cars to turn in. Second, while I had expected record lap speeds due to the decrease in downforce, the opposite turned out to be true. The cars were obviously quicker in a straight line but that increased speed dissipated in later braking and more difficulty in putting the power down while exiting the corners. The good news for fans was that these factors created a lot of great racing and overtaking at the key braking zones in Turn 1 at the end of the oval's main straightaway, at Turn 7 at the end of Hulman Boulevard in the infield, and entering Turn 12 where they go inside Turn 1 of the oval track.

If a French driver like Simon Pagenaud wins the 500, that will help MPS Agency
I am providing photography this May for French media company, MPS Agency, and I had an absolute blast walking all over IMS during the Grand Prix weekend. I wanted to get lots of variety in the photos I would deliver to MPSA so shooting from multiple different vantage points was a must. I usually start off a race with something resembling a strategy and then adjust as I read the race, so this year was no different as I knew I would start the race in Turn 1 where history has shown that accidents often occur on the first lap. Sure enough, I had Jordan King come through the sand trap and stop at my feet after punting Simon Pagenaud who spun through the sand and kept going. On many races, I try to follow a "shoot 10 laps and move" strategy which allows me to cover most of a racetrack no matter its size. At Indianapolis, that is a daunting task and I ended up logging nearly 18,000 steps on my pedometer for the Grand Prix race day as a result. Thankfully the rains never came which had been predicted originally (I was prepared if it had rained) and the weather was warm but still pleasant. It was definitely a workout getting from one end of the circuit to the other with about 25 pounds of camera guy strapped on, and my legs were on fire walking up the stairs to the Penthouse seating with about 25 laps to go in the race. When the Grand Prix was over, I was exhausted but happy with the work I had done but I knew I still had a lot of editing to do to wrap up the event before the emphasis switched over to the Indy 500 in just a couple of days.

Helio Castroneves is a sentimental favorite to win the 500 for the 4th time
This past Tuesday was the first day of practice for the Indy 500 and my goal was to be working every day I could make it out to the track once my teaching duties had been fulfilled. I didn't miss a day but the time was extremely limited until Friday when I could be there all afternoon. As the sole representative for MPSA, I had some work to do with the IMS photo staff to ensure the access I needed to do the best possible job for MPS Agency and everything I could have hoped for came together. The weekend culminated with some great shot of the pole winner Ed Carpenter, his family and team after the pole award ceremony Sunday evening. I still am not sure about my race day access for the 500 yet but I will find that out on Carb Day. I am optimistic and excited to be shooting another Indy 500 as a credentialed photographer for the 31st time! There's nothing like it so come on out and join the fun this weekend.

To see photo galleries from my May work at IMS on the MPSA website, please click here for the Indycar GP and click here for Indy 500. See you at the track!

Will Power made the Fast 9 but couldn't take the pole for the 500
Ed Carpenter took his third pole at the Indianapolis 500 and must be considered a favorite to win the race
Indycar's other French driver, Simon Pagenaud, got punted at the start of the Grand Prix