Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Montoya Over Power in 99th Indy 500

Juan Pablo Montyoa has won Indy in 2 of 3 tries
Another month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is over, and what a fantastic and dramatic month it was. From the introduction of the new superspeedway aerodynamic kits May 3rd through the drinking of the traditional milk in Victory Lane May 24th, this year's edition of the Indy 500 was another for the ages. The final story will be told with a victorious Juan Pablo Montoya winning his second Indy 500 charging from the rear of the field to overtake Will Power in the waning laps after sustaining early damage to the right rear wheel pod of his Chevy powered Dallara. Just as JPM had a come-from-behind win, I'd say Indy had a comeback of its own with thrilling wheel to wheel racing and numerous lead changes over the last 15 laps of the race. Events earlier in the month, namely the apparent tendency of the Chevy Dallaras to go airborne when they got turned around, threatened to derail May at Indy with a dark cloud of controversy. Thankfully, on one of the best weather weekends for the 500 ever, that cloud was blown away in a race full of competitive spirit and no airborne race cars. Tony Hulman weather prevailed and the 99th Indy 500 was a rousing success by almost any measure as the teams and drivers overcame technical challenges to put on one hell of a show. Juan Pablo got his second Indy 500 win in only his third attempt, and 15 years after his first one in a comeback to open wheel racing that will surely have historians taking notice.

My early race view from the roof of the Penthouse seats in Stand E
I was fortunate to be shooting for motorsport.com again this May and race weekend loomed for me with a lot of questions about how I was going to cover the race. I had signed up for Victory Lane and my "Plan A" shooting strategy depended on getting a blue photo vest to be allowed to shoot from the trackside photo locations along the outside wall. Up until about 9:30 race morning, I did not know if the Victory Lane request had been approved or if I would get the blue vest. I had a "Plan B" worked out in my mind, but everything came together just a couple of hours before the noon starting time and I got very busy, very quickly. I did manage to catch up with my brother and his son very briefly after walking the pre-race grid on my way to the Penthouse roof for the start of the race. The older I get, the less I believe in coincidence so in the end my faith that everything was going to work out was proven to be well founded as everything fell into place just as I had hoped.

The Pagoda just before sunrise on raceday
My day started at 3:50 a.m. when my phone alarm went off. I was on the road to the track shortly thereafter and parked in the outside media lot by 4:45 a.m. where I sat in my car and ate my traditional powdered donuts breakfast. I ended up shooting over 1600 images on the day after starting the morning off watching the sunrise over the Pagoda tower. Shooting the rising sun was part of my "Plan A" for the day and I wasn't the only photographer who had that idea as there were several others wandering around the Penthouse seats when I got there about 5:45 in the morning. The next was was beautiful, spectacular, quiet and peaceful and I finally got to the media center a little before 7:00 to get set up. I uploaded several sunrise shots to motorsport.com, checked in with the IMS photo office to see about Victory Lane and the blue vest, but was told everything was on hold until after the 9:00 photo meeting so all I could do was wait. Thankfully there was breakfast being served in the media center so that took my mind off of strategy for awhile. I didn't know it at the time, but that meal would be all I would get (other than a couple handfuls of salted peanuts) until after the race was over that afternoon as I got busy shooting and the lines at the concession stands during the race were too long for me to take time away from shooting. After the photo meeting, I went back to the IMS office, was handed my Victory Lane pass and signed out the coveted blue vest so I knew it was going to be a great day.

The pre-race crowd on the grid was huge
Then it was time to get ready and really go to work. I borrowed a super wide angle from Canon, packed up my belt bags and headed out to the pre-race grid with my trusty 7D and 40D cameras. I ended up running into a Twitter follower who recognized me (which was very cool) and I took his picture with his son. I then walked through the 16th Street tunnel around the outside of Turn 1 to Stand B where our family's seats are located and grabbed a bottle of water from my brother before I headed up to the Penthouse roof. The view from up there is amazing and it was the third straight year I've started my race off in that location next to the team spotters. My shooting strategy for the day was to shoot 20 laps and move to get variety in my photos, so from there I went to ground level along the wall at the end of the frontstretch and around the outside of Turn 1. By about lap 70, I had gone back through the 16th Street tunnel and worked my way to the inside of Turn 1. By half distance, I had moved to the top of the F1 garages behind the pits and spent the rest of the race either in the pits or on the viewing platforms overlooking pit lane. With 25 laps to go, I hurried back to the media center to get a couple more bottles of water and was in position on the Victory Lane photo stand for the last 20 laps of the race. Following Victory Lane ceremonies and the kissing of the bricks, I had a ton of editing and uploading to do. I didn't get finished with that until nearly 8:00 that evening but I was not the last person to leave the media center either. By the end of the day, I had racked up over 16,600 steps on my pedometer app and had enjoyed a solid day's work at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, so I headed home tired and hungry, but feeling good about helping to document another historic day at Indy.

Pre-race selfie with my brother and his son at the seats in Stand B
I consider myself fortunate and blessed to live in Indy and have the opportunity to shoot at the Speedway. This year was my 40th straight Indy 500 and 42nd in total, and I have learned so much about photography since my first year with credentials in 1984. Lots of people have helped me out along the way, and shooting for motorsport.com is a fantastic responsibility and honor. Everything I've done through the years has prepared me for this and I was incredibly happy the way it all came together this year. Next year will be the 100th Indy 500 and while I will be really busy this summer shooting ARCA, there's no place like Indy so it may be awhile before I start asking the question: "Is it May yet?" In the meantime, here are samples of my work from last Friday's Indy Lights Freedom 100 on a beautiful Carburetion Day, and Sunday's Indianapolis 500. Go to motorsport.com to see the rest!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Field Is Set For the 99th Indy 500

"Scottie D" put up a big number early that no one could top
Nothing ever seems to come easy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and controversy is usually a part of every May somehow. This year has been no different so far. Before I get into the craziness that I witnessed this past week in practice and during this weekend's qualifications, congratulations are in order for Scott Dixon who won the pole Sunday in a one-shot qualification run. I don't know whether this week's action will be memorable 20 years from now, but there were things that happened that were certainly unprecedented. Indianapolis weather had been mostly sunny through Friday but then spring in Indiana reared its head on Saturday when persistent downpours cut track activity and the track officially closed for the day around 2:30. No one could have foreseen what would transpire the next day as the Saturday schedule was set to repeat with early practice sessions followed by qualifications.

Ed Carpenter's wreckage is brought to the team garage
The overriding news for the whole week was flying race cars - Chevys, to be exact. Three of them, with the last one, local favorite and Butler Bulldog Ed Carpenter, flipping in Turn Two Sunday morning during "final" practice for qualifications. Saturday had been washed out after only two qualifiers had finished and ironically Scott Dixon was the third qualifier on a four lap run Saturday when the rains hit. Helio Castorneves was the first to go airborne in spectacular fashion last week and then Carpenter's teammate Josef Newgarden followed suit on Thursday. Lots of people on the IMS grounds were now seeing a scary trend and the place shut down for several hours Sunday morning while the Chevy and Honda teams huddled with Indycar officials to decide what to do. I stood in the garage are for an hour waiting for Indycar officials to emerge from that confab with answers but meanwhile social media was exploding with all sorts of rumors.

Mark Miles and Derrick Walker handled the news conference
Finally around noon, an Indycar official notified the waiting throng of media people that an announcement was coming and we all rushed over to the media center to hear the outcome, which was to lower the turbo boost and qualify with race day downforce configurations to increase grip. This was done in the name of safety and who can blame them? Even if the three flipping Chevys were just coincidental, no one wanted to tempt fate any further without doing something. We also learned that teams would get an extra 30 minutes of practice in the new configurations and then have one shot to qualify. That wiped out the Fast 9 competition and extended everyone's day beyond the original schedule. Remarkably no one was hurt in any of the three airborne incidents and qualifying went off without a hitch, or much real drama for that matter, as several drivers commented "it was easy" with the grip they had. I'm sorry, but something is just not right about Indy 500 qualifying being easy. Needless to say it was an impossible situation and there's probably plenty of blame to go around as to how it got to that point, but I will leave that to others to assess.

Rain hit the Brickyard Saturday
My primary task all weekend was to get interesting driver shots and record scenes which are notably "Indianapolis" for motorsport.com. I think I did that and managed to get something on ever single driver which ran Indy this month. I have had so much fun this week roaming the pits and garage area for what I thought would make interesting photos. I also was able to take advantage of Canon being at the track where their tech people offer a clean and check service along with equipment loans. I got both my main camera bodies serviced and discovered that one had over 111,000 shutter actuations and the other had almost 84,000! That's close to 200,000 images I've taken with that gear, which I thought was a lot until I heard of another photog that had 425,000 and 375,000 on his camera bodies! I also got the chance to work with 500 mm, 16-35 mm and 10-22 mm lenses which was both fun and challenging as they each have their own unique properties and situations where they are most useful. I really want that 10-22 zoom; I've used the 500 before at Talladega so I knew what that was like, but I did not have my monopod Friday so I got quite a workout hauling that thing around and panning from up in the Penthouse seats overlooking Turn 1. I had more fun with the 10-22 Sunday but the first one I borrowed showed a communication error on both my cameras so I took it back to Canon and swapped it out for another one to use along pit lane. Needless to say all this added to my steps count for the day which ended up over 15,500.

Get well soon Hinch!
All day long Sunday as I was walking around IMS, I would see someone I knew and just say "This is crazy" as the day's events were so bizarre and unheard of in Indy 500 history  - at least since I started going in 1971. Prior to Monday when James Hinchcliffe crashed his Honda powered Dallara due to a parts failure, there had only been one other incident involving a Honda machine when Pippa Mann spun in traffic last Wednesday and hit the inside wall and pit lane attenuator without getting airborne. It's not the crashes which are unheard of or unprecedented as people hit the wall at Indy every year trying to push the limits of speed and adhesion. I remember in 1987, which was my third year shooting the 500, there were more than two dozen crashes spread over two weeks of practice and qualifying. Those cars were on a knife edge then just as the current Chevys seemed to be this year. What is unprecedented is changing the rules and specifications on a qualifying day. The length of time there was silence at the Speedway Sunday when there was supposed to be cars on the track was just plain weird.

Scott Dixon must be considered the favorite to win
So now we have Carburetion Day to look forward to Friday, but it will not include Hinchcliffe who suffered a serious thigh injury, and it remains to be seen who (if anyone) will jump in Hinch's Arrow car Friday and start the 500 in his place. Carb Day practice will be in race day conditions, so I am hoping for a safe and clean hour so everyone makes it into the big show Sunday at their best. I'll be there documenting everything for motorsport.com so check back often for our complete coverage and more photos. Let's race!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chevy and Will Power Dominate Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis

Will Power pushed hard from the green to the checkered flag to win
After Helio Castroneves punted Scott Dixon into a spin and triggered a melee in the first turn of the opening lap of last Saturday's Indycar road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was all over but the shouting as Will Power controlled the pace and led 65 of 82 laps en route to a dominant win from pole position. The story was much the same for those running Honda power, except for Graham Rahal who escaped the first turn mess and did everything he could to pressure Power into a mistake which never came. Rahal ended up as the highest finishing Honda runner but it was a weekend of Chevy dominance from qualifying Friday through the checkered flag on Saturday. Hopefully the rest of May will see more competitive balance on the oval as practice for the Indy 500 gets into full swing this week. With only a day to transition from road course to oval spec and weather always a variable during Spring in Indy, teams must get down to business in a hurry to be ready for 500 qualifying this Saturday.

Indy looked good!
I spent the better part of three days at IMS last weekend walking all over kingdom come and shooting the Indycar and Indy Lights action for motorsport.com from lots of different vantage points. About the only part of the road course I didn't make it to was the chicane on the north end where they come back onto the backstretch of Hulman Boulevard. Working pit lane and being up close and personal with the teams and drivers is always a thrill, and I overhear some interesting things in the process of looking for photo opportunities. Most of those conversations I wouldn't divulge, but the funniest one I overheard involved Arie Luyendyk and Dario Franchitti who seemed to be playfully arguing about who would pay for dinner, with some quite spicy language thrown in the mix. I wish I knew how that debate ended up!

The start of Indy Lights Race 2 looking south from road course Turn 1
Friday and Saturday were both very long days which began with early photo meetings at the track and ended after 10 each night at home with completion of backups for each day's image files. Living in Indy and shooting the Speedway is a blessing during May as I get to sleep in my own bed and am only 20 minutes from IMS, so the long days and extensive walking at the track are not as taxing as they might be if I were on the road. Covering the action on the IMS road course is a special challenge since there is no easy way to get from one area to another. The shorter road course races magnify that challenge and I try to follow a "10 lap and move" strategy so I get shots from different locations. It has also forced me to be more efficient and not shoot a million images. I have quit looking for the "perfect" shot through sheer quantity and gotten much better at getting the shot I want with fewer images. That certainly cuts down on editing time, which is essential when deadlines for uploads loom after qualifying or a race and the editors at motorsport.com urgently need images.

Graham Rahal had the fastest Honda machine during the Grand Prix
Another aspect of being up close that I really enjoy is watching the Indycar crews work during qualifying when time is of the essence. There was lots of attention being given to springs and shocks with quick changes on pit lane the order of the day in Friday qualifying. Whatever the reason, the Chevy teams seem to have this figured out (for the road course at least) and it seems to my eye that the Honda road course aero kit just simply has too many elements, especially on the nose wing. While the complexity of the Honda kit may create a lot of downforce, it also may make adjustments more complicated and could be creating unwanted drag as well, Chevy may have the road course advantage due to the simplicity of its design more than anything else. I've written before about the differences in the speedway aero kits; Honda's is more complex than Chevy's so it remains to be seen if Chevy's road course advantage holds up during 500 practice. This weekend should deliver an interesting qualifying for the 500 and the folks in Japan may be holding their collective breath that they don't get shut out of Sunday's Fast 9 session which will determine pole position.

The new Indy Lights cars are attractive
Another aspect of covering an event like the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is the support races which provide non-stop track activity for the fans each day. I wasn't required to shoot all of the support series which make up the Mazda Road to Indy which was a good thing as there simply wasn't time between my Indy Lights and Indycar responsibilities. This was my first chance to see the new Indy Lights cars in person and I was very impressed by their look and sound. I really hope they are able to get more than twelve cars in the series this year as the cars are quite attractive and appeared very racy on the IMS road course. The short field meant that once they got strung out behind the leader there wasn't a lot of action to follow once the Lights races got past the early laps. Jack Harvey won the first race on Friday and Sean Rayhall took the second race on Saturday in only his Indy Lights third start. Despite the low number of entries, there are some quality drivers in Lights this year and nine of the twelve are rookies in the series, including former F1 driver Max Chilton, so go support these guys if you get the chance as they fight their way up the ladder to Indycar.

Now everyone in the Indycar garages turns their attention to preparing for the Indianapolis 500. I have a somewhat limited schedule at the track this week due to my teaching obligations, but I will be there for Fast Friday and both qualifying and pole days this weekend. The Indy Lights teams won't hit the oval until a week from Thursday when they prepare for their own big race, the Freedom 100, which is run on Carburetion Day after the final Indycar practice May 22nd and has featured three and four wide racing with photo finishes the last two years. It could be the best month of May ever, so you really need to get out and see the show. And keep checking motorsport.com for more of my photos from the track. Until next time, here's a sampling of my work during the Grand Prix weekend. See you at the Speedway!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Indy 500 Opening Day In The Books

"Racing Capitol of the World"
Assuming I make it to the end of this month (God willing and the creek don't rise, as a former colleague used to say) I will turn 58 years old and have attended my 40th consecutive Indianapolis 500. The month of Jay- I mean the month of May - is finally here and now another Opening Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has come and gone. Sunday May 3rd was a perfect weather day to unveil the new oval track aerodynamic kits and the Verizon Indycar Series teams made the most of it. The series had two stated goals for the aero kits:  to increase speeds and to visually differentiate the Honda and Chevy teams. I'd say they were successful on both counts, as the cars definitely looked different and speeds above 226 were posted. Now the teams put their Indy 500 machines in the garage for a week and turn their attention to this weekend's second annual Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course.

Simona DiSilvestro's Honda powered Dallara in Turn 1
I got to the Speedway early Sunday morning and spent the day roaming the grounds trying to grab a variety of photos. I managed to log about 13,000 steps for the day and I felt it by the time I left around 6:00 pm. Overall, I was very impressed by how well prepared all the teams seemed to be. Honda had unveiled its aero kit on Simona DiSilvestro's car prior to the test day but no one had seen the Chevy kit until Sunday. Suffice it to say, there are two very different engineering approaches at work by the two manufacturers and Honda seemed to have the upper hand for the first day on the track with more of their runners near the top of the speed charts. The cars really looked stable throughout the day, so it appears that the engineering braintrusts have struck a good balance between lower drag and increased downforce with the new kits. Once they start running in practice next week, speeds will surely climb, especially if they are allowed extra turbo boost for qualifying.

Scott Dixon's low-slung Chevy Dallara
The Honda kit is actually quite beautiful, with curvy sculpted rear wing supports, multiple rear wing elements and mini wings above the rear wheel cowling bodywork. Their front wings don't look that much different than in year's past, so it appears that Honda's concentration has been on the rear wheel area. I like how both manufacturers have worked to get the rear wheel totally out of the air flow, and from head-on shots of the cars, you can't even see the rears. Chevy on the other hand has a much more low profile approach with a simple rear wing and small tab on the right end of the rear wing. Its treatment of the rear wheel area is totally different than Honda's and the Chevy's seem designed to lay low and minimize drag.

The Chevy front wings are very different than Honda's with uprights that appear designed to kick air around and up over the front wheels. Mind you, I am not an engineer, but I've been around Indycar a long time, and while my observations may not be grounded in proper engineering theory, dialing in these cars through my cameras for hours at the track helps me see details that a casual fan might not immediately recognize. I am hoping that there are enough differences for Indy fans to get behind these designs and bring their friends out to support the series. I have maintained for years that Indycar puts on some of the best races with the closely matched equipment, and it will be very interesting to see if there is any significant shift in the balance of power now that the engine manufacturers have been given some design leeway on the Dallara bodywork.

USAC star Bryan Clauson wheels his Chevy through Turn 1
While I have been shooting Indy since 1984, this is my 10th May shooting with high speed digital equipment since switching from film and manual focus cameras. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I am at the track to realize I am actually involved in documenting one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Shooting for motorsport.com again is a special privilege which I do not take lightly, and they have given me a lot of responsibility this year which I relish. One of the best things about photography is that the learning curve never ends and I continue to be challenged to find new ways to be creative while chasing the good light. This month of May will surely involve more lessons with the camera as well as personal revelations when the right subject matter, good lighting and proper technique all intersect at just the right moment to help tell the stories that Indianapolis inevitably generates.

And then there are those times where you just get lucky. I hope to be both lucky and good this month, but you know I will be ready. See you at Indy!

The sidepod bodywork on Takuma Sato's Dallara Honda is continuous to the top of the rear wheel
The sidepod bodywork on Juan Pablo Montoya's Dallara Chevy splits in front of the rear wheels