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!

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