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!

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