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

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