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!

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