Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mayor Hinchcliffe Completes Epic Comeback, Takes Indy 500 Pole Position

James Hinchcliffe won his 1st Indycar pole
Comeback stories are nothing new at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), but what we witnessed Sunday may top them all, as James Hinchcliffe took pole position as the last driver to run in the Fast Nine session which concluded Indy 500 qualifying. Barely a year removed from a life threatening Turn 3 crash which left him bleeding profusely after being speared by a suspension piece, the Mayor of Hinchtown loudly proclaimed himself fully healed and ready to win Indy with a stirring qualifying effort that had fans cheering every lap as it was announced on the Speedway's public address system. I was holding down a spot on Pit Lane for photos of the pole winner throughout the Fast Nine shootout, and when he finally wheeled into the Verizon Pit View stand area after four very intense laps, the ensuing scrum was absolutely crazy as people poured in from everywhere to congratulate James on his stunning achievement.

The grand prize - The Borg Warner trophy
Every year at Indy when I see something like this, it reminds me that these drivers are not like the rest of us. They are not supermen but their will to go fast and be first runs seemingly runs contrary to the basic survival instincts with which most of us "normal" people are familiar. Hinch came back from a near death experience at Indy in May 2015 to win the pole a year later. Buddy Lazier won the 500 in 1996 with a broken back. Mario Andretti won in 1969 with burns so severe on his face that his twin brother Aldo had to sit in for him on many official photos. Will Power overcame a broken back from a wreck at Sonoma to ultimately win the Indycar Series championship. And these drivers think nothing of hopping in a car whenever the track is green to try and run 230 mph laps for the first starting position in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. They are not like us, I'm telling you. All the more reason for me to be out there every chance I can to grab those photographs which may help document Indy's history in some small way. At the very least, they help cement those moments into my memory and provide fodder for future story telling.

Lighting in Turn 1 Wednesday and Thursday was simply gorgeous
This year my time has been somewhat limited at IMS due to my teaching schedule. The best I could do was race to the track from Noblesville for Happy Hours during the week so I had only about 5 hours of shooting from 30 hours of track time last Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday were a different story however, as I was out there essentially dawn to dusk. I would not have wanted it any other way. One of the coolest things to every happen to me at IMS started on Wednesday and carried over into Thursday. Many times when I have limited track time to work, I don't go out with a preconceived idea of where I am going to take pictures. The Speedway is a big place and you can't physically cover it all when time is limited. Wednesday I thought I would go to the pits to get driver and people candids, but as I walked across Georgetown Road from our mudhole parking area, something told me to go to the Stand E Penthouse area at the south end of the front straightaway.

Simon Pagenaud's Dallara was never prettier
Once I got up there, I noticed an unusual pattern of sun and shadow in Turn 1 that I didn't think I had ever seen before. When I say "ever", that means since 1984, so I was drawn to work with this lighting in a way I could not have foreseen that day. It was incredible to see these cars blast out of the black shadows into the bright sunlight - roller coaster trains emerging from a tunnel. I went back there on Thursday afternoon as I wanted more of those shots and apparently the word had gotten out as there were quite a few other photographers up in the Penthouse whereas I had been the only one the day before. Lighting is everything so it has really been cool to see what everyone did with those conditions, which I surmised was a direct result of the new grandstand construction that created these most unusual light and shade patterns.

I was near the yard of bricks and grabbed Alex Tagliani's crash with Canon's 200-400 zoom
Another really cool aspect of being a credentialed photographer at Indianapolis is the opportunity to work with Canon USA, which sends technicians to the track to clean and check our gear, and provides loaner equipment. So it's fun to try out expensive gear like a 500 mm f4 lens or the 200-400 zoom with a built in 1.4 converter. While these are fantastic pieces of glass, one thing I noticed later is that my pictures don't immediately benefit. There's still a learning curve I have to go through to adjust to their weight, plus the framing and focusing is different than what I am used to on the gear I own and typically use day in and day out. Nonetheless, it's a great chance to try out equipment that I would hope to have someday. For the week, I shot about 3100 pictures last week for motorsport.com, submitted about 670 and they used 200, so it was a good week by just about any measure.

Now we prepare for Carb Day Friday and the race this Sunday. Friends and family from all over will be in town, and my new colleagues from France will get their minds blown Sunday morning once the green flag flies. I am already feeling the butterflies and can't stop thinking about my race day plan and where I will go to get pictures that tell the stories of the day. Strap in and hang on as this race promises to be as epic as the Mayor's comeback. I hope you have your tickets! Godspeed and safe travels everyone.

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