Thursday, March 23, 2017

Countdown to France: My First Le Mans

Pre-race pageantry at the Rolex 24
Now that the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the Daytona 500 and Sebring have been run, it's really beginning to feel like spring and I am just two weeks away from my first ARCA race of 2017.  My calendar is full of countdowns for this racing season which began with my second Rolex 24 Hours race in January. I haven't started a countdown to next year's Rolex yet because I definitely want to go back, but you can bet I will start one! We are, however, less than 90 days away from leaving for an epic trip to Italy and France where I will get to shoot the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While that will be my second endurance race of this year, it will be my first Le Mans and first trip to Europe. I couldn't be more excited even though it is not clear yet who I will be shooting for, or even, for that matter, if I will get credentials as I have hoped. But it really doesn't make any difference if I get credentials or not, although I would love to have it on my photo resume. We're going anyway and I will make some freaking pictures one way or another.

There's no place like Indianapolis
We are also less than 70 days away from the 101st Indy 500 and this year marks a change of the guard for me after shooting 2013-2016 for I will shoot this year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500 for Vision Sport Agency (VSA), a French company run by one of the gentlemen I met and worked with last year at the 500. This is another exciting opportunity for me to make photography connections on the international motorsports scene. It is also a nice complement to the work I have done in the past for Autosport Japan as VSA is active worldwide on many endurance racing series where it serves as an official photo media outlet. I will get the chance to add to the VSA Indycar portfolio this year. With the 2016 Indycar champion, Simon Pagenaud, a Frenchman and another Frenchman, Sebastian Bourdais, already a winner in Indycar this season at St. Petersburg, I expect I will be taking their photos a lot this May. If that connection extends on to Le Mans, then all the better! 

The monumental countdown is to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I hope I can remember some of the French I have been trying to learn! My fiance and I are taking the trip of a lifetime with the encouragement of our friends from France at VSA, and with the spiritual guidance of my mother from beyond. I have been making arrangements since last fall and know generally what our itinerary involves. By the time all is said and done, it will sound like planes, trains and automobiles! We will fly through JFK in New York to Paris first for a few days, then take the train to Tours where I will commute to Le Mans during practice. The Loire Valley was always one of Mom's favorite parts of France so I hope we will get to see some of the historic estates while we are there. For the 24 Hours itself, we  have an Air BnB place reserved for race weekend which is within walking distance of the circuit. The day after the race, we will fly to Venice from the western Paris airport for a quick visit and then take the high speed train from Venice to Rome to wrap up our trip, finally flying back from Rome the next weekend. 

Josh Williams with the spoils of victory
My immediate countdown is for ARCA now since there are just two weeks before I head south to Nashville, Tennessee and the Fairgrounds Speedway for the second race of the season for myself as well as the ARCA series. These guys haven't raced since Daytona last month and there was a lot of torn up equipment at that race, so hopefully everyone has their repairs made and are ready for short track racing in the Music City 200. Several teams have been at Nashville testing this week to get ready so you know they are taking this seriously.  Josh Williams got his first ever ARCA series win last year at Nashville and his family's celebration was one for the ages. It will be fun to see if one of the crop of new drivers in the series this year can have a similar breakthrough on Nashville's weathered half mile of pavement. I am excited to get back to ARCA racing and meet all the new people as well as see my friends from the last few seasons. The ARCA series is a great series for up and coming talent and races on all kinds of tracks, including dirt miles! The new 5 Star composite bodies and Ilmor engines make the racing affordable and competitive for everyone. Two weeks after Nashville, I will be back at Salem Speedway with ARCA in southern Indiana before hitting the big track of Talladega Superspeedway the first weekend in May. After Talladega comes Indy and then Le Mans, so the calendar pages will start flipping past quickly here very soon. Hopefully you will follow along here on my blog, or find me on Twitter @alleygroup as my motorsports photography journey continues.

We are having some fun now! See you at a racetrack somewhere soon. 

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