Thursday, May 31, 2018

More Penske Power in Indy 500 as Will Wins His First

Will Power got his first Indy 500 win on the hottest race day ever
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway continued to be a Penske playground this May as Will Power waltzed into Victory Lane at the Indy 500 to take his first ever win on the big Indianapolis oval. This was the 102nd rendition of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and most teams struggled to find grip on the melting asphalt of what some said was the hottest Indy 500 in the history. While it was Will's first Indy 500 win, it was Roger Penske's 17th win as a team owner, and there has rarely been a more excited winner than Willy P. Will's usual demeanor is all Aussie cool but he was going absolutely nuts in Victory Lane which was so out of character for him. During his lap around the track for the fan salute after he drank the winner's milk, he just kept saying "I can't believe I won the Indy 500". He did it in style with a calculated victory as other top contenders dropped out with self inflicted crashes or couldn't make the fuel numbers work to pull off a win similar to Alexander Rossi's two years ago. It was an amazing display of emotion from a guy who is usually as outwardly emotional as dry toast and it was awesome to be there to photograph it. I'd love to see more emotional displays like that from Will when he wins and I'm happy to see him finally grab the big prize at Indy.

Danica did well after being away from Indycars for several years
One of the big stories before this 500 was the fact that it was Danica Patrick's last race. She held station early on but crashed out on her own when her car snapped loose in Turn 2. Defending champion Takuma Sato had gone out just a few laps before Danica after running into the back of James Davison's awful handling machine in Turn 3. Before the day was through, there would be several other incidents involving some surprising names who struggled with the handling of their Dallaras with the new aero kits. Helio Castroneves spun and crashed on his own. So did Tony Kanaan, Sebastian Bordais, Ed Jones and Sage Karam. Danica couldn't explain what happened in her crash and it seemed to be the same mystery for just about everyone. From the outside it looked like a combination of factors: a ridiculously hot day, lack of grip on the slick surface which had been washed clean by a downpour the previous day, and the cars would suddenly get loose coming off the corners as a result of lower downforce levels, especially when drivers were running in a group. The most impressive drive of the day was put in by Rossi who came from 32nd starting position to finish second. He seemed to have a handle on his car like no one else and I saw him make some crazy outside passes in Turn 1 that had me flinching when I was shooting down there, but he made it work in spectacular style.

Sunrise on race day is special - quiet before the mayhem and roar of the event
It was a fun race for me and everything seemed to fall into place as the day went along. I got to the media parking about 5:00 in the morning and went into the track about 45 minutes later so I could shoot the sunrise over the Pagoda Tower. There are usually a lot of other photographers in the Penthouse sections on the front straightaway doing the same thing and this year the sunrise was absolutely gorgeous. That was a portend of things to come for the day as the skies above central Indiana were powder blue with cotton candy clouds all afternoon during the race which made for some spectacular scenic shots. My initial shooting position for the race has been the same since 2013 and even though I don't like heights, I am going to keep going up on the Penthouse roof over Stand E to shoot the pre-race pageantry and the start. The view from up there is incredible and though I only stay up there for about the first 10 laps, I love starting my race from that vantage point.

I managed to get photos of Simon Pagenaud's final pit stop
I more or less followed my normal "10 laps and move strategy" as the race went on since I was the only photographer representing French media company MPS Agency in order to get some variety in my photos. For the day as a whole I shot roughly 2600 images and walked over 15,500 steps by the time I got back to my car at 7:30 that evening. After starting on the roof, I went trackside at the end of the front stretch, then around to the outside of Turn 1 and then on a yellow, went inside Turn 1 for awhile as I had a feeling there might be a crash there. When that didn't materialize, I went to the inside of Turn 2 past the halfway point and then to the pits around lap 125. At the time I was debating whether to go on the top of the stands behind the pits or go directly to pit lane. I decided to go straight into the pits and am glad I did, as not long after I got there. I could see teams on the south end of pit lane were laid out and pole winner Ed Carpenter soon came in for service. I love shooting pit stops in Indycar and capturing the air guns as they get tossed aside and the smoking tires as drivers peel out to get back in the race. I continued to work pit lane or on the top of the stands behind the pits until about lap 180 when I decided to look for an angle to shoot Victory Lane since I did not have a reserved spot this year.

Will Power had calmed down by the time of the winner's photo shoot Monday morning
I went into the media center to grab a bottle of water and see if I could get a vantage point from one of the balconies but there were already too many people gathered around so I went back to ground level adjacent to the photographer's stand and just waited for the finish. It was cool to watch the late race fuel gamblers drop by the wayside and I was especially happy that Stefan Wilson led some laps but he couldn't stretch his fuel far enough, nor could Jack Harvey or Oriol Servia, Will Power was there to claim victory when those guys all had to pit for a splash of fuel in the last 10 laps. I wasn't finding a decent angle to shoot the winner's celebration so I decided to take a gamble on positioning myself next to the photographer's stand. That decision paid off as I got some great celebratory shots of Will when he first got out of the car. After his lap around the track, and the kissing of the bricks ceremonies, I went back by Victory Lane and got invited in to photograph the remaining hat dance and trophy celebrations, so I got photos I hadn't even planned on when the race started. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but on this race day I felt I was both. I trusted the universe Sunday and I am grateful that everything woked out so I could do a good job representing MPS Agency.

My view from the roof
With the Month of May now in the history books, I finish out our school year in a couple of weeks and then get to take a week's vacation so it will be nice to relax and unwind. I gear back up in July to work more races for the ARCA Racing Series and work on 2019 which I hope will include Sebring, Indianapolis and Le Mans for MPS Agency. I turned 61 the last day of May and I am not ready to slow down by any stretch of the imagination, so I'm excited about what the future may hold. In the meantime, enjoy a few of my photos from the 500 or go to the MPS Agency website to see all of the photo galleries I contributed this month by clicking here. Come on out to a race sometime and say hello. I'll take your picture!

I was surprised that Josef Newgarden (1) wasn't more of a factor
Will Power (12) had the car to beat all day
Alexander Rossi seemed to be able to pass at will during the race
Passing this year occurred mainly on the straightaways and made for great photos

No comments: