Thursday Paddock – Thank you to All

img_20160929_120133670The paddock is the fullest on Thursday.  Support races have not been run.  Teams have not yet encountered early issues or crashes that might send them home early.  Four different series ran during the Petit Le Mans weekend – the headline WeatherTech series, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series, the Porsche GT3 Cup USA and the Mazda Prototype Lites.  That’s a lot of cars, a lot of drivers, a lot of crew members, a lot of tires, a lot of fuel, a lot of officials, a lot of media, a lot of corner workers, and a lot of track and safety staff.  On this Thanksgiving Day, it is particularly appropriate to say thank you to all.

Camera Settings – 1/2000, f/2, ISO 100, 67mm.

A Day at the Track

076a2898It is always great to see a parent share with a child the things that they find magical.  The child will find their own way and particular things may or may not excite them or become a sustained interest, but having the opportunity to go to the track and share the sights, sounds, and smells is a gift to both parent and child.  This child seems to have found himself with a bird’s eye view as this trio heads down the hill towards the paddock.

There were many kids at the Petit LeMans and credit to the adults that brought them for the adventure.  Kudos to the crews and teams that readily invite the kids in for a closer look, install them in the driver’s seat, and make sure they get some photos to take home for a memory.  Those interactions may only last a few seconds or a minute, but that experience may be a highlight of the event and most adult motorsports fans can look back and recall similar interactions that were formative.  The best marketing for motorsports isn’t about fancy campaigns or social media metrics.

Camera Settings – 1/400 shutter speed, f/8, ISO 100, 105mm.

Viper Friday Morning Driver Change Practice

076a2937It certainly isn’t a novel insight to note that success on the track stands on the foundation constructed well before the race starts.  One of those key elements is the fluid changes of drivers on pit stops.  With three drivers in each car for the Petit LeMans, coordination is critical.  Team owner Ben Keating and driver Jeroen Bleekemolen were joined by Marc Miller for the event.  While Miller is a competent driver and has been in the Viper before, he is not a regular pilot.

Watching the driver change practice, Bleekemolen is clearly the leader.  Soft spoken but firm, he guides and directs the switches.  Even though each of the drivers has gotten in and out of a race car thousands of times, it is far easier to lose significant time in the pits than to gain it on the track.

This photo was taken at the end of the last practice before qualifying.  The three drivers have just finished practice and are doing a quick de-brief on the pit wall.  The practice must have paid off as the Viper took the GTD win in its last IMSA outing with Bleekemolen in particular driving an epic race.

Camera Settings – 1/320 shutter speed, f/13, ISO 100, 24mm.

P3 for LM P3 Class in 2017

img_9610

The 2016 IMSA Petit Le Mans was the last race for the Prototype Challenge formula.  The new P3 closed-top platform is coming for 2017.  While much remains to be seen in terms of which customers buy and run which cars, a Ligier JS P3 car with ESM Racing stickers in black bare carbon fiber was on display next to the team’s transporter.  No announcements have been made, but it was great to give fans a chance to see the future.  Further down the paddock, a red Ave-Riley P3 car also on display in front of the Viper transporter (Riley ran the Viper racing program).

While it is the class that gets the least amount of respect and attention, the Prototype Challenge formula was never intended to last this long.  2017 will bring a very different look for the prototypes in IMSA.  Even the class will be renamed from “Prototype Challenge” to “LM P3.”

Camera Settings – 1/80 shutter speed, f/5.6, ISO 100, 56mm.

Bleekemolen Takes the Win in final IMSA Race for Viper

076a4934At the final IMSA race for the Viper, Jeroen Bleekemolen drove an epic race together with co-drivers Ben Keating and Marc Miller.  Bleekemolen is one of the best professional sportscar drivers in the world and excels in whatever he drives.  He and his team knew well before the end that the Magnus Audi team would be running into regulatory trouble due to their failure to meet minimum drive time requirements for their amateur driver.  Regardless, the dice over the last few laps with Andy Lally was excellent.  Lally edged around Bleekemolen to cross the line first, but Bleekemolen knew that he didn’t have to risk too much to claim the win.

The checkered flag flew for the Viper after 385 laps, seeing the GTD win and 17th overall.  The checkered flag also fell on the Viper program in IMSA.  Major Kudos to Viper dealer Ben Keating for supporting the effort, paying the IMSA manufacturer fee to keep the car on the track, and driving at a competitive level.

While the Viper is done, the team will continue in 2017 with a brand new AMG GT3.

Camera Settings – 1/320 shutter speed, f/4, ISO 2500, 98mm.

Mazda Heartbreak

076a4823The Mazda prototype team had a troubled fuel injector that produced flames during the late stage pit stops.  Soldiering on and contesting third place, the team continued.  Only 10 minutes before the end of the race, a smoking Mazda appeared under the Turn 11 bridge and made the turn down the hill onto pit lane.  Driver Joel Miller steered next to a safety vehicle as the rear of the car burst into flames.  He jumped out and prevented the car from rolling while the safety team doused the fire.  Ironically, the conflagration was only yards from victory lane where throngs of fans, photographers, and officials were awaiting the winners. Before the blaze, reporter John Dagys had noticed the flames during the pit stops and correctly predicted in the media center that the Mazda’s time was likely growing short.

Full credit to Mazda and their PR representative Jade Gruss for being consistently transparent about the program and the problems encountered by the cars throughout the season.  It would be easy to be more elusive or more generic about the problems.  They are transparent in press releases, active on social media and available at the track.  Mazda has been the plucky little program that tries, and tries, but just hasn’t been able to break through to be a consistent threat for wins.

With full apologies to Mazda and Joel Miller who would prefer not to see their prototype in flames, the shot is unique because the event happened so close to the end of the race that most photographers were getting situated in victory lane and had no good angle on the shot.  I was fortunate to be setting up for a different shot – the checkered flag being waved over finishing cars – and was immediately across the track for a direct look at the flaming Mazda.  The 2016 Petit Le Mans also marks the end of the Mazda Lola program with new regulations leading Mazda to a different program for 2017 which they recently unveiled at the LA Auto Show.

Camera Settings – 1/400 shutter speed, f/4, ISO 2500, 280mm.

Night at Road Atlanta

076a4697About 50 minutes before the end of the Petit Le Mans and Road Atlanta is in full darkness.  The paddock and hospitality areas are fully lit and very active.  From this shot, pits for BMW and Mazda are visible with the Risi Ferrari crew laying out for their last pit stop of the event.  Rows of transporters line up behind pit lane – in some cases, crews have already begun to break down the tents and infrastructure of the paddock.  Atop the hill, hospitality for Audi clearly shows the famous four rings highlighted in red.  The Porsche tent is visible to the left with the Lego 919 still welcoming visitors.

Scenes like this add to the unique experience that is endurance sportscar racing at night.

Camera Settings –  1/100 shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 105mm.  Taken without a tripod or monopod.

Stephen Simpson waiting to go

076a4653The #85 JDC Miller Motorsport Entry made what looked like a routine pit stop with about an hour and a half to the checkered flag.  Driver Stephen Simpson went to leave, but a crew member waved his arms and the car was pulled back and the rear deck removed.  The problem didn’t delay the car for too long – Simpson and co-drivers Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller prevailed to claim a third place podium position in the Prototype Challenge class.

The particular shot catches Simpson’s eyes and the expression is clear – looking for information, hoping that the delay isn’t significant, and eager to get back to the action.

If you’re not familiar with Simpson, the South African was quietly one of the big stories in the 2016 Rolex 24.  He ran the most laps of any driver in the car by a large margin and was consistently faster – a key component in claiming the PC win.  Keep an eye on him for the future.

Note the Justice Brothers logo in the foreground.  The family and company has supported many forms of motorsport for decades.

Camera Settings – 1/100 shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 200mm.

Dirty BMW M6 Pit Stop

076a4599The #25 BMW M6 GTLM entry is a very, very dirty car.  Perfect.  With its giant hood nostrils, historic white, blue and red color scheme and accents of tire debris, bugs and evidence of contact, the BMW is the very picture of an endurance race car.  Sadly, the car would retire soon after this pit stop with a steering rack problem – illustrating the mechanical reliability challenge of the endurance race car.

Camera Settings – 1/250 shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 640, 102mm.

Magnus Audi on Pit Lane in the Darkness

076a4585The best racing of the day could be found in the GTD class.  The late race joust between Andy Lally in the Magnus Audi and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the Viper was epic stuff.  A rule violation for the Audi on minimum driver times meant that the Audi crossed the line first, but was moved to the back of the class in the official results.  The team made a mistake interpreting the rules and that story has been written.

The photo is interesting for another reason – the distinctive lighting scheme which makes the car easy to spot in the darkness.  The two rails of green light running from front to back along the sides of the roof are bright.   The yellow outline of the front grille and the green accent, however, with the angular headlights gives the car an aggressive posture.  This pit stop came with just less than 2 hours remaining in the race.

Camera Settings – 1/250 shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 640, 175mm.  Panning shots with low light can be a challenge.  The wide aperture and the higher ISO help to offset the diminished light.