When I photograph a race, I get only portions of the story: the beginning, snippets of the middle, and the end. It’s something like reading a novel by skimming every third or fourth chapter until arriving at the last page and having someone summarize it. (I get the end if, that is, I can see the results on the tower as in Qatar. At some tracks I don’t know for sure who won until I get back to the media center.)
Each January we say “This season is going to be great!” and for 2013 there seems to be more reason to believe that than ever, which is how the weekend’s story began. When we arrived at Losail, there was more anticipation in the paddock for a great season of racing ahead than I can remember.
Even with Casey Stoner gone, pre-season testing had raised expectations for Marc Marquez even higher than they had been at the end of 2012. We knew Pedrosa would be fast and win races. And we knew Lorenzo would be the man to beat.
What we didn’t know was how competitve Valentino Rossi would be after his two years at Ducati. There seemed to be a visceral need in the paddock for him to return to form, to be Valentino again. After ups and downs in the practice and qualifying sessions, he would start from seventh place on the grid, with Lorenzo on pole and likely to run away into the night.
Would we see a return of the Rossi flair that has inspired millions of fans around the world? Or would the fairy tale turn out to be a tragedy?
One thing was for sure as we stood on the grid after a very long winter break, waiting to find out the answer to this question: The crowd, even though largely Spanish and there to support top riders in all three classes, was even more ready to see Rossi go fast again than those in the paddock.
The track announcer introduced the various riders, and when he came to Rossi, the sudden rise in enthusiasm hit like a wall of sound. Official attendance for Sunday was a paltry 9,704 fans, but it sounded like all of them were on their feet cheering as Rossi turned and waved.
If you watched the race on TV, you got to read each of the story’s chapters in order, saw the narrative unfold lap by lap, turn by turn. But when I could stay on the grid no longer, I hustled out to the media shuttle area and climbed into a luxurious BMW 5-something-or-other.
Elegant and utterly unsuited to its task of conveying forphotographers laden with so much heavy gear (climbing into the sultry leather seats was eclipsed in difficulty only by climbing back out again), we sped at a leisurely 20 mph toward the spot I had chosen for my Lap 1 photo. (The drivers of the media shuttles are strictly required to observe a speed limit regardless of how rudely their passengers urge them to hurry the $%#^ up.)
In position, I concentrated on holding the camera steady and getting the image, rather than on what type of start each rider had accomplished. As the pack moved left to right, I swung the camera around and caught them riding away.
From then on I got my usual snippets of the story as the bikes passed me on each lap. I didn’t see anyone run on because of aggressive braking. I saw the cloud of dust from Bradl’s crash but was too far away to get a usable shot of the aftermath. It’s just luck if something like that happens in front of you or on the other side of the circuit.
I tried to tell the story as well as I could based on what I saw each lap. I did register that Rossi was near the front, then suddenly he had fallen back. With Lorenzo alone at the front, a sub-plot became the real story, as the race for 2nd, 3rd and 4th between the Repsol Hondas and Cal Crutchlow unfolded, and soon another sub-plot of factory Ducati’s chasing Bautista emerged.
Rossi seemed to have settled into a no-man’s land, a lonely ride of no magic whatsoever.
I wasn’t aware of his fast laps as he chased down the 2-3-4 battle. Suddenly we was just right behind them, so I photographed that new development. And then just as suddenly, he was in second place!
I was standing beside one of the Milagro photographers, an otherwise taciturn Italian fellow, and when Rossi came around ahead of the Hondas and a distant Crutchlow, we both shook our heads in amazement. He did it again!! He’s really back!!
The effort I make to return to pit lane for the podium depends on who will be there. Rossi back on the podium in a proper, dry race was a story, for sure. But I also felt he’d do a massive wheelie in the section of track between Turns 6 and 7. I knew the podium would be well covered by others, so I decided to stay and get whatever celebration he displayed.
I had no idea he’d run out of fuel until he came around on Iannone’s Pramac Ducati, doing a new form of the leg dangle to avoid burning his boot on the Ducati’s lower pipe. Not what I had in mind, but certainly a once-in-a-career image of something not likely to happen ever again. But I was hardly the only photographer there hoping for a big wheelie shot, so, not exactly unique, either.
I made it back to the podium anyway, and wasn’t too surprised when the crowd seemed twice as loud when cheering his second place than when applauding Lorenzo’s win. It wasn’t until later, when I was able to see a replay of the race, that I saw each chapter of the story. It was a great way to begin 2013, and certainly not only for Rossi’s return to form, but perhaps chiefly because of it.
Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blog, Twitter, & Facebook.
All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.
Photos: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved