Normally our “Trackside Tuesday” series features something from the MotoGP paddock, since that is where the A&R photographers spend most of their time swinging lenses. But, I thought we would change it up a bit today, especially since the marketing machine for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is well underway for next month’s race.
I have a love-hate relationship with Pikes Peak. The racing is unlike anything else you will see in America, and it survives by what seems like tradition alone. Set on one of Colorado’s famous 14er peaks, Pikes Peak is 14,115 feet of undulating road, which starts fast and sweeping, tightens to slow and technical, and then finally relents to some degree near the summit.
It is not a race for the timid, as many of the turns feature an extreme of terrain: granite walls or sheer drops. At one turn, called The Bottomless Pit, the joke is that if you crash there (and don’t break every bone in your body on the two foot tall wall at the tarmac’s end), you will starve to death before you reach terra firma. It’s a bit of hyperbole for sure, but it still isn’t a turn where I would want to go down, if I was a racer.
It amazes me then that the hill climb is in its 92nd season, as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is really just one good lawsuit away from being sacked; and to be frank, it’s not like the race has done much in the past to mitigate its exposure. So, it is refreshing to see some professionalism being brought to this iconic race, and 2014 will see some spectator guidelines being imposed on the PPIHC.
There will of course be a few misinformed people that will call this the death of Pikes Peak, but the honest truth is that the race, if left unchanged, would have been the death of itself — and it’s not like the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb isn’t still without its dangers.
That might be the reason that Guy Martin has finally decided to make the journey over from across the pond, and give the local teams and riders a run for their money. The Isle of Man TT star will be riding on a custom turbocharged cafe racer, which with the added boost of nitrous, is said to put down near 500hp.
The whole thing is a ridiculous entry, which has its sights squarely on the outright motorcycle record at Pikes Peak, much like Sebastien Loeb’s run last year was an assault on the four-wheeled record.
Sometimes one or two photographs can rescue what would otherwise be a wasted session. That was exactly the situation recently when shooting the Moto2 warm up in Qatar.
Unlike the rest of the weekend the Moto2 warm up started in daylight. After a bit of deliberation I left the Media Center with the intention of taking a shuttle to the inside of Turn 2 as the low evening sun would be behind me.
One of the benefits of having contacts in the MotoGP paddock is occasionally getting info that comes in handy. At the end of last season I happened to ask a friend about the July 2013 test at the new Argentina circuit.
I’d been thinking that this round looked interesting; and as I love to go to new tracks, I was thinking seriously about attending MotoGP’s first visit to the Autódromo Provincial Termas de Río Hondo.
The trip from California to Argentina sounded good in theory. It was a shorter journey than flying to Europe, right?
After three days at home following Qatar, it was time to pack the bags again and head west for the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas. As part of my planning for the year, I had discussed with my partner Clare which races we could incorporate into a holiday. Right away Austin jumped out, particularly when Clare realized its proximity to New Orleans, a city she had wanted to visit for years.
After a layover in Manchester, we flew to New Orleans via Amsterdam. Admittedly flying from the UK to the States via Amsterdam is not the most direct route, but it did save us money. Sadly the airline decided to punish our frugality by holding our luggage hostage in The Netherlands for 24 hours.
On the subject of luggage, one of my main issues traveling to Qatar was the weight of my camera gear. I carry my cameras, lenses, and laptop in a backpack that can be taken on as hand luggage. Fully loaded the bag weights 15 kilos, walking around airports with that on my back literally becomes a pain. I did not have time to buy a roller bag before Austin, but I will before I travel to Jerez.
After 10 busy days in New Orleans, the Mississippi River Road, the Atchafalaya Basin, and San Antonio we arrived in Austin. Having arrived in Austin at lunch time on the Wednesday I only had half a day free so we set off on a pilgrimage to visit the statue of blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan.
On Thursday I left Clare exploring Austin, picked up my hire car and with a little trepidation headed to the track. In recent years, I’ve built up plenty of experience of driving in the US, but this was my first time on my own, so I was slightly nervous. As it turned out I didn’t have any problems negotiating my way thanks to the GPS. How did people find their way before GPS?
The GPS however was no help in finding the Accreditation Center. I asked one of the car park attendants, who pointed in the vague direction of a ticket office. Assuming that couldn’t be it, I drove around the car park twice. I even found myself behind the main grandstand — not sure how I managed to get there. Eventually I spotted a small sign in front of the ticket office that read “Accreditation Center.” Here we go.
As a fifth-generation Californian, I am obliged to lament the decision to drop Laguna Seca, and to focus American MotoGP racing efforts on solely Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Circuit of the Americas. That being said, while the California track is a superb race course to ride, the facilities and general location are no where close to the level that is provided by Indy and COTA.
Nothing illustrates this better than the Grand Prix of the Americas that Austin, Texas just hosted. The track is simply a spectacle, and if a certain Marc Marquez wasn’t such a child prodigy, the MotoGP race would have been just as exciting at the ones seen in Moto2 and Moto3.
Standing 251 feet above Turns 16, 17, & 18, the COTA observation tower provides a bird’s eye view of just about every tun on the circuit, if you can stomach its subtle sway in the wind and clear-glass floor at the precipice. Officially called by COTA as the “Observation Tower” (note the “recommended for editors” capitalization), the tower really needs a better name for casual conversation.
We’ve heard COTA Cobra used a few times with some lovely alliteration, but the structure has always struck us as less snake-like, and more like a big dinosaur – we’re going to use the name “Petrolsaurus Rex” until I hear something better, or COTA sends me a cease and desist order.
Nomenclature aside, the view from the Petrolsaurus Rex platform highlights the great attention to detail that COTA went to for Formula 1 and MotoGP viewing. Drawing big red, white, and blue lines along the course, a quick straw poll from photographers sees COTA being one of the more photogenic race courses (something one could not say about Laguna Seca).
I climbed to the top of Petrolsaurus Rex (read: took the elevator) during the MotoGP Warm-Up session, and snapped a few photos in the process. Enjoy the hi-res photos after the jump. There’s a certain minimalist quality to having GP bikes next to long contrasting lines.