The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is one event I always look forward to on my annual calendar. It’s an event like none other on the globe. The 14,110 ft mountain is my canvas to do as I wish. It is refreshing. Fun. Exhausting. Frustrating. Dangerous. Nearly every emotion that could be thrown at a person in one week is something you are guaranteed to feel on this mountain.
My first year, 2012, I was in sheer awe of the mountain and the event itself, and it was even more special working with Ducati. My second year, 2013, I was overwhelmed with a sense of being part of history as Sebastian Loeb rocketed past me in his special built Peugeot 908 on course to obliterate the standing record. But this year, the mountain had a different feel. And not in a better way.
I was back working with Ducati. I love the team. I love the company. I love the brand. I don’t get to shoot motorcycle racing much, but when I do, it find it to be an exciting and exhilarating challenge. But this year, the mountain had changed. The race was soulless. It had no energy. It had no atmosphere.
What I do not want to do is make this a smear post. Or rain on the parade of a 92-year-old race. But change is needed. Some of you may have read my series of tweets from Sunday afternoon. I stand by what I said. Nothing was said in anger. Only frustration for the event that I very deeply care about. So what has changed?
With Michael Dunlop’s second successive year taking the lion’s share of silverware at the TT, a changing of the guard appears to be taking place as a new generation of riders lay claim to the podium places on the famous Mountain Course.
Debut victories by James Hillier and Dean Harrison, in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and John McGuinness’ pair of solitary trips to the top step of the podium in the same years appear to confirm this.
Before any cries of ageism are thrown in my direction, the age of a rider bears no relation to whether they belong in the old or new guard. Experience around the course is what separates the old from the new.
With over 200 apexes to learn and countless lumps, bumps and cambers to memorise, it’s believed by many who have raced it, that the Mountain course takes years to truly learn, even with the advent of HD-quality on-board videos to study.
Now the dust has begun to settle on this year’s Tourist Trophy, the obvious headlines are taking up most of the page space in the motorcycle press. Michael Dunlop’s quadruple wins, John McGuinness’ hand injury issues, Dave Molyneux’s 17th victory, and any potential speculation and hearsay that they believe print-worthy dominates the news.
After an interrupted week of practice, due to weather and on-course incidents, Michael Dunlop laid his intentions down for all to see by breaking McGuinness’ long-standing lap record on the first two laps of the race at 131.730mph and 131.810mph.
Riding the Superbike-spec BMW S1000RR that was deemed to be the unknown element in Dunlop’s fortnight-long campaign at the TT, Michael broke his rivals and silenced the doubters before he had even completed his first pit stop. These laps bettered the lap record that had stood since John McGuinness set the marker of 131.671 mph during the 2013 Senior race.
While much of the focus was on Michael’s cruise to victory over Guy Martin and Connor Cummins, Bruce Anstey was wrestling his way to the fastest-ever lap of the Mountain Course by bettering Dunlop’s freshly-set lap record by over three seconds.
Motorcycle racing is a dangerous endeavor, something we have been reminded of heavily in the past few weeks. Losing Simon Andrews in the North West 200, as well as Bob Price and Karl Harris at the 2014 Isle of Man TT, the usual debates have once again surfaced, namely that motorcycle road racing should be abolished because of the toll of dangers, injuries, and fatalities it demands.
Despite death’s inevitability, the Isle of Man TT is a spectacular event, just ask anyone who has sat on a Manx hedgerow and watched these two-wheeled gladiators race past. The speeds on city streets are astounding, the atmosphere in the paddock is warm and friendly, and the Isle of Man itself is a picturesque locale that could come from some child’s storybook.
Modern media does a great job of translating the first-hand experience of the Isle of Man TT into an approachable hour-long TV format, but it still falls short of the genuine article.
Through a television set, you can’t breathe the fumes of unbridled horsepower from the racing machines, you can’t see past the riders’ determination through their helmet visors, and you don’t witness the hours of determined work, sweat, and sacrifce that occur in the paddock to get a racer to the starting line.
I would challenge any person, motorcycle enthusiast or not, to lay witness to a TT fortnight, and still walk away unimpressed with the spectacle that they have laid witness to — there is simply nothing else like it on Earth. It’s almost spiritual.
But why is it though? Scratch the surface a little deeper on the idea why the TT is so special, and you arrive at the notion that the Manx road race holds our wonderment in captivity because of how far outside the standard deviation of safety it operates — even under the skewed perspective of risk management that occurs in motorsport — and that forces us to take some major stock in our own mortality.
The first lap of the French GP worked out very well for MotoGP fans. First, Andrea Dovizioso accelerated past Marc Marquez, putting the pole sitter and race favorite into second position. Moments later Stefan Bradl passed Marquez on the outside, Marquez into third.
As the pack entered the Dunlop Chicane, Pol Espargaro passed Marquez, putting 93 into 4th. Valentino Rossi passed Marquez at La Chapelle, 93 now in 5th. Jorge Lorenzo pushed past at Garage Vert, and Marquez went off track to rejoin in 10th place.
Not a good start for the Championship leader, but a wonderful half first lap for fans. Instead of Marquez riding off into the distance, yawn, he had to work his way up from tenth place.
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?
When I give a talk about my work, one of the things I most often hear is how much people enjoy the behind the scenes details of what it’s like to work as a photographer in MotoGP.
Trying something a bit different for this week’s Trackside Tuesday, I’m going to tell you some of the things that happened while I was photographing last weekend’s MotoGP in Austin, Texas. First, some background facts to set the stage.
Chatting with a couple of NASCAR fans recently, I was reminded that any competition is boring if you don’t care who wins. But if you do care, then even cars driving around in circles can be very compelling entertainment.
Those NASCAR fans really cared about how their favorite drivers finished, and not only how they finished in the latest race, but what and how those drivers were doing off the track as well.
Those fans had been captured by the personalities of those drivers. One of the things NASCAR does well is sell personalities. All major sports-related businesses do this to some extent, but some organizations do it better than others.
The NASCAR fans loved their drivers and loathed the others, so each race becomes a contest of great emotional importance. Will Good triumph over Evil? Will Justice prevail? This drama is acted out lap after lap, and then continued post-race with interviews, public appearances, blogs, and so on.
Whatever your opinion about Sunday’s Australian GP (a farce of mismanagement and tire failure; the most exciting race for years, or; something in between), I’m guessing you were thinking at its conclusion something like “Never seen anything like that before!”
For my own part, I have never photographed anything like that race before, simply because there has never been a MotoGP race with a mandatory, scheduled pit stop before.
When the news first broke in the Media Center that the race would be divided into two sections by a mandatory pit stop, I started imaging in the fantastic images this would make possible.
But as I considered where I would set up in pit lane to photograph the mayhem of riders coming in to swap bikes, an announcement made its way through the media center that all but the official Dorna photographers would be banned from pit lane during the race.
In the world of motorcycle racing the Isle of Man TT is indeed infamous, and as a photographer I have been lucky enough to shoot on the Isle in the Irish Sea. When my letter of credential for the Le Mans 24 Hour Moto arrived, I was beyond ecstatic — my charge would be to cover those same TT riders as they participated in the FIM World Endurance Championship finale at Le Mans.
An overnight flight from my home in Atlanta, and a train ride from Paris to Le Mans, and I was on-site 48 hours later. There are times when arriving at a circuit that I have never shot can be daunting, but one walk thru the door to the Honda TT Legends pits and I felt at home. As much due to the familiar faces, as to the more relaxed atmosphere of the team here at Le Mans versus the intensity at the Isle of Man.