Tag Archives: race

How Low Do You Go In The Bends

It is quite amazing to me the cornering that motorbike racers achieve.  When I am out on my bicycle, I am always wondering how well the grip will hold up in tight bends at speed but I am not anything close to the cornering angles these guys achieve.  Sure, they have a prepared surface and custom rubber for the tires but even so, it is amazing how they push them to the limits (and occasionally beyond).

Watching them come through the corners, it was a regular thing to see the knee pads down on the surface of the track.  Some of them adopted a far more aggressive approach, though, and the occasional elbow could be seen getting down to the surface.  I wonder how that feels through the leathers and whether it is a good feeling or an unsettling one.

To see these guys coming in to the bends and then heading away from you with the bike and body cranked so far over and the throttle being modulated to keep just enough power on to maximize the speed out of the bend was so impressive.  Riding motorbikes has never been something I have been terribly interested in but watching someone that knows what they are doing extract so much from them was very cool.

Panning Practice When Things Are Close

Photographing motorbikes means trying to get the shutter speed nice and low to make the background blur out and give the strong impression of speed.  When you are a distance from the track, you might have to go quite low in the shutter speeds to get the effect you want.  There is an alternative.  Get really close to the track.  Even with quite a high shutter speed, there is plenty of blur.  Indeed, the chances of getting a sharp shot get quite low unless you take the speed up a bit (or shoot a lot and go with the probabilities saving you).

I went to the Turn 5 location at Shelton a couple of times while I was there.  The marshal station is right in the apex of the bend and it is slightly above track level.  Standing beside it gives you a view down on the riders as they come by.  I tried it out once in the morning.  It was good to get some practice but the light was behind the riders so it wasn’t ideal.

I went back again later in the day when the light was slightly more favorable.  I shot with both a long lens as they were approaching and with a wider lens as they passed right beneath me.  The speed with which they corner means that the panning becomes more of a whip motion and it is hard to pull off reliably.  Plenty of efforts were made to try and get a good shot of the rider while conveying the sense of speed.

A Sequence of Pain and Damage

Motorsports are dramatic enough when things are going normally but there is also the scope for more drama if things end up going awry.  I saw a few of the riders end up on their sides as they came in to a sharp left hander with too much speed but these were normally relatively benign affairs with some bruises and scratched up panels on the bikes.  However, early in the day, I had one more dramatic event.

I was up near Turn 5 when I heard something going wrong.  I had the camera up already and the bike and rider came into the viewfinder without me really controlling things.  I did then manage to track them as they headed off into the grass separately and at some speed.  The bike cartwheeled around while the rider slid and rolled.  He did not spring back to his feet and it took a while for the marshals to get to him and to help him up.

He walked gingerly to the marshal station to await someone coming to pick him up later.  While he seemed basically intact, he certainly didn’t seem well after the incident.  I didn’t hear about his condition so I hope he was okay after a bit of time to recover.

Superbike Racing At Ridge

An old friend of mine from Chicago runs a website that covers a lot of motor racing.  He asked me whether I would be interested in shooting any events that are out this way and I was happy to do so.  The first good opportunity came up when MotoAmerica held motorbike racing at Shelton.  I had never been to Shelton before.  It is the other side of Olympia from us so not a long drive but not that close.  Until this event came up, I had no idea that there was a motor racing circuit there.

Called Ridge Motorsports Park, it is a nice circuit which doubles back on itself quite a bit and makes use of some significant terrain changes.  At the end of one straight is a sharp left handed which immediately drops off the side of the hill and transitions in to a right handed and then a left 180 that brings you back to the start finish straight.  It reminded me of the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.

Unfortunately, the race weekend was the same weekend that the Pacific Northwest experienced heat unlike anything it normally sees.  The temperature at Shelton was 105F.  Since I was spending the majority of the day outside walking around the track carrying my cameras with me, this meant I was drinking a ton of liquid.  Fortunately, I could get restocked at the media center and the marshal stations also had coolers with plenty of drinks available so, while it was hot a tough, I wasn’t running out of drinks.

I have shot car racing in the past but this was my first time with bikes.  They were interesting to shoot and I shall probably have some other posts about specific things I shot.  One thing I found out as I went through the shots, though, was that only a few types of shot work.  When shooting at the chicane, I would shoot them as they entered, transitioned and left.  The transition shots looked interesting in the viewfinder but were nothing on screen.  The sequence would be good video but, without the context of the motion, a waste of a shot.

Some other angles had a similar level of boring about them.  You need to convert the motion and the intensity of the action.  Seeing how far over the riders are lying during the corners is something else as well.  It is hard to believe that they can maintain traction when so far over.  Longer shots were appealing to get a different perspective, particularly when riders end up pulling the front wheel up as they power out of corners.  However, hot asphalt is not your friend over longer distances so, if you want a sharp shot, you have to be close.  That did have the upside of meaning there was no point lugging the 500mm around with me in that heat!

It was a bunch of fun to shoot and I would happily do it again.  Dropping down to really low shutter speeds was a must for most of the shots.  I used a polarizer all the time in order to avoid the aperture being super small (showing all my sensor dust) and to also address the harsher reflections that shooting in the middle of the day brings.  I think a return to the Ridge is also worth a go.

Will Anyone Help Me? (Drifting Out to Sea)

This hydroplane was due to compete at Oak Harbor.  They pulled off the jetty and headed towards the track but, for some reason, they broke down.  They were left drifting just outside the jetty for a while.  The driver climbed out of the cockpit and was left to wait for a tow to come along.  It took a while for a boat to come to their aid.  They weren’t drifting fast but they were slowly heading away from the shore and towards the course.  They were taken care of long before they got anywhere risky, though.

Hydroplane Pits

The hydroplane races at Oak Harbor had a variety of classes of contenders.  Many of the boats appeared on course from a marina across the harbor but the most exotic of the boats were operated from alongside the spectator area.  A pit area was set up on the shore.  Here the crews were busy preparing the boats to race – occasionally carrying out engine runs.  There was no slip so the way boats were put in the water involved a crane lifting them up and depositing them alongside a jetty close by.  The initial lifts seemed to be a bit slow and inaccurate but a little practice and they were soon moving them across and back after the races with ease.

Hydros for Heroes at Oak Harbor

It’s been a long time since I watched any hydroplane racing.  The Kankakee event in Illinois was a fun one to attend, not least because the constraints of the river meant it was possible to get really close to the action.  Racing is quite popular in the Pacific Northwest and one event was scheduled for Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island.  I decided to head along and see what it was like.

I was quite surprised how easy it was to attend.  I found parking conveniently close and got a waterfront spot to set up with ease.  Plenty of people came and went during the time I was there but it never felt terribly busy.  The racing took place in the harbor and it was a bit distant for all of the spectators.  The good spot to watch from would have been across the harbor but that was within the naval facility so out of bounds for the rest of us.

The course provided for some good angles on the boats as they made the first turn.  The second turn was rather distant.  The PA system was well away from me and the program seemed to be only vaguely related to what was happening so most of the time I was oblivious to the classes that were racing at any one time.  The more powerful boats were staging from the pits near the crowd but many of the smaller boats would appear on course from the marina across the harbor.  I would just watch them going around and try and figure things out from the flags on the course boats.

It was a sunny day so sitting next to the water and watching the occasional race was pleasant.  Not knowing what was going on was a bit harder and the random feeling of when a race would occur left me a bit confused but I got to watch racing and get some photos so hardly a bad was to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Fastnet Race Start in the 90s

We recently had the 40th anniversary of the Fastnet race that ended up with a significant loss of life and boats.  Weather forecasting technology and the methods of communicating were very different forty years ago and some of the boats were ill-suited to open water racing of that nature.  Growing up in Cowes, the Fastnet race was always a big deal.  It was every other year as part of the Admiral’s Cup.  Some of my school friends got to crew on it.  I watched the start of one of the races when we still lived in the UK and I scanned in some of the shots I got that day.  The start was always frantic.  Boats are jockeying for position, often very close to shore.  Lots of shouting goes on.  With a good wind, big sailing boats look so cool to me.

Return of the Racers

The races at the rowing meet I covered in this post tend to overlap from what we saw.  The length of the course and the time to complete it is such that the next race was started before the last was finished.  Consequently, there is not a way for the crews to return up the cut as the next boats are heading towards them.  Apparently, they all wait in the next bay.  Then, when it is clear, they all row back up together.  The cut was full of crews rowing back to take their boats out of the water.  It made for an impressive sight!

Racing on Montlake Cut

It was purely by coincidence that we happened to be at UW when a rowing meet was taking place.  We had read much about UW rowing in The Boys in the Boat (well worth a read if you have the opportunity) and were planning on walking down to the Cut to see the Shell House but there were plenty of boats and crews in the parking lot when we came through.  We actually got there almost at the end of the meet.  I guess they row early to get the calmest conditions?

A few final races came through as we walked along the cut.  The crews were working hard but still had some way to go when they came past us.  By that distance, the strongest crews were showing themselves clearly.  We watched them disappear up the cut and towards the finish line.  As the last race past by, you could see the course boats start to disperse so we knew it was done.  What we didn’t know was that we would get a nice finale.  That will be another post.