Tag Archives: racing

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.

Herne Hill Good Friday Meet 2003

Not long before we left the UK, I finally got around to doing something I had meant to do many times and always forgot about until it was too late.  A visit to the Good Friday meet at the velodrome in Herne Hill.  Since it was south London, it was a pretty easy place to get to by train so no need to fight the traffic in to Town.  It was a big deal in those days – maybe it still is – and it attracted a great selection of riders.  Some pros showed up to race or to be seen.  David Millar was there being interviewed but didn’t race.  I was really pleased to see Stuart O’Grady, I rider I really enjoyed watching race.

The track scene had a selection of established stars and up and comers that I new about vaguely from reading Cycling Weekly.  Chris Newton was a big deal in those days although he never became a widely known cyclist.  However, there were two young guys competing that day that I knew were pretty good.  I didn’t know they would go on to better things.  One was a chubby young sprinter called Chris Hoy.  The other was a good pursuiter called Bradley Wiggins.  Olympic and Tour de France glory awaited them later in their careers.  I was very tempted by one of the t-shirts on sale that day.  It said “I’m not fat, I’m a sprinter!”.  If you’ve ever seen the physique of some of the fastest sprinters, you would find this funny.

Goodwood Festival of Speed

More from the archives today.  Only once have I made the trip to the Goodwood Festival of Speed.  For car enthusiasts, this is quite the event.  An enormous variety of motor vehicles are on display and the drive them up the hill across the estate past the main house – a place I am quite familiar with having spent a summer living in the stable block around the corner.  Oh how I wish they had done this when I was there!

My one trip would have probably been in 2003 shortly before leaving the UK.  I only got a few photos but there are some rather unusual cars in the shots I did take.  I thought that a few of you are in to cars and might be interested in what was there.  Maybe some of you were there too?  One day I will try and be back when it is on again and make another trip.

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.

Building an America’s Cup Challenger

Ineos is a name I hadn’t heard until recently.  They took over the Sky cycling team and that was the first time I became aware of them.  I guess that sporting achievements are something that their management are quite focused on because, while waiting to catch the ferry at Portsmouth, I got a look at the building in these photos.  It is their America’s Cup challenger facility.  The building looks pretty impressive and I hope that the boat that they come up with is similarly so.  It would be good to see the cup make its way to the UK after all this time.

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.