Sunday, November 13, 2011

Honda Indy Toronto 2011 Diary - part III

Part I, in which we arrive on Friday and attempt to shoot IndyCars in front of every available sponsor billboard, is here.

Part II, in which Saturday rolls around and I end up covering the NASCAR supporting event as well as lurking around pit lane, is here.

This is Part III - the main event, the IZOD IndyCar series race - and a bunch of other things.

Calm before the storm - Firestone Indy Lights, Toronto 2011
Even during a packed race day schedule, there's inevitably some waiting around.

The day started off as usual in the Media Centre, located upstairs in the Allstream Centre (née "Automotive Building") on the Exhibition Place grounds. The morning update and safety briefing was augmented by some words from the event's chief of security, Charles Burns, a genial gentleman who nevertheless falls squarely in the "do not make this man angry with you" category. Pre-race briefing over, we had our daily pow-wow with team lead John. Race day is what we're here for, and we needed to make sure we had all aspects covered. Two photographers with "race mode" pit lane access, a couple in the grandstands for crowd shots, careful discussion of who would shoot driver introductions, the grand marshal, the anthems, flyby and other pre-race events, and a scattering of the remaining team members at key points around the track. My assignment: turn 1, for the start, and all the re-starts after the inevitable accidents during the race. In 2011, IndyCar introduced "double wide" re-starts instead of single-file, line-astern ones - promising some fireworks as the cars gallop into turn 1 when the green flag flies.

But first - morning practice, and a couple of supporting races. I shot a bit of the Canadian Touring Car Championship from turn 5, and scuttled over to Winner's Circle for the post-race festivities. I see a lot of this series throughout the year, but seldom have the opportunity to shoot the podium.

Richard Boake, race winner, Canadian Touring Car race #8, Toronto
Always good to get the eventual race winner on-track.

Tom Kwok gets soaked - again.
Touring Car class winner Tom Kwok takes a pasting.

Next up was IndyCar practice, an opportunity to shoot some pit lane action, something I've never done. I took advantage of a handy TV camera hole, still empty this early in the day.

Graham Rahal, pit lane, Honda Indy Toronto 2011
Graham Rahal and the Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing team.

Next up was more serious business - Firestone Indy Lights, a fiercely competitive series full of up-and-coming drivers. I spent a good chunk of this race doing other things, but made sure I was at the finish line to practice again for the chequered flag shot. It worked, and I even managed the sprint back to the podium ceremony. That went fine, but the obvious photo-op would be to catch race winner Stefan Wilson with his big brother, IndyCar driver Justin. Did I get the shot? No, I did not.

Stefan Wilson - winner in Toronto 2011!
A happy, but very sweaty, Stefan Wilson. Shortly after this, he came after the photo corps with his champagne bottle.

And now - off to turn 1 for the main event. It turned out to be not a bad vantage point for pre-race fireworks, although the military fly-by was completely obscured by a large tree, which I was more or less directly under.

Obligatory pre-race fireworks photo.
The starting fireworks - fun, but never spectacular in broad daylight.

And then, after a couple of pace laps - the start!

2011 Honda Indy Toronto - THE START!
Lots of cars, and a full grandstand - this is what we're here for.

I waited out most of the race in turn 1, working my way around transiently to a couple of other photo holes towards turn 2. And I have to report that despite half a dozen crashes and re-starts, the drivers behaved themselves beautifully, with not so much as a minor fender-bender. The most excitement was when rookie James Jakes ran a little wide, and passed within touching distance on the wide line around the corner.

James Jakes, wide at 1, Toronto 2011
He's going slowly, and sensibly keeping out of Danica Patrick's way.

And so it went, until, with 45 minutes or so left, I skedaddled back to the finish line - just in time for a massive crash at, you guessed it, turn 1.

Not to worry though. Joined by my comrade Patrick, I was there for that all-important chequered flag photo - one chance, and one only, to nail the race winner at full speed, on the painted line, hand triumphantly in the air, with the chequers flying from the flag stand and a grandstand of cheering fans behind. At full speed, even a fast burst of continuous shots is going to miss - this is a single photo that needs to be squeezed off at just the perfect time, just as the car flickers into your peripheral vision. And we nailed it. Both of us.

Dario Franchitti - Winner, Honda Indy Toronto 2011!
That, my friends, checks all of the boxes.

All that was left was a murderously hot and breathless sprint to Winner's Circle - for the fourth time that weekend - through throngs of fans with the same idea. Into the crush of press, elbows up and peeking through heads, arms and assorted photographic paraphernalia. My photo of race winner Dario Franchitti hopping out of his car wasn't as good as last year's effort, but the podium was well covered since our whole team was there, so it didn't matter much. And by hanging around for a bit, I wound up with a couple of fun shots, including this one of 1-2 team-mates Franchitti and Scott Dixon, clinking champagne bottles after hosing down their crew (and a few innocent bystanders).

Winner's toast, Honda Indy Toronto 2011
Yes, Dario's looking right at me.

And that, as they say, was a wrap. With a day's worth of racing plus a whole lot of fan, vendor area and other "event" photos in the can, it was back to the Media Centre to sift through, pull out the A-list shots to hand in, say some goodbyes, and wearily wend my way home for the last time.

Next year? If I get the call, you'd better believe I'll be there.

(All of Sunday's photos are in this Flickr set.)