Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tech Day at Infineon Raceway

Today was an absolutely incredible day here at Infineon Raceway. The IZOD Indy Car Series organized a Technology Day for writers.


After arriving at the track and shooting photos of the Indy Lites practice, we met at the Media Center and were assigned to one of the team's pits for the morning IndyCar practice. This meant that we were sort of captive in the pits rather than being out around the track taking photos, but we got a first hand look at what goes on as the teams work to make final preparations to their cars before the afternoon qualifying session.


After the practice session, we had lunch in the Honda Hospitality tent, hosted by Erik Berkman, President of Honda Performance Development. I've got lots of notes from our lunch meeting, many of which will be included in my forthcoming article.


Then we were driven up the hill to the Versus TV Compound, where Robby Green, VP and General Manager took us through the many tractor trailers that house the various television production facilities, including one trailer containing cameramen operating the numerous remote controlled cameras scattered around the racetrack, and the main control room where the director and producers control the on-air broadcast.


Then we went back down to pit row where we were met by Bryan Herta, former IndyCar Series driver and owner of Bryan Herta Motorsports. We each received Motorola headsets so we could hear all of the race team communications and also ask questions.


Then we met with Jack Arute, the primary on-air commentator for Versus' coverage of IndyCar racing.


Next, we went to the pits of deFerran/Dragon Motorsports, where we met with Eric Zeto, the team's race engineer (who I also interviewed yesterday for my article) and Raphael Matos, driver of the #2 HP deFerran Dragon entry. They explained how the team collects and analyzes telemetry throughout the race.


We then had a bit of a break, so I went back trackside to take photos of the Historic Grand Prix cars during their final practice session.


To round out the day, we were driven up to the IZOD IndyCar Series Paddock Club, where we met with Gil deFerran, 2003 Indy 500 winner and owner of deFerran/Dragon Motorsports, and Tony Cotman, the project manager of the 2012 IndyCar. We also met with Matt Ellis, the manager of Infineon Raceway.


It was an incredible day.

I've also got a bunch of videos that I shot throughout the day that I'll be uploading later once I can edit them down. So check back again later next week.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Racing in Sonoma

Friday was the first day of practice here at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. I climbed up the hill to watch the action in turns 2 and 3. Shooting late in the afternoon, this proved to be a dramatic location, with some excellent photo opportunities of cars as they crested the hill.
Here's Marco Andretti, driving the number 26 car for Andretti Autosport. Marco already has a career win here at Infineon.
Will Power, driving the number 12 Verizon Team Penske car had some demons to vanquish. Coming over this hill during the race last year, he collided at full speed with the stationary car of Nelson Philippe, who had just spun. He broke two vertebrae in his back and missed the rest of the season. Power now leads the points total for the 2010 Indy Racing League season.
Power had no problems negotiating the turn during practice, and would go on to clinch yet another pole position during Saturday's qualifying session.
I'm here this weekend to work on an article on how de Farran Dragon Racing uses technology from its primary sponsor, HP, in the preparation and operation of its car, driven by IRL rookie driver Raphael Matos. I attended the Indy 500 this year as a guest of HP and will use the opportunity afforded by this weekend at Infineon to complete the research for my article.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Most Fun I've Had With My Clothes On

I've got to admit right off the bat that today, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I finally got to do something that I've wanted to do for a long time. I got to ride in an Indy Car 2-seater race car.

I watched other people doing this at several tracks, most recently when I was in Indianapolis for this year's Indy 500. At that time, I was ready to pay to ride, but then learned that all of the opportunities were already sold out for the entire weekend. Well, today, I finally got my chance.

Here I am all suited up and waiting for my turn.

I'm at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California to photograph the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, the last road course race of the 2010 Indy Racing League season.

Thanks to my friends at HP, today I got to partake of the "Indy Racing Experience." What's more, my driver today was Davey Hamilton, one of the drivers with Dragon Racing, the team sponsored by HP. I'm currently working on an article about the team.

The 2-seater is a larger version of an actual Indy car. It's got the same engine that they ran last year. The only difference is that it's longer, with a second seat behind the driver.

After arriving at Infineon Raceway at 9am, I signed several pages of release forms and then went into a changing room to don my firesuit and boots. Then, I waited until it was my turn to put on a balaclava, helmet, and gloves and climb aboard behind Davey. After the crew strapped me in and surrounded my head with a Hans device, they started the engine and we took off.

What a kick. Going from zero to more than 100mph in a few seconds and then braking through the corners and up the hill at Infineon (still Sears Point as far as I'm concerned) was an incredible rush.

If there was any downside, it was that the two laps were over way too quickly. I talked with Davey afterwards and told him next time I want to drive.

I shot some video while at the track and also got some onboard video shot from a car-mounted camera. I've edited the footage together and posted it on YouTube. Here it is. Enjoy.

All I can say is, if you've ever thought of doing a 2-seater ride, go for it. And thank you HP for making my ride happen.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Did You Know That I Am "Renowned"?

For the past several months, I've been working on a productivity study comparing AutoCAD 2008 to AutoCAD 2011. The basic idea behind this study was to attempt to quantify the potential time saved - or productivity improvement - that a typical user could reasonably expect to achieve by upgrading from their current version of AutoCAD to the latest release.

In order to quantify this improvement, I devised a series of tests involving timing the repeated re-creation of a selection of drawings using both AutoCAD 2008 and AutoCAD 2011. The drawings I used were representative of those that would be produced by typical AutoCAD users.

By upgrading from AutoCAD 2008 to AutoCAD 2011, I reduced the time required to create these drawings by 31 percent, reducing the overall time from 13.5 hours to 9.25 hours. When I then switched from AutoCAD 2011 on an older workstation running Windows XP to a newer workstation running Windows 7, the time required was reduced further. On the more modern system, it took just 7.5 hours to create the same eight AutoCAD drawings, an overall reduction in time of 44 percent from AutoCAD 2008.

I thought that was pretty dramatic. So did Autodesk. And so did the folks at HP and NVIDIA, co-sponsors of the study.

The complete productivity study is now available on the Autodesk website.

I'll also be participating in a webcast next Tuesday, August 17, from 10:00-11:00am Pacific time. I hope you'll join us for the webcast, hosted by Heidi Hewett.

Monday, July 26, 2010

One of My Photos Wins Photo Contest

I was just notified that one of my photos from the Vancouver Winter Olympics has won first prize in the 5th Annual Quicksilver Photo Contest.

My photo of the USA 3 bobsled driven by Mike Kohn flying past spectators at the Whistler Sliding Center during the final heat of the 4-man bobsleigh competition at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics was taken on February 27, 2010 using a Canon 10D and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens at 1/500 second, f/8, 70mm, and ISO-1600. The winning image is cropped just slightly from the original.

This photo, along with winners in other categories, will be on display at Quicksilver Photo Lab beginning on Friday, July 30, 2010.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The 94th Indy 500

With all of my travel this past week, it's taken me a few days to sort through all of my photos and post this report on the actual race. What an incredible experience.

There's something magical about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indy 500 is truly the greatest spectacle in motor racing, and everything about this track, including the new Pagoda at the start/finish line, is iconic.

On Sunday morning, before the race, I got to hang out in the de Ferran Dragon Racing garage and spend some time talking with drivers Rafael Matos and Davey Hamilton and the rest of the team. What an incredibly gracious group of people.

I watched the start of the race and the first round of pit stops from the Dragon Racing pits and then moved over into turn 1 to shoot some of the early race action. With a 500-mile race there would be plenty of time to move around to the different vantage points afforded by my press credentials.

I think a lot of people were rooting for Tony Kanaan, who started in 33rd position, the very last car on the starting grid, but quickly moved up through the field, eventually getting as high as second place before he had to stop for fuel just 4 laps from the end, finishing in 11th place. What a performance.

Dario Franchitti quickly put his Target Chip Ganassi car into the lead and led the race for more than 150 laps.

They say that you can't win the Indy 500 on the first lap, but you can lose it on the first lap. That was certainly true of Dragon Racing today. Davey Hamilton was forced into the wall leaving turn 2 on the very first lap to avoid a collision with Tomas Scheckter and was out of the race almost before it began. Pit stops also proved to be problematic for many cars, including the usually unshakable Penske team. Here pole sitter Helio Castroneves and second-row qualifier Ryan Briscoe leave the pits during an early pit stop.

Roger Penske seemingly couldn't believe some of the problems his team experienced in the pits, but theirs wouldn't be the only problems.

Standing behind the barrier in the short shoot between turns 1 and 2, I was very excited to watch as de Ferran Dragon Racing driver Rafael Matos moved up through the field from his 12th starting position to 3rd overall.

Dan Weldon in the number 4 National Guard car entered by Panther Racing was also doing very well, moving up from his 18th starting spot on the outside of row 6.

Pole sitter Helio Castroneves stayed up in the mix throughout the early action, a favorite to win his fourth Indy 500. He seemed quite happy to stay back a few positions and just run with the leaders.

Things seemed to be playing out smoothly, and then came a series of mishaps. Rafael Matos pitted on lap 67. Both he and Scott Dixon had problems during their stops, with both cars losing wheels. For Matos, the long stop dropped him way back in the field. He returned to the pits three laps later for a wing adjustment. Once back on the track, he pushed a bit too hard. On lap 73, Matos spun coming through turn 1, slamming the rear end into the Safer Barrier amid a shower of sparks. His car came to a stop in turn two, his day over.

With both of the de Ferran Dragon Racing cars out of the race, I was ready to move to a new photo location. I shot for a while in the now empty Dragon Racing pits, but decided to move higher to watch the final stages of the race. On a tip from a fellow photographer, I made my way up onto the roof of the grand stand just about the start/finish line. From there I could see most of the track and had a great view of all the action on the main straight.

My roof-top vantage point proved to be an excellent position, as I was able to watch the drama continue to unfold on pit lane. While the leaders battled, Danica Patrick continued to move up through the field. She would eventually finish 5th.

But things would continue to be nuts in the pits, with several more cars touching wheels late in the race.

At other tracks I've been able to actually shoot pits stops from the pit wall at ground level. With cars flying by at more than 230mph on the front straight at Indy, however, I was quite happy shooting down from my higher vantage point.

Here Ryan Hunter-Raey's number 37 Izod car gets serviced during the final round of pit stops on lap 163. He would eventually finish in 18th position.

Being directly above the start/finish line had other advantages, as I had a perfect view as Dario Franchitti and Dan Weldon took the checkered flag at the end of the race.

And once race winner Dario Franchitti brought his number 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car to a stop in pit lane, I had a birds-eye view as his team rushed to congratulate him.

Here's Dario as he celebrates his victory, with his wife Ashley Judd looking on.

And yet another photo of Ashley Judd and Dario Franchitti in victory circle.

With temperatures reaching 98 degrees, making the 2010 Indy 500 the hottest on record, I was quite happy to sit in the air conditioned press center for the post-race press conference. Here, Chip Ganassi describes what it's like to win both the Dayton 500 and the Indy 500 in the same year. "I didn't drive the car. I didn't put fuel in it. I didn't change any tires," said Ganassi. "I'm just a lucky guy to be in this business."

And then it was Dario Franchitti's turn to answer questions. When asked whether winning the Indy 500 twice finally put him in the same league as his heroes Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark, he replied that "I could could win the Indy 500 for the rest of my life, until I'm 70, and I still wouldn't be in the same league as Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart."

Dario's wife, actress Ashley Judd, looked on during the post-race press conference, at one time cracking up with laughter when, in response to a question, Dario said that having to now choose which of his two Indy wins was his favorite would be like having to choose which of his two dogs he liked best.

Ever wonder what a car looks like after hitting the wall at nearly 200mph. I wandered back to the de Ferran Dragon Racing garage after the race for a look at the remains of the number 2 car of Rafael Matos...pretty ugly. Now it remains to be seen whether the team can make repairs in time for next week's race at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Of course, it was tough selecting just these photos to share with you. If you'd like to see more, you'll find more race-day photos on my Flickr site.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Indy 500 Pre-Race

It's race day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's still hours before the race, but already things are happening.

Bands are playing and the Borg Warner Trophy has been rolled out onto the strip of bricks that comprise the start/finish line.

Also lined up on the grid are four former Indy 500 winning automobiles that will be part of the pre-race parade.

There are plenty of celebrities on hand. Jack Nicholson strolled down through the starting grid to get a close-up look at the 33 race cars. He'll be the honorary flagger for today's race.

David Letterman and Bobby Rahal, co-owners of Rahal Letterman racing are here. Bobby's son Graham is now driving for the team.

Mark Wahlberg is also here. He will get to ride in the Indy 2-seater, driven by Michael Andretti, ahead of the rest of the grid during the warmup laps.

While the cars were being moved to the grid, Mark Wahlberg and Mario Andretti went up to the front and chatted while sitting on the 2-seater.

Then the drivers were all introduced and took seats at the start/finish line for the rest of the pre-race festivities.

Florence Henderson sang "God Bless America."

Jewel sand the Star Spangled Banner.

Then four fighter jets flew down over the length of the main straight away.

Finally, Jim Nabors sang "Back Home Again in Indiana".

And then it was time for Jack Nicholson to wave the green flag to start the most famous auto race in the world.