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.