It will be a busy summer for me this year as I’ve been retained as a photographer by PRN, a Canadian motorsports publication. Nearly all of my weekends will be monopolized by attending regional races and concours in addition to my commitment to cover the Women’s Rogers Cup Tennis Championship for a Canadian tennis website.
I just returned from a most satisfying weekend spent at the famed race track at Watkins Glen in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, only about five hours drive south of Toronto. I was there to cover the 50th running of the Six Hours of the Glen, a historically important race of the IMSA series. Throughout the 1980s, Mazda dominated the GTU category with their rotary engined Rx7 race cars which were legitimately derived from the road going models sold in their dealerships. I felt it appropriate to drive my old 1985 Rx7 to Watkins Glen and also as spiritual support for the today’s Team Mazda’s DPI Prototype race car. My car is loud, cramped, and without air conditioning is very hot on a typical summer’s day. It was 31°C. I could say I did it to put me in the proper frame of mind of what a race car driver would experience after six hours on a demanding track in a punishing hard core race car, but I would be lying. I do it just to prove to myself that I still can and that I’m not yet too old.
I took the E-M1X and the E-M1.2 as backup body. I used the Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and Zuiko 300mm f/4 PRO with and without the MC14 tele extender with the X and a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 with Metabones Speedbooster 0.71x Ultra (equivalent 60mm f/1.0) with the Mark 2 body. I used the X to shoot the moving cars and the Mark 2 to shoot people with all that wonderful background bokeh. I wore a small backpack to carry one of the lenses not mounted and had my hands free by mounting both bodies onto a Cotton Carrier worn like a vest. I needed my hands free so that I could ride the E-scooter I brought with me which allowed me fast and wide range of movement around the race track to give shots varied and fresh backgrounds lest they become derivative. I rode nearly 10 km on race day and could never cover that much ground on foot and I could shoot until the last minutes of the race and still make it back to the victory podium to capture the celebration. I saw many middle aged photographers with 3 FF bodies and telephoto lenses go out to only one spot on the track and basically stay there. With so much gear and no mode of transport and a fading physique there is diminished motivation to get that iconic image, and that’s what you see in magazines today.
I’ve been following Team Mazda’s struggles over the past four years in IMSA racing and felt that this year (in fact this particular race) everything was finally in perfect alignment for a Mazda 1-2 victory. The following are the edited images as they appear in PRN to showcase my motorsports photography and how well the Olympus m43 system works professionally. I’ve covered technique in another blog entry from last summer.
The Mazda mantra is “Never stop challenging” and this philosophy carried them to success after years of trying to win Le Mans. Now that the small company is securely in the black with the success of products like the Mazda 3, CX-5 and CX-9, Mazda has reported it intends to go upmarket by developing its own straight six Skyactiv-X engine which may be shared with Toyota for their second generation Lexus RC model. Continued IMSA success is also a stepping stone back to Le Mans where all the bespoke car brands compete in order to satisfy the bragging rights of their niche market of purchasers.
Photographically, I think the images with identifiable people in them have that really extra punch. Even if it’s just the partial view of the drivers helmet inside the speeding race car. As much as I am an avowed motorhead, I can easily admit that most race images are similar and boring. That’s why my favourite image is the early one of the yellow Turner BMW M6, it’s not in perfect focus so technically imperfect but the slight blurriness of the hood in contrast to the sharp relief amidships and back give the impression that it is leaping forward. And then the pièce de résistance is the clear sharp view of the driver’s visor further giving the impression that he’s staring at you like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.
I was reading an issue of Autoweek and spied an Acura advertisement on the back cover featuring the Acura/Penske #7 DPI car at speed. Very similar to the shot I took of Montoya in #6 late in the race when he finally seized the lead. Acura probably paid big bucks for a big professional to come in with his FF Nikon to take that shot but I would say that mine with the m43 system is arguably sharper and with the more relevant car since #6 has been winning much more than #7. You decide.
I alluded earlier to the crippling weight of equipment inhibiting the professional photographer from getting dynamic, unique images. This is clearly an advantage of the m43 system since I insist on being as mobile as possible when shooting something like an auto race where the event occurs over a sprawling, large area. I saw some young photographers rent electric golf carts to help them carrying all their heavy equipment to multiple points along the race track but some races like the Toronto Honda Indy or any of the Formula E races occur within metropolitan city centers on closed off city streets. These race tracks are hastily constructed with multiple layers of fencing, very restrictive to photograph and very restrictive to move amongst. In the recent Toronto Indy I was trying to approach Turn #8 where two accidents occurred but the designed pathway had been zipped tied shut and the organization could not seem to communicate corrective measures even when this was raised with management during the race morning’s photographers’ meeting. Management also promised to speak to Security to allow photographers to walk by pit lane en route to Turn 8 as a compromise solution, even those without Pit Lane passes since we weren’t actually going to dangerous pit lane but walking past it. But Security would not let me do that. No wonder that legendary motorsports magazines like UK’s Autosport and Italy’s Auto Sprint end up with boring and derivative images like these:
In addition to bad management, heat and physical toil have an impact on demotivating photographers from getting exciting dynamic race images. The m43 system kept me carrying minimal weight, kept me cooler and my underdog determination also fueled my resolve to get something worthy of being a professional photojournalist. The below are mine that Autosport and Auto Sprint really owe to their readership, not the tired and jaded half hearted efforts of their staff photographers.
I found that the coverage by France’s Auto Hebdo more nuanced with regard to Toronto as the setting of the race, and after all Canada was French first. So we had better photographs featuring some interesting Toronto architecture.