The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring 2011

#10 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP: Olivier Panis (Darren Pierson)

#10 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP: Olivier Panis

Well, one race into the new season and I am already behind on blog posting. I suppose since I was on the ball for the Rolex24, Winter Testing and Amelia Concours, I can cut myself a bit of slack this time. We were in Florida a week before shooting the Concours at Amelia Island and due to some other obligations we didn’t hit Sebring until Wednesday afternoon. This means I missed the Grid of Cars group photo and the Driver’s group photo as well as a day of testing, but that couldn’t be helped. I promise to try harder next year.

Thursday started out with a 7:15AM photo meeting, this is normal. The IMSA registration booth, which is where you pick up your parking pass, doesn’t open until 7:30AM. This can present a problem. Somehow, I was able to convince two sets of security booths that not only did I need to cross the Great Bridge of Sebring, that I needed to do it on my scooter. More on that in a minute. We used to always rent golf cars for getting around the track but last year we had the idea to buy a 150cc scooter and haul it around with us instead. It worked great at every track and paid for itself in rental fees in just a year.  Except at Sebring.  It seems that nothing with only two wheels is allowed across the bridge unless you are a team member.  I have to assume that this is because the team members are typically sober on race days and that Sebring considers everyone else to be a drunken menace.  After watching some curious moto driving by fans at Road Atlanta for the last many years, I’d have to say they are probably correct.  Doesn’t help me any though so I am stuck to dealing with shuttles, trams and hitchhiking.

Thursday is a busy day for the ALMS cars with three practices.  Night practice is always the best though.  This year the sun seemed to disappear more quickly than usual and wasn’t particularly direct.  I still was able to come back with some decent grabs of the twilight.  Night practice in the pits is intense and it was especially so this year with so many cars.  Last year I tried to work with existing light as much as possible, but decided this year to combine ambient light with fill flash and shutter drag.  The results, in my opinion were excellent.  I was able to capture the mood, action and enough detail to make the images striking yet at the same time accessible.

#57 Krohn Racing Ferrari F430: Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, Michele Rugolo (Darren Pierson)

#57 Krohn Racing Ferrari F430: Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, Michele Rugolo

Friday was a fairly short day, one practice in the morning and then qualifications in the middle of the afternoon. Great light followed my crappy light. To me, this translates as on the track shooting followed by shooting in the pits. As I mentioned earlier, I was stuck with riding the shuttles or trams to get across the bridge into the paddock area. I had had success in hitchhiking rides into the track and Friday morning I was able to hang a ride out to the Turn 10-12 area with Bob Chapman (who is incidentally a great guy and excellent golf car driver).  Nothing astounding, but I was able to come up with a few shots I liked before heading back for the break until quali.

#15 Oak Racing Oak Pescarolo Judd: Matthieu Lahaye, Guillaume Moreau, Pierre Ragues (Darren Pierson)

#15 Oak Racing Oak Pescarolo Judd: Matthieu Lahaye, Guillaume Moreau, Pierre Ragues

Quali, as has been de rigueur for quite a while, was exceptionally boring. Nearly all of the class pole winners were in the pits, parked and out of the cars five minutes before the end of their qualification rounds. I did expect a bit more action since the time allotments for each class had been dropped to fifteen minutes. Nope. Boring. Same players.

Race day started out dark and weird and stayed that way.  The photo gods had decided to move the photo meeting from 6:45AM to 7AM this year, so I was able to grab exactly no more sleep.  I had walked over to the shuttle pickup area and was standing dazed in the pre dawn darkness.  A security guy asked me if I needed a ride across the bridge and after I said yes started looking for possible unwitting cart drivers.  Most were full and I had drifted off into a haze when I heard him yelling for someone to stop and “give this guy a ride”.  I focused and noticed that he had stopped a very nicely painted cart that said Audi Motorsport on the side.  Further inspection revealed that the unknowing security guy had stopped Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. I would assume if you are reading this, you have at least the base idea that the Director of Audi Motorsport has better things to be doing at a quarter to seven in the morning on race day at Sebring than playing taxi driver to me.  To his great credit, he merely laughed and told me to hop on.  I was slightly mortified but sat down and headed off across the bridge.  A quick chat about the race ahead took us to the tower where he dropped me off and drove off the the paddock.  Weird start to the day, but I decided to take it as a good omen.  The photo meeting was over quickly and I headed back to the RV to prep for the grid and start.  There was a warm up scheduled for the beautiful misty light of early morning, a perfect time to be shooting.  I missed it because I did not get my gear ready the night before.  Typical of me, stupid.

#10 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP: Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Olivier Panis (Darren Pierson)

#10 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP: Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Olivier Panis

I did make it back to the track before the grid opened so I was able to grab some nice shots of the cars before the hoards of fans were let out on to the grid.  Eventually, the front straight became too crowded to shoot, so I headed up to turn one where I had an assigned spot waiting for me.  Once I got to the spot in turn one, I had about half an hour to kill.  I used that time to learn that my 300mm was broken to the point of shooting double images.  Not good, Sebring has been hard on me this year, a dead D2x at winter testing and now my 300mm was toast.  Perfect.  I guess it was good that I had time to fiddle around before the start.  I would have been pissed to shoot the start and the first few hours of the race only to find the images were worthless.  I went back to thinking the day was weird but good.  The odd bent of the day continued when, just as the cars took turn one for the start, a helicopter flew so low over the turn that it blew sand and dust so much that many thought a car had gone off.  Several of the corner workers hats had been blown off into the track and my broken 300mm had many ounces of grit in the hood.  I assumed it was the TV copter, but later another photographer told me it was a driver from one of the support races.  I imagine he found himself in a bit of difficulty when he landed.

I shot turn one for a bit and then hopped a ride with John Thawley and Ken May over to turn four (also great guys and Thawley has the additional skill of being a fantastic golf car thief).  We worked that area for a bit and then John took the cart up to the hairpin so I rode with him.  I worked the hairpin until around Noon and then caught the photo shuttle back to the tower.  I was going to take a break during the time of the ugly light and then come back out mid afternoon to work the pits and then catch the sunset on the front straight.  This year, the sunset was a nice big orange ball and I imagine all 100 of us standing in turn one came back with some nifty shots.  While I was shooting, I was watching the TV helicopter circle around the track.  Eventually, it crossed near turn 17 and I was able to get its silhouette in my shot.  I called it good and headed back to the RV for food.

Sunset at Sebring #56 BMW Motorsport BMW M3 GT: Andy Priaulx, Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand (Darren Pierson)

Sunset at Sebring #56 BMW Motorsport BMW M3 GT: Andy Priaulx, Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand

One of the annoying things about shooting a race is that you really don’t know who is where or what is happening. You catch snippets of PA and when you are in the pits you can read timing and scoring, but you don’t have the same feel for the race as when you are seeing it on TV. Poor me, I know.  Do you remember how I was hitching rides across the bridge?  Of course you do.  On my last trip over, this time I had a Sheriff stopping cars for me to catch a ride.  I figured I would end up with either Don Panoz or McNish driving.  The cop said “watch this!” and jumped in front of a cart with three guys in it. “STOP!” he said to the panicked looking occupants of the cart, “Give this man a ride”.  I hopped on the back and started laughing.  I said that I bet they freaked when the cop jumped out.  They admitted to hiding their beers and worrying what had happened.  I explained that it was too dangerous to ride my scooter across the bridge so that I could go stand in pit lane in front of cars braking into small boxes from 60mph.  It is obviously far more safe for me to ride on the back of a golf car being driven by someone who had been drinking since dawn. The agreed and somehow safely conveyed me to the tower where I got off and wished them well.

I came to the pits about two hours before the end of the race, shot most of the last pit stops and then jumped into the scrum as the non factory Matmut Peugeot pulled into victory lane.  Team Oreca Matmut seemed rather happy with the results.  I have a couple of galleries for you to look at: the GT3 Race Number Two, The Highlights Gallery (a new and continuing feature) and the entire Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.  Thanks for reading!  See you at Long Beach

-Darren

Pit Lane Victory Celebration #10 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP: Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Olivier Panis (Darren Pierson)

Pit Lane Victory Celebration #10 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP: Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Olivier Panis

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