Long Beach Grand Prix w/ Falken Tire

Rain. Lots of it. And honestly, I wish it lasted all weekend.
Don’t get me wrong – shooting in the rain can be a pain in the ass. We had FOUR cameras go down among our team this past weekend. BUT THINK OF THE PHOTOS!! Personally I would have been ok with rain all weekend and would have suffered through it for the sake of incredible photo opportunities. But (un)fortunately the sun came out on race day and it was a typical SoCal race event. Oh well. Haha!

Last weekend was the second race of the 2012 American Le Mans season – and this time we were in Long Beach, California. I was brought back on board again with Falken Tire for Round 2 of the series – and I was thrilled to be there. They’re an amazing team, and the second time shooting anyone is always easier because it’s more of a “oh, it’s John” reaction to me walking around and not “who’s that guy… should he be here?” Haha!

And I know I promised you readers photos of the Budweiser girls in my last blog. And I know I haven’t posted a new blog since Sebring and the ALMS event there. I’m sorry. But I AM shooting seven more of the Bud girls tomorrow – til then you can see lots of their photos of my Facebook Fan page here.

But anyway, back to that bad weather I was talking about…

(click the break to read on)

I arrived to meet the team Thursday afternoon. Several of them had already been in town for a day or two setting up the rig and getting things ready for the race. After the usual media check-in meeting and vest assignments we all went to meet up with the crew and see how things were going. I say “team” because there were several of us at this race. Falken’s staff photographer Jesse was there, and they had four of their video guys attending and shooting the race as well. We were well staffed, clearly.
Thursday evening was the Thunder in the Streets event – at least I think that’s what it’s called. I can’t seem to find my media kit to double check. Basically all the race cars are brought out onto to streets so fans can see the cars up close and meet some of the drivers.

Friday morning is when things really got interesting. We all knew that rain was coming… but I’m not sure any of us expected it to be as bad as it was. Or maybe it’s just been a while since I shot in pouring rain (models don’t usually like to shoot in the rain).
As soon as practice started that morning the rain started with it. I was at Turn 6 since that’s a spot that I like shooting at. Jesse selected Turn 11 which was a great choice on his part because that section of the track was flooding and he got some awesome reflection shots.
I was excited to see Wolf Henzler drive in the rain since I know it’s something he’s great at; and that our team is known to handle wet conditions very well. Unfortunately practice was called off about halfway through – which was fine since it was about that time that three of the video guys had their cameras fail due to moisture.

The rest of the day was fairly slow going. The Grand Prix had so many events going on that weekend that the practice day only had two ALMS blocks set aside for it; one practice in the morning and one qualifying round that evening.
By the time qualifying rolled around the sun had come out and most of the track was dry (surprisingly). A dry-race was officially called and things got started. It took MAYBE three laps before the rain started back up again. From where I stood in the photographer areas you saw the photographers just laugh and put on their rain gear while behind us the stands quickly emptied and people left.
The biggest disappointment was that qualifying was called off WHILE WOLF WAS IN FIRST PLACE! Can you believe that?! First in our class and qualifying was called off. What a bummer! I can’t imagine how frustrated the team must have felt. Starting positions were then determined by points standing.. points based on the only other race, Sebring.. Sebring, where we started the race late because of a blown engine. We started in 8th place the next day.

Saturday was a normal race day in many ways – and I say that only because the rainy-Friday was the more interesting thing to talk about. Haha!
Started off like most any other, a little later start for us creative staff because there was no ALMS events that morning.  I shot a bit of the Indy practice and qualifying, but spent most of my time around the race rig watching the guys work on the RSR and get things prepared for the day’s main event. When possible I would try and ask questions about what they were doing – they’re all great and happy to explain things to me if they have time, I just always feel like I’m bothering them.
That afternoon as the Le Mans main event was getting started we broke off into our various teams that we planned out and headed to different points on the track. Falken’s very own Olivia Korte would be singing the national anthem at the start of the race – and she did an incredible job! How many of you guys saw her perform?

The race went well – but I heard that Bryan Sellers was getting frustrated at the traffic on the track and not being able to pass and gain some ground. I’m no professional driver, but from what I understand the Long Beach course is a tight track  versus something like Sebring that’s twice as long.
We ended up finishing in 6th place. Imagine if we had had that first place start instead of eighth!

My weekend was a blast. It was tiring, as all race weekends tend to be, but it was a lot of fun being out there with several other team members this time around. I got to see and joke with several people from Falken that I got to know in Sebring, laugh and hang out with Falken’s creative staff, and add some rainy race photos to my portfolio, too!
I was going to stay on Sunday to shoot Indy but decided against it since I knew I’d have so much to go through for Falken on Sunday morning – we had to a selection of images out on the Falken Facebook page.

As for me, personally, I’m not sure the next race I’ll be at for Falken. Hopefully something this summer but I’m not sure yet. In the mean time I have a lot of travel coming up between Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and the SF Bay Area.  and I’ll post up some of the Budweiser stuff in it’s own blog soon. Til then, enjoy a large selection of images from my weekend at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Heading to the race rig to check in with the crew

The crew is already busy getting things prepared.

Standing in line getting our media vests. This was the wait with only 40 or so people. The next more there would be well over 100 checking in.

The team waiting for their police escort onto the streets of Long Beach

Here are @FalkenALMS and @FalkenTire updating the twitter accounts… otherwise known as Kelly and Jesse

Bryan and Wolf meeting the fans and signing autographs

There was also a stunt show that evening

Things actually continued to get busier as the night went on

It was PACKED as we finally headed out to grab a bite to eat

Shortly after the team took the RSR back home to tuck it in for the night

Geared up for an early start the next morning. Heading down to meet up with the team.

After figuring out plans and who’s shooting where, we all split up to head to the corners of the track we selected.

Those clouds don’t look too promising…

It didn’t take long for the rain to start up and the little bit of sun we had to go away

It started really coming down in a matter of about 20 minutes or so

Water started pooling up a bit on Turn 6 where I was at

I was really digging the splash shots though

And just when you thought it was slowing down, it starting raining harder

At this point the team was called back in. Four cameras where malfunctioning, which meant half the gear was down in the span of about an hour.

Had to get a rainy day shot with Randyl and Olivia!

As the weather clears up a bit more people make their way outside

Olivia’s a goofball, and you have to love her for it

The ladies

Alex Zaric, Brad Perry and Mike Zaric hard at work. This crew never stops.
Mike is measuring out specs on the camber of the car while Alex takes notes. I don’t recall what Brad was working on

Pretty sure you don’t get options like this at the factory…

Have to get a cute shot of Randyl and Olivia, usually I just shoot candids while they talk with fans

About 20 minutes later the skies clouded up again and the rain started coming down harder than before

All the teams on lunch break… or really, “escape the rain” break.

On our way to a meet-n-greet for some young fans. Bryan running ahead (not sure to where though since it was a quarter mile walk), Wolf caught me taking a photo of us though!

This might be my new favorite photo of me and Olivia. I assumed we were doing something goofy cuz of the pouring rain, she smiled and was sweet about it… whoops, my mistake

Since there wasn’t too much going on for the media team, I decided to tag along with Wolf, Kelly and Bryan who were headed to meet some of their youngest fans

Bryan and Wolf laughing and talking about how amazing it is to be a race car driver. They had a whole room full of kids listening to what it’s like to do what they do; many of them had questions about it too. Sadly there was very little time allotted to talk – Bryan pointed out after that he would have liked to stay and talk longer.

What does the team do when we have to wait out pouring rain? Hide inside, check emails, and laugh about youtube videos. Haha!

Things are STILL pretty wet out. Going to be interesting if it stays that way for qualifying

Dan Hare and Lee Marks working on measuring out and adjusting the wing. I watched these guys do this several times and finally had to ask exactly what they were doing. Among other things that have to be to spec, the wing  is checked to make sure it’s within half a millimeter by the team. They said the last thing they want is it to be visibly incorrect when checked by IMSA.

Not sure what Alex is working on here…

These devices are pretty cool. This is what the guys use to measure out and check camber on the RSR. It’s incredibly simple when you watch them do it.

See! See! Double checking the wing again..

The schedule is soaking wet, along with everything else that day…

Team Members Only… even I get nervous anytime that I have to go through that door..

Wolf came out and was walking around the RSR quietly looking at the car and running his hand along it. I thought it was interesting to watch and then he stopped when he got to a new decal. Black stripes were added to all the Porsches running in the Grand Prix in memory of Ferdinad A. Porsche, the designer of the original 911 who recently died.

Checking the wing one last time! See, they’re not joking about that…

The sun was out and everyone was getting ready to start qualifying

The team, on their way to the pits

Racing is just getting started and Wolf is in third place! Check out the lights on the door! Things are looking great for the team but the weather is already overcast..

Wolf makes another lap and he’s hot on the heels of the Patron Ferrari!

It’s near impossible to see in this photo, but there is only one light turned on on the RSR’s door… Wolf was in FIRST place when they called off qualifying due to rain. By the time the cars returned to their rigs the sky broke, and sun came back out.

Dan drains out the remaining fuel from the Porsche. After each race the tank is drained and remaining fuel measured to see how much was used and then calculated into everything else that’s recorded and calculated for records, etc.

The video team preparing Wolf for his interview about the race and weekend so far.

Audio is recorded completely separate from video

Team Manager Derek was interviewed with his thoughts on everything as well. He joked “it MUST be a slow day if you have to talk to me, too!”.

Had to get a team photo with the rest of the crew. How many people does it take to shoot the Falken team? Seven… it takes seven.

The paddocks are cleared out and everyone has headed out for dinner.

The day is already lookin gorgeous as I headed out from our hotel

The tires crew already has plenty of wheels ready for the day’s event.

Marion’s! This is the team break area. Marion is pretty cool, I sat and talked with her during lunch one of the days. She’s been running the all-you-can-eat style dining area for the teams for years.

Right outside Marion’s is a great view of the awesome weather for the day

As the place fills up it makes getting anywhere quickly pretty difficult.

I think that these guys that were doing ride-alongs were VP’s and such for the companies… whoever they were I was totally jealous. I want to do a ride along in an Indy car!

Back in the paddocks the team had the entire RSR torn apart! It’s impressive  to see how easily these guys can take apart and put together a car

The cockpit

Serious stopping power with these Brembo’s

Lee Marks, working on swapping the brake pads. He’s notching the pads which create similar marks the the corresponding rotors. This way when they take it apart the next time they know which pieces go to which corners.

I’m pretttttty sure the “Oil Refill” button is for one of those oil slicks that gets sprayed behind the car like in spy movies.

FIRE!
And I thought my Engine Start button in my car was cool. Nope.

One of the members of IMSA comes by to download data from the RSR. I talked with him briefly and he was saying that, to keep the playing field level, all teams have various specs they’re required to meet. As part of that, data is collected and checked by IMSA at every race. Rick Mahurin of team Falken goes over some of that data with him.

No smoking! hahaha. Navigating the paddock was tricky, lots very expensive car pieces to the car all around.

A pretty common site at the rig

Randyl and Olivia looks amazing as usual, meeting and taking photographs for and with fans

Blown out shot of Randyl…. I just thought it was pretty and wanted to share. lol

Falken auctioned off several items that afternoon and raised nearly $5,000 for charity.

I thought this was pretty cute. Wolf signs a pinewood derby car for one young fan who was among the first in line for the autograph session

Me and Kelly that afternoon! Hard to find a moment that she’s not busy running the drivers around or updating the team’s Twitter, haha!

See! Told you! Jesse and Kelly updating @FalkenTire and @FalkenALMS

This was pretty cool. One fan had a helmet that she was getting all the different drivers to sign

Olivia, being timed by the IMSA staff for the national anthem later that afternoon

One quick shot with the girls before making my way out to the track for the main event in a couple hours

The tire rig is completely empty as the crew is already down at the pits

The starting line is quiet as things get closer to the opening ceremony. Soon it will be packed with people

A couple of us just hanging out… waiting for things to get started

Opening ceremonies

All eyes were on Olivia as she prepared to sing

Randyl was just down the track a bit with the RSR

I texted Kelly to say I’ll take her photo, she started laughing as soon as she saw me a couple minutes later

Bryan Sellers crosses the start line on his third lap around the track. The race has started and the cars are already spaced pretty far out

The famous Turn 1 at Long Beach. This turn is so fast and dangerous that not even the photographers are allowed very close to it. It’s a hard, ninety-degree, left turn

Catch me if you can

Wolf is on the run and trying to make up some ground

Wolf, rounding out one of his last laps on the track. The team finished in 6th place.

Check out how sticky these tires are! This is post-race after the RSR was back in the paddock.

Beautiful sunset on Saturday after the race was done. Honestly, I would have loved some night, or even dusk, racing. So much more potential for great shots in lower light. Then again, I really like color and lighting in my images in general.

Well that about wraps up my (long) break down of my weekend at the Grand Prix. Thank you to those of you still reading, haha. I’ve been working on this most of the afternoon between photo selection, editing, and finally uploading and captioning. Whew!

As I said earlier, tomorrow I’m photographing a bunch of the Budweiser girls. So I’ll have images to share from that in the following days. And next week I’ll be out in Yosemite shooting, too.

Hope you enjoyed everything!

 

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