Isle of Man TT – Anatomy of a Pit Stop

I have always been fascinated by pit stops.   The efficiency and choreography is a pleasure to watch requiring the levels of skills and strength that can be the difference between winning and not. Auto racing where the timing of what lap to pit is a major strategic challenge.

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Pits stops are a contrast in motion as one team works while another streaks by

For Formula 1 racing the benchmark for a successful pit is 3 seconds.  Here is an overhead shot that I found of the 20 people, excluding the driver that are used to change all four tires, add fuel.

Ferrari pit stop

Nascar is considerably slower where the benchmark is 13 seconds are only 7 people are allowed ‘over the wall.’

As you would expect things are different at the Isle of Man for the SuperBike, the Senior TT 6-lap races, they pit after the 2nd and 4th lap and take on fuel and get a new rear tire.

For the 4 lap events SuperStock and SuperSport 4 lap events, they pit after lap two for fuel.

As with most things at the TT, it is racing is its rawest form.  A crew of four is allowed over the wall, fuel is loaded via gravity feed (no pressurized filling), and 1 person to change the rear tire.

Here is local Manx hero Dan Kneen, riding for the Penz13.com BMW team coming in for his first pit stop.

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Rolling into the pits – time: 14:37:27

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Superbike Race

Dan stopped on his mark – time: 14:37:28

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Fueling begun – rear tire jacked up – time: 14:37:29

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New visor and tear-offs – time: 14:37:32

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New visor and rear wheel off – time: 14:37:42

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Wheel on & chain on – time: 14:37:52

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Fueling continues – clean windscreen – time: 14:37:58

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Fueling continues – clean windscreen – time: 14:38:01

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Fueling continues – wheel down – time: 14:38:05

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Finishing fueling – time: 14:38:08

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Push start out – time: 14:38:17

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Rolling out – time 14:38:18

I cannot get an exact time of the stop based on the images, but from rolling in to being pushed out is 50 seconds. I am sure it felt like an eternity for Dan Kneen. For some others, the pits meant they were either on or off the podium at the end of the day.

Isle of Man TT – Finally a Race Day.

Sunday morning it was almost a surprise when at sunrise, there was actually sun. The forecast wasn’t great but the first Superbike Race was set to go!

Although there is a law that always the government to close down the roads for an event, this is rarely done on a Sunday and like today, the roads weren’t closed until afternoon after people had gone to church and returned.

I have been up at the Grandstand / Paddock area several times but the energy is different for race day. There is an excitement, a nervous energy in the Parc Ferme. The mechanics are making final adjustments, the pit crews in their Nomex suits are filling the gas tanks and others are bringing tools and tires to the pits.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Superbike Race

Fuel is loaded manually by each rider’s team.

In practice riders are sent out in pairs. On race day they go one at a time at 10-second intervals. There are numbers on the grid for teams to stage their rider´s bikes. Many of the drivers do not appear until the final moments, trying to avoid the ITV4 TV reporters roving through the grid with microphones.

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#1 awaiting Davo Johnson on his chrome Norton 1000

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Motos 6, 7 & 8, wait for Michael Dunlop, Conor Cummins and Guy Martin

Davo Johnson is #1 on is the crome Norton Superbike, patiently waiting for the start of the 2017 Isle of Man TT. The top 20 positions are pre-assigned based on prior performance. Numbers 21 and beyond are based not the weeks qualifying times.

Davo is reving is engine, the starter’s hand lifts from his shoulder and he is off! The 2017 TT has finally begun.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Superbike Race

The 2017 Isle of Man TT is finally under way.

One by one they roll up to the line, pause a few seconds under the hand of the starter and then the Superbikes roar to life.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Superbike Race

The nervous seconds on the way to the line. Dan Kneen, William Dunlop, Steve Mercer & Martin Jessopp. 

Today’s 6 lap event is 226.4 miles and requires 2 pit stops. Once all the riders are off there is a strange silence over the crowd in the grandstand. There are no big screen TV’s for the crowd to see the race, there is no electronic scoreboard and there are no beer vendors in the stands yelling Beer Here!

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Derek Shiels burns out of the start gate.

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Daley Mathison on his BMW 1000RR

There is the announcer on the PA with the same broadcast as people are listening to Manx Radio TT, there is the score board where the times and positions are written by hand and hung by Boy Scouts and in the pits, tanks holding the gas are gravity feed. While the machines are high tech, this racing in the rawest form.

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Dean Harrison in for his first pit stop.

The view from the top of the Control Tower shows there is a very fine line between speed and disaster.

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170 mph past the pits at the end of lap 1, flying between the pits and the Douglas Cemetery.

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Dean Harrison, Ian Hutchinson and Peter Hickman make up the podium for the superbike race.

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This is TT title #15 for Ian Hutchinson on his Tyco BMW.

Isle of Man TT – Finally a Full Day of Practice

Even with the improved weather on Friday night there was a general tension around the races. The spectators had long planned to be here, some fearing they might not see any racing before they had to leave and the race teams worried about getting in sufficient laps to make sure their drivers and machines were ready. The only place you can really prepare for the Isle of Man is the Isle of Man.

I have been very fortunate in the my friend Rob has the week off of his day job to Marshal, was willing to pick me up in the morning and drop me off at a spot to shoot. I went with him to Glen Duff, about a mile from Ramsey. One of the challenges is finding a location where you can get several different shots.

From Glen Duff, I could walk along the back roads to Ramsey’s Parliament Square and then walk up to the Ramsey Hairpin.

In one of those rare circumstances, the plan as it were, worked out. Well almost.

At Glen Duff there is a long straight both coming and going and each with a canopy of trees. Listening to race radio, we could tell when the first riders went off and knew that in about 10 ½ minutes they would fly by. However there really wasn’t any need to pay attention to the time, the scream of the 4-cyclinder 1,000 cc Superbikes could be heard from more than a mile away.

Ian Hutchinson made it a point to be the first out on practice. We don’t know his strategy, but it might have been start first in practice, finish first in the race. When he flew by the sun wasn’t quite high enough to light the area of the jump but not too bad, as the Brits would say.

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Ian Hutchinson on his Tyco BMW 1000

My body is not capable of turning fast enough to get both an on-coming and departing shot of the same rider, but it would be beautiful to ride here, for me something closer to the posted limit would be just fine. The consensus was they were hitting about 100 mph over the posted speed limit of 50.

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Heading into Ramsey

After watching the first 2+ laps at head-spinning speed, I headed to Ramsey. I was in luck that a young, local photographer from Peel had a car and offered me a lift (ok, I sort of pleaded for a lift).

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Sidecars coming through Parliament Square

One thing about the local photographers. Without exception they have been great and incredibly willing to help. That’s the good news. Some of the help, however I was incapable of implementing. Such as: you know there’s a spot by the Sulby Straight. Then there is a stone will and about 30 yards from the end there as a stone missing from the top and it’s great, you can just rest your long lens in there and get a shot. Yeah, right! (I have probably screwed up the description anyway).

Louis dropped me off close to Parliament Square in time to grab a sandwich and get shots of the sidecars coming through.

While I was there I met one of the Traveling Marshals (TM). There are seven TM’s around the course. They are former racers who have had medical training. Once called they can me at a crash in minutes to administer first aid. If any TM needs to move, then they all move to the next position so they never lose coverage.

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Traveling Marshal – Steve Grainger ready to go, when needed.

One of the iconic images from the IOMTT is the Ramsey Hairpin and of course it was on my list. I knew I wanted to be on the outside of the turn, so i could get images of them coming and going – I was also hoping for a shot similar my Lanzarote shot from 2 weeks ago.

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The Ironman Lanzarote Hairpin at Haria.

Rob had given me directions and on the drive up he showed me a road I could walk up, but it would take me to the inside of the turn.

As I a was walking out of Ramsey, I stopped and asked 3 different people justo be sure I was heading the right way. Each time, I said – I want to shoot where the are riding left to right and be on the outside of the turn. The directions were all consistent, but I was sure that was where Rob had said I would be on the inside of the turn. I was not doubting Rob’s expertise, but I was doubting my memory.

After about a 30 minute walk I was there. Right there on the INSIDE of the turn and when the road is closed, it is really closed, I couldn’t cross. Fortunately Rob and sent a text to the Deputy Sector Marshal that I was coming and he brought me across on a red flag! Thanks Andy! Great fun to shoot and spend my afternoon with you and your crew.

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James Hillier on his Kawasaki Supersport at the Ramsey Hairpin

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Guy Martin who was having a tough week, looked back to see if anyone was coming.

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IOMTT Favorite Michael Dunlop on his Suzuki 600 Supersport

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Tim Reeves and Mark Wilkes taking off in a turn in their Honda powered sidecar

Isle of Man TT – Practice Day – The Engines are Roaring

After a very dreary Monday and Tuesday morning, everyone was only mildly optimistic about having practice last night. By mid-afternoon there was still a light rain in Douglas and fog up on the mountain. And then – the skies cleared. I mean REALLY cleared not a cloud in the sky.

I headed up to the Grandstand area about 4:30 in anticipation of the 6:20 practice session. I had time to see a few friends, grab some coffee (the first order of business) and a bite to eat.

I asked more than my share of questions about where I could be and where I shouldn’t be. At one point one of the Marshals told me, the best one to ask about that is Paul Phillips. I of course said, but I am Paul Phillips. With a smile, he pointed to the other Paul Phillips, who is one of the main organizers at the TT.

It is only natural that I want to be close to the start. The question was how close? Well it was close enough that I could feel the exhaust on my jeans. I was in the grid area right before the individual riders rolled out to the starting line, where they were sent off on their practice run two at a time.

The grid was high energy, organized chaos. There were drivers, mechanics, officials and guests, all wanting a final word with or look at the riders. I wanted to see the look in their eyes right before the flipped down their face shields. I have seen that look before at the start of races. Trying to stay relaxed and yet, the intense concentration for what comes next.

Typically I see athletes before they enter the water for a triathlon, but here within a few seconds they would be reaching well over 100 mph, with the front wheel of their motos popping up as they shift gears and get more power.

After all of the first group of riders had left the line, I started to make my way down pit lane to find a spot to shoot. Ultimately, I was near the end of the pits leaning out, just a bit against the steel guardrail that separated the course from the pit lane. As the riders came by on their 2nd lap, I could feel the guardrail vibrate against my leg.

Although just a bit too late, I quickly put my ear plugs in. Being there was a total sensory experience. The colors streaking by, the sound and the vibration.

Earlier in the day I had met prior TT champ Milky Quayle and asked what two bits of advice he had for me as a first time TT Photographer. Milky smiled and said:

  • Hold on to your hat; and
  • Buy a race radio!

Both were spot on advice. The race radio is one that only receives one station and has the live updates and is about the only way to know what is going on out on the course.

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Even for the practice sessions the grandstands were filled.  An estimated 40,000 visitors are expected for race week.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

The first riders off were the ‘newcomers’ signified by the orange vest.  They were led around the course by a marshal for a controlled speed familiarization lap.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Although driver Tim Reeves is a TT veteran, his passenger Mark Wilkes is new to the TT.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

TT favorite Micheal Dunlop chats with another driver prior to the start.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Right off of the start line, the engine whines, the driver shifts gears and keeps his weight back for traction and the wheel pops up.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

As drivers enter the track for their second session the intensity does not diminish. Concentration and sweat!

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Guy Martin is known for his ‘look’ and concentration.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

With the course map over his shoulder there is little time for visuals when at 140 mph you are traveling at more than 200 feet / second.

As expected the evening ended with several riders exceeding 120 mph for an average lap speed.

Tonight I am off to the Quarter Bridge where I think they will slow down a bit for me, well for me and hard right hand turn.

Isle of Man TT – Practice Day 2 – More Rain & The Castletown Classic

After a mild and dry Sunday, the rain moved in overnight and continued through the morning. I used the time to get caught up on some work which needed attention, but thought most of the day would be indoors and there was little chance of shooting tonight. Shortly after 11:00 Rob called and asked if I wanted to go watch the Castletown Classic Races.

This is a Pre-TT event, put on by the organization that produces the Southern 100 Road Race, which is described as Road Racings Biggest Secret. It was certainly a secret to me.

Even early in the day Rob didn’t think the TT practice would be a go, due to the wet roads and ultimately he was right.

Although the TT riders didn’t get a practice session in, I did! I wore my Photo vest and brought my credentials, but unfortunately my TT Credentials were not of any help in Castletown.

I wasn’t able to get an ideal position, but was able to work on framing and tracking the bikes that are substantially faster than the bikes I typically shoot. It was overcast and fairly low light, but I was using my Canon 1Dx Mark II and a 100 to 400 lens. Just because I was practicing, it didn’t mean that I had to practice with every lens! I shot at 2000 ISO and I knew that if I couldn’t get the shots with this camera, it wasn’t the camera’s fault, it would all pilot error.

I tried a few different locations, partially up a tree, behind a stone wall, but mostly I was behind a wall of orange-vest marshals.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

After so many years of racing, some of the locals prefer just to ignore the motos and the noise.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

My view from behind the stone wall. The riders were slowing for an uphill right turn, but still that wall seemed pretty close and certainly unforgiving.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

Hoping that a slow shutter speed can provide some of the illusion of what the driver’s see at high speed.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

Every time I see the sidecars race, the theme song to Stars Wars plays in my head.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

The sidecar ‘Passenger’ is a critical part of maintaining balance and speed.

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Plate for the Van parked next to us. Since Guy wasn’t there, it must be a super fan.

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Now this is a classic side car!

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I wrapped up the day with some proper fish and chips!

We are all hopeful the weather will clear tomorrow.  My morning plan is to find a spot on Bray Hill to shoot for tomorrow.

I have also been invited to shoot some behind the scenes activities with a couple of the teams, it will be fun if it works out.

Isle of Man TT – Practice Day 1 – All Dressed Up and No Place to Go.

Today, May 28 is a big day, rich in history in the world of motorsports. The Monaco F1 Gran Prix begins shortly dating back to 1929 about 5 hours later in Indianapolis there is the 101st running of the Indy 500. Pre-dating both of these major events is the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) where the initial lap record in 1907 was 38 mph. The courses each have their challenges are dramatically different, Monaco is just of 2 miles of twists, Indy is a 2 1/2 mile oval and the TT is 37 3/4 miles of twists turns and roads that haven’t changed much since 1907.

All are amazing motorsport events and each have pushed the technology. Speed at around 200 mph,it seems is one of the few things that they still have in common.

Intense competition and amazing driving skills are required all each event, but only at the TT will you have drivers that are not full-time professionals. The top 20 drivers are seeded and go off in numeric order, but the rest (about 60) are based on qualifying times.

The race is a way of life here on the Isle of Man. With a population of about 86,000, the TT brings in an additional 40,000 arrive for race week. International fans arrive all with a common bond.

I arrived a few days ago and had great plans on how to prepare, but I quickly realized that no amount of planning would have adequately prepared me to shoot the race.

Just walking around on the Promenade in Douglas, I met a few people who introduced me to others and so it went.

My dear friend and primary US driver Bruno referred me to his friend Rob Cummings who has been living here for 30 years. Rob picked me up late Saturday morning for a course tour. Of course the tour at the IOMTT was on a BMW K1200K – there is no replacement for seeing the 37.75 mile course on a moto, even though we were at most going half of race speed, even though we did hit 105 mph on the mountain.

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By late afternoon it was time for me to head back up to the Grandstand, pick up my final credentials and wait for the practice session to begin. And wait for the practice session to begin. And wait for the practice session to begin.

On an island not unlike Kona and Lanzarote, there are microclimates. There can be bright sunshine on one side and rain on the other. At IOMTT the decisions are simple, if the medical helicopters can’t see to land on the mountain, is no practice or racing.

Unlike with race days, which are scheduled Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when a weather cancellation will mean events are rescheduled for the next day. With practice however, there is no rescheduling and drivers, mechanics and fans need to wait until Monday night.

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From the onset there were doubts about whether there would be practice, technical inspection is a must before you can go out to the parc ferme.

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The bikes are lined up and the riders and team members are pacing waiting for word on the start.

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While most drivers are out in the open, TT favorite Michael Dunlop keeps his ride under wraps.

Perhaps the most recognizable driver at the TT is Guy Martin, who’s thick accent often needs sub-titles to be understood.

One of the things I am most looking forward to is watching the side cars races.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

IOMTT via a Galaxy Far Far Away

No race related activities today, just everyone hoping today’s sunshine holds through tomorrow and beyond.

Put This One On Your Bucket List!

There are lots of things that can be said about an Ironman Triathlon and the people that race them. From the outside, friends of the triathletes, whether Professional or Age Group think they are Compulsive Obsessives and addicted to their training. Others sit back in awe of what they have or are working to accomplish.

Although my deteriorating knees saved me from ever attempting an Ironman, I have done some pretty absurd things in my long and undistinguished athletic career. But, as the tag line for Ironman says – Anything is Possible, which I believe is what really drives most of the participants. For some it is a statement of what they can do, for many others it becomes a lifestyle.

There are of course the genetic anomalies like Craig Alexander, Jan Frodeno, Mirinda Carfrae and Jesse Thomas that do this professionally and win, but let’s face it; they are not like the rest of us.

Traveling to compete at one of the 40+ Ironman races or other Iron-distance races around the world is becoming increasingly common. Destination races have become part of the adventure of racing, as well as a great way to see the world and involve your family whom has had to be incredibly supportive during your long training.

Each year it seems I am spending increasing amounts of time in Europe covering events. The atmosphere, the charm, the attitude of the hosts keeps drawing me back. Personally I also love the opportunity to explore new places and cultures.

For years, my friends at the ITU kept insisting that I come to the race in Hamburg just to see the crowds. When I finally did, it was amazing. Now I typically spend July in Germany shooting IM Frankfurt, Challenge Roth and Hamburg.

Last fall Club La Santa invited me to cover the 25th Annual Club La Santa Ironman Lanzarote on May 21, 2016, which after working out the scheduling seemed to be an opportunity not to be missed.

Ironman Lanzarote - Pre Race

Ironman Lanzarote – Club La Santa

Ironman Lanzarote - Pre Race

Ironman Lanzarote – Club La Santa

In fact, IM Lanzarote turned out to be the combination of attributes of all of the best events I have been to over the last 15 years. Lanzarote has the volcanic Island and black sand beaches of Kona, the mountainous bike course of Zell am See in the Alps, the welcoming celebratory atmosphere of Roth and crowds of Hamburg! Really it has it all.

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Over 300 Volcanoes on Lanzarote

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Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote – Timo Bracht riding  though the Fire Mountains

Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote – over 2,500 meters of climbing 

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Ironman Lanzarote – Spectacular views – if you have time to look

Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote

 

Unlike many of the North American events, Lanzarote has a rich 25-year history and certainly reflects the personality of founder Kenneth Gasque. To say the least, Kenneth treats every triathlete and family member as his personal guest.

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Kenneth began his Ironman career in 1985 and immediately commenced his efforts to bring a race to Lanzarote. 1992 marked the beginning of Ironman Lanzarote and was the 4th event in the world. The race has a rich history, with some athletes returning for 15 years or more. When you arrive you are neither treated like guests or friends, you are treated like family. With the Club and Event staff doing all they can to enhance your experience.

At first Lanzarote may seem difficult to get to, but since I typically have to make a connection in Amsterdam, Paris or London to get to the race venue, this time I connected in Dublin and then headed south for an additional 3 hours to Lanzarote.

Club La Santa is a training center, in the fall and winter professional cycling teams, triathletes, swim clubs and many others flock here to escape the European winter and enjoy some solid training. On site there are 3 50-meter 8-lane pools, a 400-meter track, soccer field, weight training, gym and almost anything else you can imagine, including Stand Up Paddle boards. While May is not peak training season families from all over Europe arrive to play together. My apartment was simple but quite comfortable and for my 8 day stay, I felt very much at home.

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I hope you enjoyed a few my favorite photos from my stay in Lanzarote, judge for yourself, but put this one on your bucket list!