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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The view from the top of the Control Tower shows there is a very fine line between speed and disaster.
Being a new visitor to the TT can be a challenge. It is a long and complicated course and difficult to get around. Had it not been for the amazing generosity and willingness to help of the Manx, my experience would have been limited at best.
I did not arranged for transportation in advance. I didn’t even really want to rent a car, the thought of trying to find my way around the island in the midst of closed roads, right hand drive and not being able to pronounce the names of the roads I was supposed to follow would be more challenging than shooting.
I was and continue to be extremely lucky. I met some people the first day while I was walking around to introduced me to others and they were helpful beyond description. Also I couldn’t have gotten around without Rob Cummings, long time Isle of Man resident and former work colleague of my good friend Bruno Desrochers.
Rob gave me a tour of the course on his BMW and as a marshal, he took the week off from his day job and each race day he would drop me off on the course and then pick me up at the end of the day when the roads opened.
Monday, I wanted to go to Ballaugh Bridge. We had been there on our course tour, but I have to admit on Monday, somehow it looked different. With the overnight storms it was a challenge to get there. One of the main roads was closed due to an accident. This time it wasn’t some visiting moto tourist pretending he is racing, but during the storm a tree fell on a parked car.
Once the course is closed it is really closed. Even with photo credentials you cannot even walk across the street. Only between races and if they are willing, the Deputy Sector Marshal (DSM) can escort you across the street.
There were a few other photographers there when I arrived. I set up with David Traynor who has been shooting the TT for more than 20 years and knew every spot on the course. During the morning all of the photographers moved around on the same side of the course to get different angles of the riders lifting off over Ballaugh Bridge.
During the break between races, the DSM escorted David and I across the street and give us specific instructions. On the left, don’t go beyond the drain pipe and on the right go no further than the Ballaugh sign.
After shooting with my long lens to get shots of the sidecars lifting off coming over the bridge I moved to get wide shots. I was along the bridge next to the Ballaugh sign. I think it’s every photographer’s natural tendency to unconsciously move around to try to frame the shot and I am no different, but I kept glancing over my left should to make sure that I didn’t exceed what the DSM had told me.
You can hear the sidecars coming for at least 10 seconds before they appear. I would look up see them coming toward the bridge, count to 4 and then start shooting. While the Canon 1Dx autofocus is great, I don’t believe any autofocus is good enough to pick up something going 60 mph 10 feet from you. I set the focus to manual got it dialed in and shot!
I had lots of shot with nothing but bridge. But then sidecar #43, the Lawrance Brothers from New Zealand came be sliding along the wall. Miraculously not only did I get the shot but I got 3! In a truly remarkable moment, David Traynor who was still shooting long, decided to take a shot of me shooting.
Given the speed and movement of the sidecar, my guess is that the shots are within about 1/100 of a second of each other.
I didn’t flinch, I kept shooting and when I stood up the crowd on both sides of the street applauded. The DSM came across the road, put his hand on my shoulder smiled and said ‘bet that cleared up your constipation, eh mate.
I am sure there were a couple hundred people who saw it, a few showed me cell phone snaps of it. Someone offered to buy me a shot of brandy and a couple from the neighborhood invited me over for tea (I am sure it was TT Tea).
David posted it on Facebook and it has been shared over 850 times. I guess that counts as trending somewhere.
I have never had a desire, nor any intention of being part of the story at the TT, but sometimes it happens.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
After a short night a Quarterbridge and canceled practice on Thursday due to more heavy rain, Friday night practice was back on track.
Gary Thompson the Clerk of Course, had said that although 2016 had been an exceptionally great year for weather, riders had in aggregate 1,500 laps fewer this year than in 2016. As such the Superbike race scheduled for Saturday would be held on Sunday and a Saturday would be used as a practice day for all classes.
Still traveling on foot, I walked down to Braddan Bridge. I had seen a few photos from there and I had heard the evening light would be good.
I got an earlier start so I would have time to look around, walked by Quarterbridge and then down a straight of almost a half-mile, where they came through with a quick left and then a right.
Whenever I arrive at a location I check in with the race marshals to ask where I can and cannot shoot. Apparently over the years people have argued with Race Marshals about road closure, course access or whatever happened to come up that was an inconvenience. To deal with that, in 2016 the Isle of Man established a law that made all trained race marshals the equivalent to a Police Deputy. They were great people with decades of experience and liked to help.
The weather and the position did not disappoint. Although practice times were sparse this week, Ian Hutchinson made an effort to be first in line to get out on the course. He was first out again and first through the turn at Braddan Bridge.
The practice sessions are not only used to regain a crazy high speed familiarity of the course, but to test the equipment under near race conditions.
The riders line through the turn and body position vary greatly, each one trying to find their fastest way through the turn and back out.
Riders will often do a lap, pull off into the pits, get a different bike and head out again. Adjustments, if necessary, being made all along the way.
Hillier pulls of the road, checks a few things and then screams back onto the course.
In addition to the blinding speeds of the rider, one of the amazing things about the TT is how close the spectators can get to the action. Even though the viewing areas are carefully planned to be as safe as possible, here fans which TT favorite Michael Dunlop go by right in front of them.
Both fans and photographers can get close. I was tucked in by a gate to the church as the riders accelerated away from Braddan. I had set the focus to a point that I hoped they would come by and started shooting at when I saw them about a block away. Even shooting at 14 frames / second, at 140 mph the would go 15 feet between shots. I at lots of shots of nothing but landscape.
After the solo riders had completed their sessions, the sidecars were back out for practice and heading into the evening light.
It is now mid-morning on Monday June 5, and we are on a 2-hour weather delay, waiting to see if there will be racing today.
I am still very much in learning mode here at the TT. Learning my way around, learning how to focus when something is coming at you at 160 mph and learning that you don’t ask for bug spray for mosquitos and flies, but you do ask for repellant for mozzies and midges. I am hoping as we get into race week I will not have to be learning quite so much each day. It’s been great fun everyone has been a great help. All in all everyone has been very polite and not once, at least to my face, referred to me as that Yank Photographer. Actually I think most are laughing at some of my questions and my accent.
From my homestay I had about a mile walk downhill to Quarterbridge. Easy walk, which unfortunately at the end of the evening the walk would be uphill. Except along the shore, I haven’t found many flat spots on the Isle of Man, you are either going up or going down!
Quarterbridge is just over a mile from the start at the grandstand and is the first turn on the course with a downhill right of more than 90 degrees. Roaring down Bray Hill at over 160 mph, braking, leaning hard and accelerating on to the short half mile straight to Braden Bridge and a quick flick on the round-about.
My plan was to shoot from Quarterbridge and then walk down via the back roads to Braden Bridge get a variety of shots and at the end of the session I would be able to walk back along the course on the way home.
I had a great view of the first turn and a few minutes after I moved to the outside of the turn to shoot from a different angle, the session was ended due to rain and fog on the course.
Tonight’s practice is also a wash out, here is the current radar, with an appropriate massive green blog over Ireland and moving our way.
I am unsure about Friday’s schedule, also doubtful, but additional practices have been scheduled for Saturday and races on Sunday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While my blog title is 100% accurate, the week, the island and the guys on the bikes couldn’t be more different.
After a winter of Minnesota hibernation, my race season began by shooting the Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3, a great place to start with a beautiful venue and many good friends. Two weeks later I was in Oceanside California for the 70.3, once again a great event, followed by Ironman Texas, the Get in Gear 10K in Minneapolis, yes I got to sleep in my own bed, then out to Ironman St. George 70.3 and home for the Medtronic Twin Cities 1 Mile.
Ironman Lanzarote was next. Lanzarote is in the Canary Islands and is a place like no other. Not unlike Kona, Lanzarote is a volcanic island. It is however more lava and much less vegetation.
On Wednesday, after a very quick overnight in Dublin, I arrived on the Isle of Man. While not much different in size and population from Lanzarote, the Isle of Man is a speck in the Irish Sea between Ireland and England.
While in recent years, it has become know for off-shore banking, and of course Tour de France sprinter Mark Cavendish, aka the Manx Missile, the Isle of Man is the home of the World’s oldest and most dangerous motorcycle race and yes, I am here for race week.
Although I have been riding and shooting from the back of motorcycles since 2002, I have only owned one since 2011 and that began with a 70cc scooter.
From riding around on the scooter to enhancing my skills at the Zalusky Advanced Rider School and attending the California Superbike School, my fascination has not only been with riding but the visual and the movement of the machines, the colors and the speed. As I begin my experience here, I am can visualize what I want to shoot, my hope is that I can execute. Only time will tell. Time, patience and practice.
The normal island population is about 85,000, with the largest city being Douglas where about 30,000 Manx live. Over the next two weeks there will be 40,000 visitors, coming by air and by ferry.
I am pleased to have arrived a few days early to get a feel for the island, the village and the people, and have spent much of the time wandering around.
For some reason, my Midwest accent makes me standout. At least so far that has been a good thing and I have made some great new friends. I have been able to connect with a local photo legend who was born on the IOM and Peter Bull was a wealth of advice and very friendly suggestions.
I have had an offer of a course tour on Saturday and in the meantime I am checking out routes for the public transit system.
Although the Grandstand area is quiet now, by Saturday evening when the practice sessions begin, there will be a roar.
I also had a chance to be introduced and chat with Bruce Anstey, 11 time TT Champion.
I will be posting more as Practice Week begins and throughout race week.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Now 36 hours into the ownership of my new 1Dx Mark II body, I have yet to have time to take it out for a real test, but after sitting with it for a bit on Tuesday evening and just a few shots this morning, I do have some initial impressions to share.
The set up, both physical and the menu content is virtually the same as the 1Dx. Please keep in mind I haven’t been through everything yet, nor have I opened the manual. I will likely find a few differences, as I get deeper into it.
The first noticeable impression is that 14 fps is really fast and that shooting with Live View at 16 fps is REALLY, REALLY fast. I did hold the shutter down to see how many shots I could fire off in a row and it slowed down at about 140 frames.
Having a burst mode of 140 + frames goes into the category of just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. To translate that into a practical use, as I am shooting in 3 to 5 image burst from the back of the moto, I truly believe that I will never be inhibited by the transfer rate to the CFast 2 card.
Since I have a couple of hours to kill here at the Las Vegas Airport before my ride arrives to go to the race in St. George, this is a good opportunity to check the high ISO capabilities.
The above images are full frame and as shot, with NO post processing and to me they all look pretty good.
To test a bit more, here are some higher crops of the same 3 images.
Again, except for the crop there has been no post processing to these images. Yes 20,000 looks a bit edgy but not too bad and I think the 5,000 looks pretty good.
Now you may be thinking why is this guy shooting at 1/800 in such low light? I sure hope he can hold the camera steady. The fact is that I shoot sports and if I want to stop the action I need a high shutter speed. High ISO and a tripod will not work for me.
In the final image in each series. I dropped the shutter speed to 1/400 to accommodate the reduction in ISO, but still pretty fast.
Finally here is an image where I have done a bit of post in Lightroom.
Just some minor post and it cleans up quite well.
Will I be shooting at 20,000 ISO? Probably not too often. The last time I did was at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
It’s not really about being able to shoot in the dark, which I could probably do, it is about shooting in low light. This whole photography is really about the light. The light reflected off of your image, as well as how much image noise is inherent in the image and what you in post.
Although this is very preliminary, I am pretty impressed. I am looking forward to the pre-start shots at the Ironman St. George 70.3 this weekend for the real test.