I checked the weather forecast for Round 6 of Super Taikyu a week ahead of time, and it clearly stated that it was going to rain. All the teams knew it and the fans knew it too, but come race-day there were still hundreds upon hundreds of cars packed with fans waiting to get in. They didn’t care about the weather, they just wanted to see Super Taikyu. I don’t have to explain to you Speedhunters out there why I like shooting in the rain – I feel like some of my best photos of racing are from the rain. And seeing fans sit in the cold for hours on end makes me realize that I am not so crazy after all for being the only photographer standing out there in a torrential downpour.
This sixth round of the 2012 Super Taikyu season was held at Autopolis Speedway. It is a state of the art race track that was originally built with Formula 1 in mind.
It was built in the late ’80s and opened in 1990. It cost a whopping half a billion dollars to build.
Unfortunately, Formula 1 never made it to this beautiful race track. The biggest downfall was its location: it is located deep in the mountains and there is only one road that leads to the track, which is super narrow and only two lanes wide. The nearest hotels are over an hour away with no traffic, but with race-day traffic you are looking at a three-hour drive.
The course itself is very nice. There is a 50-meter elevation change around the track and it is 4.6km in length. There are 19 turns in total.
Because this was built for F1 the media center is a serious place. It even has a kitchen, because we all know photographers like to cook instant noodles or top ramen.
The level of access was second to none. Super Taikyu believes in letting the media roam free. There were practically no off-limit areas. It is partially due to how well the entire course is designed as well. It is very safe and there is a lot of run-off.
There was a clear vantage point for the entire length of pit-lane from the roof of the main building. There was even a railing that slanted outwards that seemed designed for photographers to lean over the edge.
Another plus was being able to shoot from the center island across from the pit boxes. Usually most race tracks are very restrictive of crossing the pit-lane while the track is hot. However it seems the officials at Autopolis trusted us media to look for traffic before we cross. Go figure.
As always with events in foreign countries there were many things that I thought were pretty interesting. For example, check out this mobile smoking station.
I’d hate to be the guy who drives this thing around. The inside was completely covered with a layer of cigarette ash.
In Japan it looks like the winning teams have to add ballast on their cars cars and generators!
This kind of reminded me of how my balcony looked when I was growing up. Although for me instead of racing gloves and head socks it would be jam-packed with my tighty whities.
There was a pit walk on both qualifying day and race day. It gave the fans a chance to get up close and personal with the drivers, cars, weirdos in costumes…
…and of course the race queens. I was wearing three, sometimes four layers of clothing. At least this race queen had warm ears.
I first experienced this at the Tokyo Auto Salon back in 2006. Till this day I can’t believe how aggressive these guys are.
Red carpet photographers love to bump, push and shove, but those guys are always angry. These race fans were just so happy while they were snapping away at the pretty ladies.
What was neat for me was how much the guys on track would push it even during practice. There was never a dull moment.
Out of all the classes I think the ST5 cars were the most fun to watch.
They battled very hard as they were the slowest out of all the classes, but they pushed it beyond belief.
There were many instances where I swear they were going to flip over from going around the tightest hairpin that also happens to be off-camber.
It was as if these cars were racing Gangnam style. Opaaa…
The GT cars were fun to watch as well, as they gave off a false sense of speed. It was as if they were driving in fast forward.
I do have to admit, out of all the cars in the field the best-sounding one was the BMW Z4 running in the ST1 class. It just had this high-pitched scream to it. I was reminded of the packed grid at SPA.
It is hard enough for companies like Toyota to run a brand new race car, but it was even harder for them because much of what makes the car move was built and engineered by Subaru. The team was plagued with ECU problems all weekend, but they seemed to have sorted it out for the race.
This was the scene for an hour after every night. There were so many twists and turns that I had to sit in the front just so I would not get sick. I guess I should forget about ever becoming a WRC co-pilot.
As always, whenever I had free time I went exploring. I came across this department store, but it was unlike anything I have seen in the USA.
It was very evident to me that the Japanese public takes photography as seriously as I do. The camera-strap selection alone had me drooling like a golden retriever.
It also made me really happy to see that film was still very much alive and well in Japan. I find it harder and harder to find good film in Los Angeles. Pretty soon it will all disappear and I will have to order my film from Asia.
Check out this GT-86 watch. It was going for around 500 USD so I figured I would stick to the free team watch that was given to me by Petronas Syntium. I normally don’t wear watches as I have little girl arms and they usually look gigantic, but I made an exception with this cool tachometer-inspired watch.
Race-day was upon us and the only Western driver out of the entire field was sitting on pole. Jono Lester would start the race in the number 28 car.
But before we knew it the fog started to roll it. The track is located in the mountains with a fairly high elevation.
When it was time to head out for the warm-up session before the race, the entire track was inside a huge cloud.
You could barely see in front of you. Once again I thought of the fans who drove all the way to the track just to see a thick fog.
This was the view from turn three. The green flag was out for warm up, but no cars were on course. Hmm… I wonder why.
Photographers lined the entire course waiting for a glimpse of the field of almost 40 cars, but they never came.
As the warm-up session was coming to an end the fog got much worse and the safety car emerged out of the mist.
I headed back to the media room to find the entire building glowing. I did not want to miss the opportunity for this interesting light so I headed down to the pits.
A few teams were out practicing driver changes and pit stops.
I felt like I was shooting in a dream within a dream. It was like Speedhunt-ception.
At this point the race was already delayed and they had yet to do the pit walk.
Super Taikyu goes out rain or shine – and so do the race queens. Just look at everyone wearing thick jackets. I don’t understand how these girls brave the cold like that.
Fariqe Hairuman enjoyed the last few moments before he had to get into the number one Petronas AMG SLS for the start of the race.
As he sat on the grid with his arms crossed and his eyes closed waiting for the race to start, the clouds came in once again.
The wind picked up significantly and almost knocked this race-queen off her feet.
These queens would have suffered the same fate, except they locked onto each other to form enough mass to not get blown away.
The pace-car waited patiently as everyone was about to drive into the abyss.
I ran down the straightaway to turn 1 for the coveted start shot. It was crazy how defined the fog was. It was very clear where it began and where it ended.
Right as the race was about to start turn one was completely blanketed by the fog. All the Japanese photographers yelled obscenities in Japanese – at least that is what I was assuming they were doing.
For about five laps the cars went around the track. We could hear them, but we could not see them. Then finally the fog cleared enough for me to get this shot of the safety car leading the entire grid. The next lap the green flag would come out for the first time.
For some reason the GT-R was leading, and to my knowledge at the time the number 28 Petronas car was in pole. After the race I found out that they decided to get one driver-change out of the way right off the bat.
Since every car has three drivers and each one has to drive a stint, many teams decided to pit very early to get a stop out of the way: if any of the listed drivers don’t complete at least a one-lap stint the team gets a 110 second penalty.
I jumped in the media shuttle that circles the outside of the course to save time, as the race was shortened to a mere two hours. There were many more corners to shoot from, but so little time.
There were short periods where it was completely clear. It even stopped raining at one point and the sun even came out to say hello.
But soon afterwards the visibility turned for the worst again. They were still racing in these conditions…
…even though it got even worse and you could barely see at all. The safety car came out immediately and stayed out for many laps
All of us who were still out there did our best to move as fast as we could in hopes of finding a corner that was not in the clouds.
Little by little, Melvin Moh in the number 28 Petronas AMG SLS worked his way to the front of the pack. They were still very far behind as their pit-stop timing was off from when the safety car had come out. But then again there was no possible way to know when yellow flags will come out, as the weather was completely unpredictable.
Even when the fog disappeared the safety car was out due to the sheer amount of standing water.
But as soon as the green flag came out it was back to intense racing. These cars were all dancing a fine line between going off course and putting down a great lap in the wet.
With one final downpour the red flag came out. I had a cold sensation in my feet as I watched a very wet flag wave. I looked down and my feet were nearly under water.
The number 28 AMG SLS ended up finishing in fourth place. It was very quick around the course, even in the wet, but there was no way for the team to guess when the safety car would come out. They took a gamble with their pit strategy, but it did not work and they lost out.
It really goes to show, no matter how much you prepare it seems Mother Nature always has her way. Even though the Petronas team earned pole position, it was not enough. You have to have luck on your side as well. The number 1 car did get second place and looked like they could have closed in to first, but the red flag came out too early.
At the end of the day I was completely soaked from head to toe, though at least my gear was dry as a bone due to my rain protection – minus the front elements of my lenses of course. Even though I was cold, tired and aching all over I had a huge grin on my face. I thought to myself, this must be what heaven is like…