PHOTOS: Matt Romanotto
Last weekend I had the great opportunity to photograph the Kohler Grand Prix with the Slipstream Network. I’ve covered a few other series over the past few years, but this was my first chance to get credentialed access to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Growing up in Indiana, I’ve been a big fan of Indy car racing since I was a little kid, so this was a bit of dream come true to finally get to work with America’s premiere open wheel series.
Road America has been nicknamed America’s National Park of Speed, and once you’ve been there it’s easy to see why. The track is nestled in the rolling hills of northern Wisconsin, and the four-mile course makes good use of the natural elevation changes and forest backdrop. To prepare for IndyCar’s (and the accompanying crowd’s) arrival the track made several improvements from last year, including a new gift shop in the paddock and extra jumbo-trons around the course. My favorite upgrade though has to be the new path down to Canada corner and the Kettle Bottoms. one of my favorite photo spots on the track is a window cutout midway between the kink and Canada Corner. Last year to get there you had to take the path starting all the way down by the go kart track, and once you made it down there you’re pretty much stuck for the entire race if it’s short. Now, I can shoot turn 5 and hop the path just beyond the exit of turn 12, so those back stretch shots aren’t limited to practice sessions any more. I’d still like to see stairs added to the trail between Turns 6 and 12. Getting up and down the hill can be a bit treacherous if the path is muddy. I’d also love a bridge or some other access to the outside of Canada corner. Some of the coolest shots on track can be had there, but getting out that way is quite a haul without a car or golf cart handy.
The crowds for the race were huge this past weekend! It’s great to see IndyCar gaining more and more fans this year, as the racing is some of the best in the world. I think the hype of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 has really helped remind fans how cool IndyCar can be. Plus fans and drivers alike have been dying to see the series come back to the track after the race was removed from the schedule; a casualty of the Champ Car and Indy Racing League merger. The huge crowds can make paddock photography quite a daunting task, though. With series like the Pirelli World Challenge, it’s easy to move in and around the team trailers, chat with drivers, and the world is pretty much open to you and your camera. With IndyCar, though, it’s a bit of a walled garden. Teams are more restrictive with paddock access, drivers kind of disappear to get some time to themselves away from all the fans, and the crowds are huge. All this makes the candid shots I love tricky to get. I’ll have to work on getting know some of the teams better so I can get more up close and personal with the drivers and cars. With every tier of both the Mazda Road to Indy Series and PWC running this weekend, the paddock was absolutely sprawling! You could spend almost all day there grabbing photos of cars and teams, but you’d miss out on the nearly constant on track action. Sadly I didn’t get much time in the paddock or on pit road; hopefully next time.
On the good side, the track was an unceasing parade of racing machinery. With 13 races, practice sessions, and qualifying between all the race series, the track was filled from early morning to sunset each day. This was pretty much a photographer’s fantasy weekend with plenty of time to check out all the best locations around the track. Slipstream was able to bring two photographers, myself and Pete Gorski, to divide and conquer the massive track. Between the two of us we covered just about every turn and photo spot available.
One other challenge presented itself this weekend: speed. It’s pretty amazing watching the DW12’s fly past you only a few feet from where you stand, but catching that on camera can is quite a task. Some spots where panning shots were easy with the slower cars resulted in a nice blurry mess as the IndyCars raced past. Extra patience and some setting tweaks were needed to get the best results. The racing action didn’t disappoint though, with Will Power taking the checkered flag after leading 46 laps and starting on pole.
If you missed out on the return if IndyCar this year don’t worry. It sounds like the series will be returning for many years to come!