Rolex 24 at Daytona

Daytona-2

With a free Friday in Florida after the end of Lotusphere, a few of us took the opportunity to head the 70 miles up to Daytona and catch the Friday practice and qualifying sessions for the Rolex 24, otherwise known as the 24 hours of Daytona.

For just $25 we gained access to the infield and garages and got up close to the prototype and GT cars taking part in the event. In addition to the practice and qualifying sessions we also got to watch a good hour or so of the Florida 200 race in which 95 cars ranging from Roush tuned V8 Mustangs to Mini Cooper S’s raced in a fairly hectic encounter.

This was my first go at motorsport photography and the dark-art of panning. For the non-photographers out there, panning involves tracking the car with the camera whilst using a deliberately slow shutter speed. If done properly this leaves the car in focus and the background nicely blurred, really giving the car a punch that makes it stand out. Whilst it is fairly easy (at least in the bright Florida sunshine) to use high shutter speeds to freeze the action and get sharp shots, a good panning shot will really stand out. For example, compare the shot of the Ferrari F430 at the top of the post with this one of a Roush Mustang from the Florida 200 race:

Daytona-10

Unfortunately, panning is hard. Especially when shotting hand-held. With my 55-200 Tamron lens I only got about half a dozen worth panning shots out of probably over 100 attempts. The good news is that with motor racing you are typically not short of opportunities to get the shot you want given the cars tend to come round quite often!

The access to the garage areas was great, and I have a load of shots ready to be processed from that. One particular highlight for me was seeing a couple of British drivers – one well known and one not so (at least in the UK) As you can see below, the veteran Derek Bell was driving in the 24 hour race in a Pontiac Riley prototype. His car finished in 63rd place overall and 24th in the prototype class.

Derek Bell

However the highlight for me was getting to meet Dan Wheldon. He was a few years below me at school and went on to win the Indy 500 and Indycar series in his rookie year, as well as being a previous Rolex 24 winner. I managed to blag my way into his trailer based on this tenuous link and had a quick chat with him and fiancée.

Dan Wheldon

Unfortunately he didn’t have the best weekend. His car was crashed by a team-mate on Thursday and they finished 42nd overall, 18th in class in the Chip Ganassi Target Lexus Riley.

A1 DYS

Whilst having a bite to eat with my cousin the other Sunday we got talking about the fact that she works in sales for the UK’s largest dealer in private car registrations. For those who might not be familiar with the concept, you get a bog-standard registration number whenever you buy a new car, but you can also buy a private one from a dealer to transfer onto the car. These are normally relevant to one’s name, pet, football team etc. etc. However, you can’t specify exactly what you want, it has to be a plate issued in the first place by the DVLA (and which therefore meets their criteria making the use of numbers as substitutes for letters common) hence the fact that dealers spring up to buy and sell them.

I mentioned to her that I had always fancied getting A1 DYS. To my surprise, she said that it had been on their books not long ago. When I asked her why she hadn’t thought of me she said she had, but didn’t reckon I’d have the £50k to meet the purchase price. Fair enough then, she got that one right 😉

Richard Hammond and the Internet as a force for good

If you live in the UK you’ll most likely know about the BBC TV motoring entertainment programme Top Gear. If you are outside the UK then there’s still a fair chance that you’ve heard about it.

When news that Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond had been involved in a serious crash whilst filming for the forthcoming series broke yesterday, my first instinct was to log onto Pistonheads, a motoring web site with a very active and entertaining set of forums which I spend far too much time reading. Given the affinity between PH’ers and the subject matter at hand, a large amount of messages were being posted about what had happened. As news filtered through that Richard had been taken to Leeds General Infirmary by air ambulance, in a critical condition after the jet powered vehicle he was piloting crashed at around 280mph, people’s attention turned to wishing and praying for his recovery. Eventually people started coming up with ideas about how the members of Pistonheads could show their feelings. People in Leeds offered to buy flowers and deliver them, but then somebody mentioned the fact that they’d not be allowed in intensive care. A few more ideas were ventured, and then somebody suggested that we pull together and donate some money to the people who hopefully have saved his life.

Thus, quite quickly, the charity donation web site JustGiving was utilised to set up a page for PH’ers to donate to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance Service Charity. Initially the target was set at £340, the average cost of each sortie the helicopter makes (and it makes around 1000 per year.) That was soon passed, and as links were spread through the large network of motoring websites and forums in the UK and beyond, the amount began to spiral. A few people contacted friends in the media, and Sky News and the BBC picked up on it. The target figure was changed again and again as the amount being donated kept on rising. As I write, the amount donated stands at £20,133.00. When you add on the Gift Aid money which will be reclaimed from the government, the total leaps to over £25,000 – enough in itself to keep the air ambulance going for a week.

So, visit http://www.justgiving.com/PHRichardHammond, if not to donate, then just to witness the generosity of the web towards a deserving cause which helped out a popular UK TV presenter in his time of need and who might just be there for you or me one day.

Of course, the Yorkshire Air Ambulance is just one of many such services throughout the UK. None of which receive a penny of government money for the vital service they provide and rely entirely on sponsorship and charitable donations. My county of Hampshire does not currently have one, but plans are afoot for creating one. I’ll certainly be watching this with interest and doing what little I can to help.
Good luck for a hopefully full recovery Richard, and my thoughts go out to his young family.