I got a call from my friend Tim Stanley earlier this week asking me if I would like to go to the Houston Grand Prix. Being that I have never gone to a Grand Prix race, I was pretty excited. Of course, having no experience at a race like this, I had no real idea of how to prepare for getting good shots at the race.
We started out early and got to Reliant Park before the gates opened. I am glad that I bought a new pair of comfortable shoes the day before because we ended up walking all day on concrete from 9am to 7 pm.
Aside from having tickets into the race, we also had Pit Passes and access to the Balcony Club in Reliant Stadium. We used the Balcony Club to recharge our batteries by getting out of the heat for a few minutes and pounding down some water.
As we walked around Reliant Park, we got to meet many interesting people. I met some military veterans that have a ministry that helps other veterans deal with issues like PTSD and integrating into society after serving in combat. They are called Camp Hope and they are located here in the Houston area. Part of the PTSD Foundation of America, Camp Hope offers support groups and counseling.
I also go to meet some of the executives from Shell who were the main sponsors of the Houston Grand Prix. Istvan Kapitany, President Shell Commercial Fuels and Lubricants of the Americas, was walking around greeting race fans. Kapitany is a huge fan of racing himself and it was evident that he was really enjoying seeing the employees of Shell making this event a success. There were Shell engineers distributing kits for people to assemble their own Saltwater powered car along with giving demonstrations on the science behind manufacturing fuel and lubricants.
As the day progressed, we toured the displays at many of the vendor’s trailers including Cadillac, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Optima Batteries. We then checked out the Firestone Fan village where they had the National Guard, Novo Nordisk and some other race sponsors who were giving out a lot of Swag like hats, t-shirts, sunglasses and I.D. lanyards.
After giving our feet a rest in the Balcony Club and hydrating, we went outside on the balcony to watch the practice rounds of the upcoming race. It was pretty amazing to see these cars navigate such a narrow track at speeds in excess of 100mph. We decided to leave the Balcony Club and get next to the racing action in hopes that we could get some decent shots. I did not realize how hard it was going to be to get a clean shot of the race due to the chain linked fence that must surround the track. Of course the high fences are all part of providing a safe viewing environment for the fans, so you just have to do your best to shoot through the fence. This was a challenge for me and I experimented with a few possible way to mitigate the fence being in between me and my subject. At one point, I decided to just embrace the fence as it is just as much a part of racing as the cars on the track.
After watching some practice laps from the grandstands, we decided to walk around and see if we could find a better vantage point for cleaner shots. We finally found the tent of ABC Supply Co. who graciously permitted us to shoot from the back of their tent. We got some great shots from that vantage point and got a little relief from the punishing heat of the sun.
Later in the afternoon, we found the drivers of the Pirelli World Challenge lining up to go on their practice run and I got some great shots of some of their car and drivers. PJ Groenke and Shea Holbrook of Shea Racing encouraged me to get shots of them with their cars. PJ and Shea were very nice as they answered my questions. Keep in mind that this was my first race to attend, so it was interesting to be able to ask some drivers about their gear and their cars. Both Shea and PJ drive the Honda Fit in the in TCB (Touring Car B-Spec) class of the Pirelli World Challenge .
At the end of the day, we caught up with some of the Grand Prix drivers as they were signing autographs at the FIrestone Fan Village. AMong the drivers present were Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Sebastian Saavedra, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Simona De Silvestro, Ed Carpenter, James Hinchliffe, Josef Newgarden, Mike Conway, Tristan Vautier, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, James Jakes, Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal, Will Power, E.J. Viso, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Oriol Servia and Luca Fillipi.
After walking all day on concrete and getting pounded by the heat, I was feeling a little like a sun dried tomato, so I got some shots of the drivers and then we started toward the gate to go home.
Of course, just as we have decided to leave, we hear that the Pirelli World Challenge TCB class practice race has just begun, so we climbed back into the grandstands to watch. I cheered for Shea Holcombe and PJ Groenke as they spun around the track.
By the time I got home last night, I couldn’t feel my feet, but I had a great time. I am looking forward to my next opportunity to attend a race. Something that I noticed about the Grand Prix race is that, unlike many of the professional sports these days, they are photo friendly. The races are an excellent opportunity for photographers to get some great shots.