A Day (or Three) at the Races

lbgp1-378The Long Beach Grand Prix is a race weekend I look forward to every year, though it’s easily one of the most exhausting events from a photographer’s standpoint. The 24/25 hour races certainly take their toll, especially if you can manage to stay awake through the whole thing, but the LBGP’s wacky schedule and sheer number of races, qualifying sessions, and practice sessions crammed into three days is enough to make even the toughest photographer want to go puke in the bushes.

lbgp1-2626We had a parking pass to the garage inside the venue, so that meant we had to get there before they closed the entrances and moved the walls into racetrack mode. For how that all works check out my previous story about the Long Beach Street Course. Anyway, getting there by 6am meant getting up at 4:45am. That’s not super early the first day you do it, but there are two more days of this stuff. The first on-track activity of the day was American LeMans practice at 7:30, so at least we had plenty of time to get coffee, attend the media meeting, and get our desks set up in the media center.
lbgp1-2706And then it was time to shoot! This was my first time seeing the new Viper. Eric got to shoot them at Mid-Ohio when they debuted last year though. Lucky guy.
lbgp1-90Pit stops are always fun to see. My credential was good for the ALMS pits, but I didn’t bother getting the special vest and I didn’t have a firesuit anyway. I figured a few shots during this first practice session would be enough.
lbgp1-1I’m glad I got these when I did, because even though I shot them from outside the pits themselves, the track marshal kicked me out of this spot when I went back later!
lbgp1-2756I was digging the low morning sun so I moved around to get to as many locations as I could before it got too boring.
lbgp1-213I wish the Audis would come play at the shorter races like Long Beach. I’ll have to make it to one of the enduros one of these days.
lbgp1-515In between sessions, they have “VIP on track activities” where stock Toyotas zip around the track, giving ride-alongs to VIP’s or something. I knew I had to conserve my energy so I took a break until Indycar practice started at 10:30.
lbgp1-553Who knew Takuma Sato would win this year’s race? I sure didn’t, but I made sure to shoot everybody just in case.
lbgp1-803After Indycar practice was practice for the celebrity race, then Indy Lights, more VIP on track activities, more Indycar practice, celebrity qualifying, then finally World Challenge practice at 4:15. All that other stuff meant it was lunch time and time to unload and sort photos, and maybe post one or two before heading out again. GMG came hard this year, with six cars in World Challenge, though they were absent from ALMS. James Sofronas himself was piloting the #14 R8 and gearing up for a stellar weekend.
lbgp1-960The Cadillacs are at least twice as loud as the other cars. I don’t get it.
lbgp1-1139Lou Gigliotti broke his transmission. Luckily it was a stock one and easy enough to swap.
lbgp1-1318At 5:00 it was time for ALMS qualifying. Looking through my viewfinder I kept thinking the black BMW had blue painter’s tape on its fender, the way track day guys cover their front bumpers and headlights to protect against rock chips. Silly me!
lbgp1-1353I like this year’s BMW’s a lot. Last year’s M3 GT’s were cool but the Z4 GTE’s are super sleek.
lbgp1-1318I love how squashed the GT cars are. I don’t care what body kit you get for your Corvette, unless you raise the suspension pick up points and wheel arches several inches it won’t look even close to this cool.
lbgp1-1432Dang, that is a lot of news equipment. This event must be important! How does that tall pole even fit in the van? It doesn’t even fit in the photo!
lbgp1-1437You can never go wrong with Ferrari. Should I say it? Here I go. More than you can afford, pal.
lbgp1-1535If this was a night race and the Ferris wheel was lit up…oh man, what a great photo spot this would be.
lbgp1-1694If you couldn’t tell, I love shooting into the sun. Backlight and shadows make every car look cool.
lbgp1-2300Usually the day would be over now, but at 7pm it was time for Super Drift Challenge practice. In previous years the drifting was simply a team drift competition and it was just another exhibition crammed between all those practice and qualifying sessions, but this year it was a standard tandem elimination competition. And there was a big prize. $15,000 for first place if I’m not mistaken.
lbgp1-227716 drivers who were still in SoCal after Round 1 came for a chance to get the prize or at least shake out the last of the pre-season bugs before heading over to Atlanta. This was also the first time anything happened here at night under the lights. The backlit smoke looked super cool.
lbgp1-2394Qualifying started at 7:45 and everyone was either doing awesome or breaking their cars. Not everyone got to run in qualifying but since there were only 16 drivers they were all going to be in the main event anyway. Qualifying wrapped up by 9 and we packed up and left the track around 9:30. After the drive back to Larry’s, getting dinner, unloading cards, and taking showers, that left three hours for sleeping before we got to do it all over again.
lbgp2-34On Saturday we got to the track just as early as the day before, and then I headed out to shoot World Challenge practice at 7:30.  Right outside the media center is basically a tunnel and the cars seem three times as loud as normal. I couldn’t stand to be there without hearing protection for more than one lap, and I can usually put with with pretty loud cars.
lbgp2-150I mentioned I like shooting into the sun, right? When else can you get killer shadows like that?
lbgp2-166The GT class had qualifying during this session but the other classes didn’t qualify until the next morning.
lbgp2-352James Sofronas took the pole position.
lbgp2-284I’ve never seen so many matching R8’s. This is the reason race cars have numbers.
lbgp2-1333At 8:30 it was time for Indy Lights practice so I headed back to the media center to unload and get something to drink. Next was more VIP on track activities, Indycar practice, the celebrity race, Indy Lights Qualifying, Indycar qualifying, even more VIP on track activities, and finally the ALMS race. Larry told everyone not to look as he changed into his firesuit but my camera looked. Naughty camera.
lbgp2-1391Alex and I pretty much stuck together for the first half of the ALMS race. First we went to Turns 1 and 2.
lbgp2-1455We saw Randy Johnson shooting at Turn 3. Holy moly this guy is tall. At 6-foot-10 he’s even taller than Rob Primo! He shoots the Grand Prix every year. It’s weird that he shoots left-eyed, but I bet he doesn’t get nose smudges all over his screen.
lbgp2-1489We kept walking along the track and hit Turn 4 for a sec.
lbgp2-1531And then Turn 5.
lbgp2-1571At most turns you can get at least two views, which is handy for mixing things up.
lbgp2-1735We skipped Turns 6 and 7 and went all the way to 8, where we waited through endless yellow-flag laps before the racing resumed. Maybe Johannes Van Overbeek got a little excited watching the drifting the night before.
lbgp2-1900On the back straight we got treated to some awesome sun flares and skyscraper backdrops.
lbgp2-2104The light at the end of the race at Turn 9 is always the best. Long Beach has amazing yellow light just before sundown. Bill Auberlen and Maxime Martin ended up winning in GT class in the black BMW, after starting 17th on the grid. That’s not a bad race at all! Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won P1 in the Muscle Milk HPD.
lbgp2-2204After ALMS was over I rushed back to the media center to change some of my gear, and most importantly grab my clear drop-in filter for my 400. I always forget it on events that go from day to night, and it’s not fun shooting at night with a polarizer. I rushed back to Turn 9 for the Super Drift Challenge, followed soon after by Alex. It’s way easier to move around when the track is cold. Crossing bridges and going the long way around things really adds up.
lbgp2-2239I guess some people thought the day was over so they dumped their cooler out and the water ran across the track. Gee, thanks a lot.
lbgp2-2247The track management is super serious about cleanup. They sent out so many trucks and workers I lost count. First it was guys with brooms and kitty litter, then came the leaf blower and finally the flame thrower. Seriously? A few donuts in a drift car would have taken care of enough of that water.
lbgp2-2290As per Murphy’s Law, the best light disappeared while they were cleaning up the water. Luckily the drifters were warming up their tires and making awesome smoke behind Luke Crowell.
lbgp2-2315And finally the drifting began, only 45 minutes late. I think I counted three practice runs before the competition started.
lbgp2-2426Jeff Jones put the Space Shuttle to shame after the driver introductions.
lbgp2-392I don’t know what got into Mike Essa. He was laying down 100-point runs back to back to back all through practice and qualifying, and during the competition it was no different. Driving against him was like driving against a robot. You had just as good a chance as beating the house at slots.
lbgp2-895Aasbø wasn’t doing too bad himself, but then he crashed when going against Matt Powers. I guess a Motegi-sponsored driver in a Scion at a Toyota-sponsored track would have been a little too much for the conspiracy theorists anyway.
lbgp2-1093In the end it came down to Essa and Powers. Essa continued his streak of 100-point runs so Powers did the only thing he knew how to do. He went all-in, turned up to 11, and basically went backwards into Turn 10. I’d never seen anyone do that before, and he did it so perfectly too. I wish these guys would drive like that in Formula D.
lbgp2-1174This is the face of someone who just made $15,000.
lbgp2-1285This was Powers’s first win and Essa’s and Wilkerson’s first time on the podium. Essa got a load of champagne right in the face. What a good sport.
As exciting as all that was, the water spill made the event run super late and we didn’t get out of the venue until 10:30, but with all the driving, eating, and maintenance still to do, it wouldn’t be bedtime for another three hours. We decided we could show up an hour later on Sunday, so that gave us four hours available for sleep still. 20+ hour days have never been so much fun!
lbgp3-55The first event on Sunday was Stadium Super Trucks practice. After shooting SST at Glen Helen and shooting the Mint 400, it didn’t seem like it would be fun to shoot trucks on the street course. They set up a jump on the front straight and a jump between Turns 9 and 10 and we watched them on TV in the media center. They were actually drifting a lot, all around the track. Maybe it would have been fun after all, but I really needed to conserve energy this day. I’d already walked 20 miles in the last two days and I was planning on driving all the way back home to NorCal this night.
lbgp3-66After SST was done, it was time for World Challenge qualifying. GT class had already qualified so this session was for everyone else.
lbgp3-223It was a nice change for it to be cloudy in the morning. I was hoping it would stay like this all day.
lbgp3-708I took a break, and after VIP on track activities, Indycar practice, more VIP on track activities, the Indy Lights race, the exotic car parade, and the SST exhibition race, I headed out to shoot the pre-race festivities for the Indycar race, which started at 1:40. The clouds were completely gone but at least there were skydivers.
lbgp3-736One landed right in front of me and the other one landed between Turns 9 and 10. How fun.
lbgp3-755Tons of spectators gathered on rooftops all over downtown Long Beach to watch the race. I wonder how the view was from up there. I wonder how much Wells Fargo was charging for admission!
lbgp3-860After driver introductions and the Star Spangled Banner, they had a few pace laps and then it was a free-for-all for two hours.
lbgp3-1175I hadn’t shot from the parking garage by Bubba Gump yet, so I walked over there to see how it was. Pretty cool view.
lbgp3-1276On the far side, between Turns 4 and 5, there were trees with which to get artsy.
lbgp3-1456Turn 5 was tailor-made for long pans. I would have gone longer than 1/13 but I didn’t have enough ND filters!
lbgp3-1753The fountain area was pretty weird for panning and tilting. The palm tree shadows across the track were pretty interesting though.
lbgp3-1774Sato had this race under control.
lbgp3-1912The skyline across Turn 5 was pretty nice. If only this race happened three hours later, there would be awesome sunset light.
lbgp3-2112Will Power won this race last year but he didn’t even get on the podium this year.
lbgp3-2506Once Sato had the lead he just kept getting further and further ahead. He might as well have won by 100 miles. I kept thinking about Senna’s race in Monaco where he was super far in the lead and they told him to back off and be safe, and he couldn’t drive that slow so he crashed. I was hoping Sato’s guys wouldn’t tell him something like that.
lbgp3-2561Before the World Challenge race, a few drifters came out and entertained the crowd. I couldn’t believe Robot Essa was still going so hard.
lbgp3-2597At 4:30 the final race of the weekend was underway. I was so happy there was no drifting after this. I was completely drained.
lbgp3-2707Sofronas was as much of a robot as Essa. Starting in front has its obvious advantages. If you can keep it together, the win should be easy. This race is only an hour long, but while that might seem short compared to the three hour stints you see in endurance racing, all the strategy is condensed into that time as well. The race is so short there aren’t even scheduled pit stops.
lbgp3-3039Now the only place on the track I’d never shot was the start-finish line, so I made the trek over there to see the finish.
lbgp3-3312This was the most anti-climactic race I’d ever seen. The last several laps were under yellow, and you can’t pass on yellow…so Sofronas won it with probably 10 minutes to go.
After this race was over it was still going to be a little while before they moved the walls to let cars out of the venue so we chilled in the media center, unloading cards and posting photos. We finally left at 6:30, headed back to Larry’s where I grabbed my suitcase, and we got one last meal before I hit the road for another six hours. Most people hate Mondays but after shooting the Long Beach Grand Prix, Monday feels amazing.
email: bohan@lifeblasters.com
instagram: @andrew_bohan, @lifeblasters

11 thoughts on “A Day (or Three) at the Races

  1. Hi Bohan

    Thinking about going to Long Beach next year and was wondering for a photographer without credentials, are their good vantage points to photograph from to avoid the catch fencing? I have the Canon 300mm f2.8L IS II (and 1.4x and 2x extenders III if I need the reach)? Thanks.



    • Street courses are difficult enough to shoot with a credential. Tall fences surround the entire course so it’ll be nearly impossible to get shots without them from the stands. Your best bet might be to buy a photo pass. With a photo pass they let you go in a few spots where you can see through/past/over the fences.

  2. Hi Bohan

    Thanks for the feedback. I didn’t realize they have photo passes which you can buy. I’ll look into a photo pass for 2014.



    • it won’t get you as much access as a real credential, but it’s far far better than trying to shoot from the stands or through two layers of fence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *