Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete 2011, Simply Amazing!

Dario FranchittiHello all,
I’m back from a bit of a break that wasn’t really a break. I’ve been shooting like crazy over the past two weekends with my new Nikkon D90. One weekend, two weekends ago, I went to a meet of Lancer Evolution owners who are members of Evolutionm.net, a Lancer Evo community that I’ve been a part of since 2005. The other, the weekend before last, was this great adventure of my second attending of the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg, Florida. I’ve only slept for about four hours per night, for four nights in a row, editing these photos to bring them to you here and on Flickr. I was elated to get five hours last night before getting back up at midnight to finalize it all. Enough about sleep, on to the Grand Prix.

Link to the Flickr set

I arrived on Saturday to the wail of race engines as the first World Challenge race was about to begin on the streets of St Pete. This was my first time with a digital SLR camera at a race, so the sights, and more importantly the sounds, were quite overwhelming when you’re trying to hold a camera. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been around my fair share of race cars, but this was my first meeting with the new Cadillac CTS-V race cars. This was the first time that the new coupe would be raced in the Sports Car Club of America’s World Challenge GT series. The sound of their exhausts as they were coming down the Acura Advance was at first so loud and sudden, like a lion’s roar, that I nearly thought I was going to drop the camera. Over the weekend, it would quickly grow to be one of the two most distinctive most favorite engine sounds, the other being the banshee-like wail of the angry rotaries.

CTS-V coupe

This was what I was shooting when I nearly thought the camera was going to jump out of my hands. You can hear them even more pronounced in the video below.

Also, right at the beginning, you’ll see K-PAX Racing’s Volvo C30 R, which was recently featured on Jalopnik, in an eight part series of articles entitled How to turn a grocery getter into a world beater in 60 days. See the link for the final article with links to the seven previous articles.

KPAX C30 R
KPAX on track

Speaking of Jalopnik, if you’re a frequent commenter on there, you’ll recall FlairHair. And yes, it was in attendance!

FlairHair1

FlairHair2

The really funny part was that it took a while for me to recognize that it was in fact FlairHair, because it matched the shade of his hair so well!

Later on that day, I’d see a Star Mazda race and an Indy Lights practice. These cars are smaller than the full Indy cars, and just a little bit slower, but still unbelievably quick.

Indy Lights
Mazda Light backfire
Mazda Light
Indy Light

Franchitti car

After the Mazda Lights, it was time for some IndyCar practice.

Takuma Sato practicing

In the wake of the earthquake that hit Japan recently, this was probably one of the most touching images I took all weekend. Someone in the stands was holding up a Japanese flag during practice, while Takuma Sato drives past on a practice lap.

Mike Conway practicing

Mike Conway practicing

Marco Andretti practicing

Marco Andretti practicing. The next day, he would fail to even complete one lap of the actual race, due to flipping the car and taking a couple of cars with him. Friends of mine have speculated that it may have been bad karma from his taking Weldon out at the Indy 500, 4 years ago, considering he seemed to get the worst of it this time.

Here’s a video of the wreck, shot by JRGriggsDOTnet, who was much closer to the scene than I was.

Sunday morning, I rushed back to St Pete to catch the drifting. Unfortunately, as soon as I got to the gates, I pulled out the camera and found that I’d left the battery on the charger… at home… 40 minutes away. But, I stayed to watch the show anyways and shot it on my phone,  but I was a little let down. I was hoping that they’d be dishing out the choku dori, seeing as how there were so many straights. Alas, it was not to be. There was some slow rolling through half of the straight, followed by a punch of the throttle to bring the car up to speed for a drift around the corner. I don’t blame them, maybe they don’t get paid enough to risk their cars that much for an event like this. Or perhaps that requires a higher level of torque than these cars were producing. Whatever it is, I will say I loved the wail of the rotaries.

WARNING, THIS VIDEO IS LOUD!!1!

The funny part was that most of the cars were either turbo 4’s or rotaries, and they were followed by a Mustang convertible that was made to look like a Cobra R. Despite likely having the largest engine, the faux R was doing almost no drifting at all, while the others were bouncing off their rev limiters!

After the drifting, I got back to the car as fast as I could and raced home to get the battery. I got back just in time for the IndyCar driver introductions. There was Will Power, who won the pole on the previous day, Danica Patrick, a crowd and kid favorite, Dario Franchitti, who would go on to win the race later that day, Marco Andretti, grandson of Mario and son of Michael, Castroneves, who won the last time I attended the race in 2007, as well as Tony Kanaan (another crowd favorite) and many others. But the guy that really out-shined all of their entrances was Takuma Sato, who came up the lift with the flag of his home country of Japan, over his head.

Dario Franchitti

Dario Franchitti, three time IZOD IndyCar champion, one of Top Gear's Men of the Year for 2010, and winner of the day's IZOD IndyCar race.

Will Power

Will Power, who won the pole position on Saturday.

Takuma Sato

Best. Entrance. Ever. Showmanship, he has it. He has also set up a direct support campaign entitled "With you Japan" to help the victims of the disasters. His car wore a special "With you Japan" livery on it's sides.

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick, a crowd favorite, who had just celebrated a birthday on the Friday before.

Tony Kanaan

Indy 500 Champion, Tony Kanaan, or TK, another crowd favorite.

Not long after the race started, I heard of Mario’s crash from one of the flag men. I was on the other end of the track, between the Acura Advance and Acura Turn 10. The little bit of aftermath that I saw was mostly of Mike Conway’s car limping back to the pits with what looked like a broken rear axle.



Japan car

Bogota car

Silvia

Danica

TK

Andretti
At the end of the day, it was back to my favorite. World Challenge!

Porsche

S and R car

This S2000 appears to have had some work done by S & R performance, who've done work on my Lancer!

damaged Viper

GT vs Vette

GTI

Evo X

Cunningham

The winning-est racer in World Challenge history, Peter Cunningham!

badass vette

The gorgeously matte black, and yet incredibly difficult to capture on film Black Dog Racing Corvette.


After the races, I didn’t leave right away, and good thing too. The cars appeared to be doing parade laps. I got some of the best shots of the day as the staff was trying to shoo everyone out.

This thing kept on going through the whole race. It didn't need the tow until the parade lap.

Do the Ed Lover!

On my way out, I came face to face with this gorgeous Weld wheel, attached to a battle worn Mustang. Too bad, this was one of the best looking stangs out there



Well, that’s it from me from this year’s Honda Grand Prix. I’m exhausted! I hope you’ve enjoyed the photos and the video, and hopefully I can do it again next year, maybe with more support from other people, or less going on in the rest of my life. Here is a link to the Flickr set, if you’re interested in the rest of the images. There are many many more.

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