Photographer's Blog: A Story About an Ending

For years Phillip Island has been a track I'd planned to go to, but for one reason or another, it was a trip I'd not been able to make happen. I was ticking off other top locations such as Catalunya, Mugello, Assen, places that were Bucket List items for me both as a race fan and a photographer. But PI wouldn't cooperate.

As soon as Casey issued his surprise announcement that he was retiring, I knew I had to make it to Phillip Island. This time there could be no excuse: I had to see Casey ride at his home track, and this was my last chance. Fortunately for me, there was still some money in the bank from the Elbow Down edition to pay for airfare and expenses. And my wife, whose patience and kindness seem to know no bounds, agreed to manage the childcare without my help yet again this season. I booked the trip and held my breath.

As a photographer, I set myself with the goal of finding an image that would stand as a recognition of what it was to be there that weekend. I'm always looking for stories to tell with my images, but for Casey's final home race I wanted to come up with something that not only his fans, but fans of MotoGP and what Casey has contributed to the top level of motorbike racing, would look at and know in an instant: That's Casey in his last race at Phillip Island. 

The weekend began with the presentation at Turn 3, now known as Stoner Corner, where Casey has so famously shown over the past few years why he is unique among even the most talented motorbike riders in the world. The way he comes through this challenging turn is different from all others, and in the pre-race press conference he was asked about his method of taming this intimidating section of tarmac. He joked that he wasn’t quite ready to reveal his secret for getting around Turn 3 so much faster than anyone else. At the time he had yet to win his sixth consecutive victory here at his home track.

Each session seemed a farewell to the fans who lined the track to see the national hero on home turf for the final time. Not only did Casey dominate each time sheet, but he acknowledged the crowd at the end of each session as if aware that some fans might come only for Friday or Saturday as some tend to do. He seemed to want to wave to each and every person who made the trip to see him ride for the last time.

Everywhere I looked people were wearing the free King Casey paper crowns the track was handing out to honor their retiring hero. There was a tangible feeling that this was indeed a special weekend to go to a motorbike race, and that to be there in person was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that folks would talk about for decades to come.

Back to my photographic goal: When I saw that Casey had arranged a special helmet design for the event I knew my photo had to feature that. I've seen other riders do this on many occasions, but this was the first time I'd seen Casey do a one-off helmet. So all photos from Friday were discounted since he’d worn his traditional crash hat until Saturday. I decided that Lukey Heights was my best chance of getting an image that offered a close up not only of this special helmet, worn uniquely for this special occasion, but also that showed Casey at home in a section of track that is uniquely Phillip Island.

Sometimes, when I get back to the computer after a day of shooting, an image seems to jump off the screen. The one shown at the top was one of those. The detail is incredible, and thanks to the fantastic trackside access at PI, Casey seems to be riding nearly straight at you as you view this image in a large format. 

I knew I had the image I'd hoped to capture, and I also realized it was my best candidate for my desire to do one more signed, limited edition with him before he retired. The week between Phillip Island and Valencia was a hectic one as I raced to get the copies of this print produced and packed here in California, and also to line up an agreement with Casey to sign fifty copies on the final race weekend of his career.

When I presented the chosen image to Casey for his signature at Valencia as shown below, he gave me that same smile I got when he’d signed the Elbow Down image earlier at Laguna Seca. It was fantastic to see his own pleasure and satisfaction with the image I’d captured to commemorate his final home race. I’m very pleased to offer this edition, which is limited to 50 copies, each of which was signed by Casey at Valencia on November 11, 2012.

 

It’s my hope that some who were there that weekend will enjoy this signed print as a unique remembrance of the event, and also that some who were not able to attend but who appreciate Casey’s amazing talent and contribution to MotoGP will find this print perhaps the next best thing to having been there in person. If a copy of the print isn't for you, then I hope the story of what goes into a project like this from the photographer's perspective is interesting to read about.

For more information about the edition and to order a copy, please click here. To see over a hundred other photos from the weekend, have a look at the gallery over at PHOTO.GP.

 

 

Comments

Turn 3

Nice write up. Gonna miss Casey, though I respect his decision to bail.

Regarding Turn3, I always thought he was fast through turn 3 b/c he was better out of the Southern Loop than everyone else. Time will tell.

Total votes: 80

Highlights

Great image and nice write up.

My first trip to the island and in fact my first trip to see MotoGP, was 2007 - Casey's first win there and his first World Championship, and I have been down every year for all of his 6 wins. The ride there takes me two full days, but it isn't anywhere near as far as some people ride to see him, I met riders from South Australia, up North in Brisbane, and even Perth on the West Coast, who had ridden almost all the way across Australia, because this was the last time they would get the pleasure of watching Casey ride.

It's a great shame to me that Casey names the fact that he didn't feel appreciated as one of the reasons why he is quitting - along with the sport changing, and a long time living out of a suitcase. Because that day at the island there was a mix of sadness and joy - but also it was very clear that people really did love to watch Stoner ride, and did appreciate being in the presence one of the fastest ever in MotoGP.

I love the Sport and the fact I got to see Casey win every time at The Island was really special for a relative newcomer to the sport - but I also know that when I am riding down there in 2013, something will be missing, and that brings a lump to my throat.

Still....can't wait to see Marquez throwing the RCV around PI too :) The Show Must Go On.

Total votes: 109

On the bright side...

you a have one up and comer in Moto3 and a rejuvenated (though currently suspend) Ant West to keep you interested!

Total votes: 86

Stunning shot

Quintessentially Stoner... when he's old and grey and someone suggests that the older he gets the faster he was, he can point to it.

I reckon this one from your site must have been a close second choice: http://www.photo.gp/2012/MotoGP-2012-17-Phillip-Island/26138217_Mfvp2N#!i=2176897795&k=5pvGj64&lb=1&s=XL

I'd love to hear any comments you have about the impression of Stoner in his corner, from trackside. In that shot, the black line off the rear tyre shows that the front was going to be on that millimeter of track from way, way back, like a laser-guided missile hitting a door handle from ten miles out. How would you describe it from up close and personal?

Total votes: 94

Turn three in Stoner's words

"As I drop dow into the corner I close the throttle, and as soon as I drop the front into the turn I get straight back on the throttle and step the rear out. That puts the weight on the rear tyre and stops the bike having issues, windy or not. I completely shut off in fifth gear to get the bike to turn, but once back on the gas it's not quite flat out. I use just enough throttle to crack out the rear, if you give it too much it will come around. It's a balancing act, just enough throttle to crack out the rear without it spinning too much."

So there you go GP stars, now you just have to go and do it! But since his teammates have had his data since day one it's clearly a lot easier said than done. It's one thing I recall Nicky saying about Stoner's throttle control, how good he was with it in the last 10% before being wide open. The way he describes it makes it seem like a violent process, but it's soooo smooth viewed from Bass Strait Stand.

Stoner then talks about his best ever execution of said maneuvre, in qualifying 2011:

"I went in there and shut off for the least amount of time I ever have, the data showed that it was less the than 0.3 of a second that I shut off the gas. Then I was straight back on it, almost full throttle through the turn. I went in there at 262km/h and the slowest speed on the data was 258km/h and I was completely sideways. I had the front wheel halfway across the curb on the inside because I got the corner exactly right. That's as good as it gets, I've never gone through there as quick as that It was bloody fast."

This interview was done before he laid down a lurid black strip over the inside curb with his rear tyre in practice though, so the benchmark may have changed since!

Total votes: 102

Thanks for comments

 

Comments much appreciated, thanks. 

Pooch, I envy your record at PI. As I've told David and anyone else who has asked, that is my new favorite track in the world. I hope this year was only the first in a long series of visits. Though without Casey doing his thing it may never be quite the same. 

Oscar, that shot is one that I had in mind but wasn't able to pull off to the level of quality I need for a signed, limited edition. I was also thinking of turn 3, but given the track design we're just too far away for the perspective I wanted. Casey coming out of Siberia was a thing of beauty, and he often had it sideways sliding through there. But as I said, I never got a capture that was razor sharp and good enough to print nice and big. Still, no complaints on my end about Lukey Heights, the perspective of the bike and rider as they crest that hill is unique and the quality of the shot I got there blows people away when they see it.

As for Casey flying through turn 3 as viewed from trackside, it's one of the moments that stand apart. It's similar to how the fastest guys come over the hill and Sachsenring, or how they fly through that super fast kink at Assen (can't recall the turn name), except that whether I imagine it or not, it seems Casey's going a lot faster than anyone else. The other riders go fast too, and the actual speed difference can't be that great as he makes up only a few tenths there, but no one else seems to come through in the same way. Pedrosa was sliding the rear there as well but it was somehow different. So was Bradl as I recall, he's another really interesting rider to watch. In fact I've proposed the idea before that whether he means to do so or not, I think he tries to ride like Casey, with similar body position and style. I don't know if he has the same touch in his wrist. But now that Casey is gone, Bradl is one of my favorite riders to photograph because of how he moves the bike in corners.

Desh, thanks for the quotations, very interesting that in the age of electronics it still comes down to the subtlety of throttle control. I remember when I first got back into following motorcycle racing after a long time away a good friend told me that Rossi was so good for the same reason: The 500s required such delicate touch on the throttle few could keep up with him in that area. It's certainly a case of knowing WHAT to do does not equal being ABLE to do it!

Thanks again for the comments, I really appreciate hearing from you all!

Scott

Total votes: 102

Scott, thanks for the insight

The one you chose is the exactly right one for the circumstances (IMHO). It manages to convey the intensity of the man himself, that he has radiated in many pictures; somehow behind that visor you can so easily imagine an expression of determination that would send any sane competitor at P.I. scampering for the treeline. Any book on Stoner's career would surely have to have that image in it.

Total votes: 94

agreed. In the other shot,

agreed. In the other shot, the bike dominates the photo. In the chosen shot, Casey dominates, and isn't this about the MAN. That, plus I love that spotted pattern from his left glove.

Total votes: 89

Phillip Island

Scott..

Enjoy reading your comments on Phillip Island.

You can see why all the photographers congregate over at Lukey Heights and the exit of MG Corner
The areas marked as 9,10 and 11 on the map.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillip_Island_Grand_Prix_Circuit

I did some shooting on the inside of Honda Corner (4) on the Sunday morning warmup a couple of years ago. Those shots worked out well with the D3 and 500mm f4.

All the best

Total votes: 83

That picture

will be burned into my brain from now until the final time I close my eyes... If I were a kid, that would be the picture that would make me tell my parents and friends that I want to be King of the Island when I grow up...

Shit, at 38 it does make me want to tell my parents and friends that I want to be Casey Stoner when I grow up.

awesome shot. amazing rider.

Scott, I hope Cal gives you a high-five or a Christmas card for this one... is it for sale?
http://www.photo.gp/2012/MotoGP-2012-17-Phillip-Island/26138217_Mfvp2N#!i=2177054853&k=5cdVHGb&lb=1&s=XL

Total votes: 89

Thanks

Appreciate the comments, MSS58, and I'd like to be the Casey Stoner of Photography (or of anything, really) when I grow up, but I fear I've missed that boat. Then again, if there were more than one of him, he'd not be quite as special. So I guess we need to be content to have been around to see him in person, which in itself was quite a special thing.

As for the shot of Cal--sure, you can buy that one, and if you're a bit patient, you might see in my newsletter shortly an opportunity to get it signed by the man from Coventry. ;-)

http://bit.ly/PHOTOGPnews

Total votes: 85

Wonderful job

Well written and great pix :)

Total votes: 72

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