Non-science hobbies (again) – the Honda Indy Toronto

Race Winner - Ryan Hunter-Reay
One race winner, two cars, and three sponsor banners. Check, check, and check.

Those who’ve been following me for longer than I’ve been a resident at Occam’s Typewriter will know that I have a passion – some might call it an obsession – for photographing fast-moving vehicles. Most of the time, it’s just for me – a hobby coupled to an enjoyment of motorsports. But one weekend of the year, it becomes more – a job, albeit an unpaid one, as a fully credentialed media photographer for the IndyCar dust-up on the Streets of Toronto circuit. This is where the teams, drivers and cars that run the Indianapolis 500 show up in downtown Toronto, on the Exhibition Place grounds, for a weekend of fairly loud, and very fast, competition. And what a weekend it is – full of challenging assignments, a shot list as long as my arm, and three full days of hard slogging around the track. Like my science day job, it’s about working with a team, meeting milestones, and going the extra little bit to deliver results. By the end of Sunday, the twice-a-day hand-in deadlines meant I’d reviewed over 1,500 photographs, and delivered just a hair fewer than 200 as my part of the equation – on time, each day. Compared with some open-ended projects I’m occasionally obliged to stickhandle at work, the sense of satisfaction and completion is a welcome change.

This was my third year on the team. You can read all about last year starting on race day here, and work all the way back to my inaugural year in 2010 from there, if you want to. As for 2012: here are some highlights.


In the morning, I watched the resident clown at the children’s hospital where I work film an interview with IndyCar driver Oriol Servia, and came up with a great joke: “Who’s the clown with the camera?”. Neither he, nor anyone else, thought it was funny.

Oriol Servia - Racing for Kids, Toronto
Mr. Servia, a champ with the kids. The clown’s out of shot to the left, not laughing.

Next I toddled off to the track to shoot a few press conferences, including one with Formula 1 legend Rubens Barrichello, a true gentleman of the sport, in the best senses of the word.

Rubens Barrichello, Honda Indy Toronto 2012

Then I completely missed the opportunity to be driven around the track at race speed in a Ferrari, because I’d left early to go home and rest up for the coming weekend. Argh.


I wandered around pit lane and a few other places, including a favourite haunt on the inside of turn one, adjacent to the Princes’ Gate, a Toronto landmark. The day involved photographing practice sessions, drivers autographing things, and fans having fun.

Simona de Silvestro, turn 1, Toronto 2012
Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, getting her speed on.

I also finally met a friend of my brother’s, who drives the IndyCar medical vehicle, after the third year of saying I’d try to find her at the track.


For the second year in a row, I was dispatched as part of the “you idiots didn’t take any photos in front of the turn 9 Pizza Pizza billboards yesterday!” detail. Just for fun, I snapped a photo of exactly the same driver, in exactly the same car, in front of exactly the same billboard. Felt pleased with myself for being so cheeky. But not that pleased, because last year’s photo was better.

Then I chased a few drivers around, including eventual second place finisher Charlie Kimball and local boy James Hinchcliffe engaged in some off-track shenanigans.

Kimball and Hinch
Hinch seems to have sprouted a spare head, and a couple of extra legs.

Along the way, I nailed a couple of “keeper” shots – an IndyCar jumping a curb, and an Indy Lights car blowing some flames. Jealous noises from the rest of the team.


Sunday – RACE DAY!

First, I ran around a bit cleaning up some sponsor billboard shots, and then set off at the request of a supporting series (the Star Mazda Championship, in case you were wondering) to get some photos of a couple of specific drivers and their cars. Sorted.

And then, the main event… I stationed myself in pit lane for the starting grid and pre-race activities, elbow to elbow with crews, drivers, guests, other photographers, race officials, and goodness knows who else. Once the grid started to clear for the race, I was able to snap a few shots of teams awaiting the coming storm.

Pit Crew, J.R. Hildebrand / Panther Racing, Toronto 2012
The team of the car that was in front of that billboard on Saturday. The driver is J.R. Hildebrand, but I have no idea where he is.

It’s not trivial wedging yourself into the driver’s seat, as last year’s series champ Dario Franchitti demonstrated.

Dario wedges himself in.

And then – the race, which was all kinds of amazing from my vantage point, out on the “island” between pit lane and the front straight. The shot of the day, for sure, was this one – the iconic Princes’ Gate in the background, a pack of cars late in the race, heat haze and smoke and tire rubber flying.

Honda Indy Toronto 2012

There was also plenty of pit stop action, with huge grandstand crowds in the background – the other reason I needed to be out on the island, the only vantage point from which it’s possible to get this shot.

James Hinchcliffe pit stop, Toronto 2012
Canadian James Hinchcliffe again… before his engine let go.

And so on to the finish, and a win by Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, who you can see in the yellow car at the top of this post. I wasn’t in the right position to catch the chequered flags flying like I did last year, but instead was able to capture a nice reaction shot from the team, including team owner Michael Andretti, himself a seven-time winner of the Toronto race.

RHR's crew celebrates
Mr. Andretti’s the one in black standing in front of the journalist in the ESPN vest.

And then back to the media centre for one final round of hand-ins, and for one more year, that was that. Exhausting, great fun, camaraderie and sunscreen and water and a lost lens hood all into the bargain.

More photographs, as usual, in the Autosport collection.

About Richard Wintle

I am Canadian by heritage, and a molecular biologist and human geneticist by training. My day job is Assistant Director of a large genome centre, where I do various things along the lines of "keeping the wheels on". In my spare time, I tend to run around with a camera, often chasing horses, race cars, musicians, and occasionally, wildlife.
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4 Responses to Non-science hobbies (again) – the Honda Indy Toronto

  1. Mike says:

    Looks great, fantastic job, Richard!

    But all I want to know, is who would win in a fight between an F1 and and Indy car?

    • Thanks, Mike.

      IndyCar uses “the fastest cars in the world” as an advertising tagline, which isn’t true (I bet top fuel drag racers reach higher speeds). It is true that on the big superspeedway ovals they go faster than F1 cars, but that’s because F1 doesn’t race anywhere with long enough straights to let them get up to that kind of speed. Put an F1 and an IndyCar in a drag race and the F1 car would almost certainly be faster, I think. On a road or street course the F1 car would eat an IndyCar alive – except perhaps in Toronto, where the bumpiness might shake the F1 car to pieces. 🙂

      Of course, in the bad old days when the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans didn’t have silly chicanes in it, the cars used to fly down there at 245 MPH. But that’s hardly a fair comparison, ‘cos those days are long gone… 🙁

  2. Dawn says:

    “Then I completely missed the opportunity to be driven around the track at race speed in a Ferrari… ”

    Oh, argh and also ARGH!!!! on your behalf.

    Maybe next year?

    Excellent photos, as always!

    • Thanks Dawn. You noticed that bit, did you? Triple argh.

      I also missed out on an opportunity to be wheeled around Mosport in a turbocharged Nissan buzzbomb earlier this year. That invitiation is still open, though. 🙂

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