Saturday, July 30, 2011

News Update! Ben Spies Official Biography - Taking It to the Next Level

Ben Spies Biography - Taking It To The Next Level - Book Cover Photo by Andrew Wheeler AutoMotoPhoto
Just a quick "flash update" to the blog (I'm trying to be proactive now...). I am thrilled to announce that this is my first book cover in MotoGP and the subject matter couldn't be any closer to my old AMA roots. It's the cover of Ben Spies' autobiography! The image was taken at Catalunya earlier this year. Well, that's it!

You can find out more information about the title as well as details on purchasing this book here on Ben Spies' Official website.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I'm still here in MotoGP! Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Spies, Stoner are too!

Since March and my last update, we've had wins by Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Ben Spies!
That said, I suppose you could call this an update, a recap, or perhaps an admission that I've neglected this blog or as of today I finally realised that I have gotten to the end of July and I'm still covering MotoGP.....something that at the beginning of 2011 wasn't looking too promising. It's still not as financially lucrative as I'd like and by no means perfect, but I do believe in looking forward, being optimistic and for me, I feel I still have a lot more to tell about this sport, the people, the travel and of course, the food...this update isn't going to be a long winded philosophical waffle about nothing, I'm simply going to fast forward through the past four months of racing, race travel and location/lifestyle..and I'm going to really, really try to at least make a concerted effort over the upcoming race weeks and races that I attend to add at least something that doesn't exist on the Andrew Wheeler-AutoMotoPhoto facebook page, but do feel free to sign up and join in the fun.

Since March, I have traveled to Spain (twice), Portugal, UK and Italy. In an attempt to balance work/life, I skipped Assen in Holland (much to my chagrin as Ben Spies won) and the Sachsenring in Germany. The most recent race at Laguna Seca is a home race. It's so close to home I can sleep in my own bed each evening and is always a good weekend.

Jerez in Spain is one of my favourite places to visit for a race weekend. It is also considered the "first MotoGP race" as it's the first race on European soil. Qatar always feels somewhat like an exhibition race, or rather a novelty event and even though I enjoy going there, it's nice to arrive back in Europe. Jerez is beautiful city, wonderful people and the climate is perfect. Warm days, warm evenings and vibrant. Aside from a little run in with the Guardia Civil following an errant u-turn, and then cop thinking we were going to do a runner (which was sort of ridiculous considering both David Emmett (of and I had our Dorna passes and our parking banner visible in the car) that little indiscretion cost me €100 and about 40 minutes of standing around on a roundabout about 5km from the track. The weekend wasn't as warm as it had been in the past and we had rain on race day. Cold rain, which is becoming a "feature" of a race weekend.
Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo would go onto to win the MotoGP race. Many of the fans in attendance came to get their first glimpse of Valentino Rossi on the Ducati...but his fans are going to have to find some resolve and patience as the year rolls on.
Valentino Rossi
..With the massive earthquake in Japan causing the postponement of the race at Motegi, Dani Pedrosa would head back to hospital to fix a previous "fix" that was causing some issues as it would be almost a month until the next race in Estoril. I would head back to California.

Time travel is great. Back to Portugal for the race at Estoril a month later. I'm always tickled by the variety of rental cars I end up with on these junkets. I only ever rent from Hertz. I've had Mercedes, Volvo's, BMW's, Lancia's and Audi's. So this upgrade was a new Mini Clubman estate! After a last minute suggestion of "why don't you join me for the race weekend" I was joined by Canadian motorcycle racer Vicki Schouten. It's nice having some company when I'm away from home. We spend a day just whizzing around in the Mini and we end up visiting the castles at Sintra.
Castelo dos Mouros
There is a Moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros) on one outcrop of rock, and on the opposing outcrop of rock the Pena National we did a good hike around the old remains (until lightning and an approaching thunderstorm made us think twice about being so exposed...) and then took a swift drive of about 500m to the Pena National Palace and had a nice afternoons walk around this funky looking castle.
Pena National Palace
Again the weather played it's part in the weekend. Dani Pedrosa returns to the "pack" and is swamped by journalists asking, no, pestering him about his fixed collarbone and to whether or not he'll be fit enough to race over the weekend. What's even funnier is that I have been working with Don Emde and Parts Unlimited Europe and we decide to put together a feature on Dani Pedrosa for an upcoming magazine that Don edits. I decide to take a different approach with the interview and simply go with asking Dani about himself, the words and pictures can be viewed here. What was really cool was that Dani would go onto win the race at Estoril. Saving himself for a last gasp pass on Jorge Lorenzo. Never under estimate how these chaps deal with pain!
Dani Pedrosa
.I would not go to Le Mans due to a number of reasons. Mainly because I wanted to have some time at home with Emily, but time does fly again, and it's back to Barcelona and the race at Montmelo!
Segrada Familia
I love this town. With my good friend Bonnie Lane, and my super cool amigo, and talented Catalan Abel Cruz Ayuso we go looking for dongles, we spend the day after the race weekend having a diggy diggy moment driving around Barcelona, which only added to another wonderful race weekend at another favourite track of mine!
Not the most exciting of races but nonetheless, always some entertainment but for me, the track is loaded with photo opportunities and colour. It's a track where a scooter is handy, especially for race days. But it's also a track where walking can produce some exciting images as well
Casey Stoner
But for me this weekend was even more exciting as it would be the first time that Ben Spies would get onto the podium.
Ben Spies
So for me, and the fact that I have followed him through the AMA, WSBK and now MotoGP it was a good thing to see. I also know how happy it made "Maio", Tom, Woody, Gavin and the entire team happy as well it was onto Silverstone. Personally, I wish that Catalunya had come after Silverstone as I prefer to leave from Spain vs leaving from the UK..but there you. Silverstone wasn't the happy trip I usually have as my mother was moved from the UK to France just before I arrived, which in part was the only reason I would visit the UK, otherwise I would've skipped this race and gone to Assen instead..but there you you.
Country Cottage
That said the week was good, the company was excellent as I shared this house with Bonnie Lane, her hoosbund Chris and their friend Tim (who I had met on a previous trip to the UK). So it did turn out to be a good week, even if I was a little gloomy and cranky but of course, the weekend would turn out to be wet aside from the Saturday....
Jorge Lorenzo
It's funny how one's moods affect how one sees things. i really did feel cranky, gloomy whatever. In part because it's the one trip a year I have the chance to see my mum and that didn't happen. It costs enough as it is to travel to cover these events from the other side of the globe vs how my peers cover the races with a hop skip and a jump from a European airport. So it's a good thing when I can get to do things such as visiting my Mum which is nigh on impossible to accommodate and include it as a business trip any other time of the year.
Herve Poncheral - Colin Edwards
Race day was miserable. Wet, cold..wet and cold..windy. But for me the man of the match, or of the race was Colin Edwards. Being yet another victim of the now trendy "Broken Collarbone Club" along with Pedrosa and with fellow Tech3 rider Cal Crutchlow buying his membership the day before during an off, he stuck it out and finished third.
Casey Stoner
Casey Stoner won the race, but for me Colin won the weekend. We won't go into too much chatter about my non attendance at Assen. Factor in the fact that my trip to the UK didn't go as usually planned, and then Ben Spies ended up WINNING his first MotoGP race and I wasn't there to witness it. If I had skipped Silverstone and had plumped for Assen I'd have witnessed it. Instead, I simply sat on the sofa next to my wife and was miserable all day Sunday. Happy for Ben though, but felt sorry for myself as a result. Oh well, as they say. That's racing. Next. Italy and the madness that is Mugello.
This was the view from our little villa in a tiny village near Corella in the Tuscan hills. 2200' above sea level and a nice 25 minute drive to the track. The owners were wonderful, the house was superbly comfortable and even though we (David Emmett and I) had some fun and games with the Internet our hosts were extremely helpful in trying to find a solution for us. So much so, Emily and I are going to head back there next year and have a holiday after the race weekend. Oh, and speaking of race weekends, this is one of the craziest on the calendar. Close to Bologna, (about an hours drive) and only 30 minutes or so from Florence.
Duomo - Florence
The racetrack is located in some of the most beautiful countryside on the planet. It is also home to some of the finest FOOD on the planet
Butchers - Bologna
...and of course home to one of the finest motorcycles on the planet...can I add any more planets? It's why it's worth working hard to try and include some of this magnificent landscape into the race images for example..
Valentino Rossi
It's also another track that can pay you dividends in just simply walking vs having a scooter. I would like to add that on race days a scooter is pretty much essential and so when I'm not able to obtain one (for example, Maio Meregalli, who is the race team manager for the Factory Yamaha team, is always kind enough to see if there is a way for me to borrow a scooter, but at Mugello, with an Italian based race team and Italian sponsors/guests to keep happy makes it nigh on impossible for me to be allowed to have one) I am grateful for Andrew Northcott and his kindness in shuttling me around the track for the GP race..other than that, it's a great track to walk. As is now a tradition on each Saturday morning at Mugello. Valentino Rossi showcases a new "paintjob" that is done specifically for this race. Last year the helmet didn't really get much of a showing because it was here where he had a huge crash and broke his leg. This year, was pretty much dram free and it was the "evil eye" helmet that made an appearance.
Valentino Rossi
We had the obligatory rain over the weekend but the Sunday was lovely and aside from Jorge Lorenzo winning the what was to be a good race for him, it was local lad Andrea Dovizioso who also put on a good show and came in second with Honda rider Casey Stone coming third
Andrea Dovizioso
No Valentino Rossi on the podium, so the madness was a little more subdued until he decided to come out and visit the crowds. Speaking of crowds. You do not want to get stuck within these sweaty people doing daft things with scooters, motorcycles and fireworks. Plus there is the claustrophobia aspect of it all, and yes, I got stuck in this crowd, but after 20 minutes or so of working my way out through the crowd I was able to make it into the media centre and snag this picture of Rossi (in the open space area) heading back from his crowd visit)
. Monday would be spent packing up and having another little drive around the countryside following a trip back to Bologna to drop of David Emmett. Tuesday morning it would be back on a plane to spend the night in Amsterdam with Gavin and his fiance Floortje..a nice dinner at a funky restaurant near their apartment
The following day it was back on a plane, back home. I would skip the MotoGP race at Sachsenring and plump for some decent time at home with my wife, and with MotoGP being at Laguna Seca that would mean a nice long break at home.
Laguna Seca is always a fun race weekend. Thursdays are a great day to meet folk as it's "laid back day" and there are many promotional images being shot on the pitlane.
Factory Yamaha Team
I get a chance to spend time with Emily at home, I also get the opportunity to catch up with many of the fine people who work within the AMA where I started out. I'm glad I started my motorcycle and motorsport photography within the AMA verses simply going straight to MotoGP or World Superbike as it allowed me to be able to create images at race tracks that aren't all as pretty or as photogenic as many of the race tracks on the GP circuit. If anyone is thinking of starting out in the business, I'd say shoot the national series first before trying to make it in the GP world. You'll not only develop a greater understanding of your subject, but you'll develop the ability to be able to deal with less than perfect vistas...I mean, I'd like to think even I can make Fontana look pretty!
The weekend went well for me, aside from a small scooter mix up the weekend was warm once the fog burned off, the crowds were rather large especially on race day and of course Casey Stoner won again.
Casey Stoner
Following a huge highside on Saturday Jorge Lorenzo not only took pole but finished a healthy second. Dani Pedrosa took third.
Dani Pedrosa
I'd also like to say a huge thank you to Nic Coury at the Monterey County Weekly. A few weeks prior he interviewed me for the paper and the feature was published on the Thursday of race week. The online version of the interview can be viewed here and the in print version looked like this...
"in print" pdf version
Well, that's it for this update (or rather story...)..and so I will try to keep this a little more current that it has been for the past four months. I leave you all for now with this shot of a group of people who came to the "Great Laguna Seca Meetup" on the Saturday evening. This was the highlight of my weekend as it's so nice to put a face to a name. Thank you to all...until the next one at Brno perhaps?
Ciao for now!