Blue Fire

Back home after a long trip from Qatar, I have one more deadline to meet today. Looking through images for that customer I ran across this one and decided to take a little break to share this with you.

In the pit lane on Saturday night, I noticed that when some bikes were revved up by the mechanics in front of the pit boxes some blue flame would appear deep within the exhaust pipe. This blue fire was visible for a tiny fraction of a second, but I thought if I could capture one it would be an interesting image. We often see unburned fuel escape from engines and flame out from exhaust pipes, but during the day this fire is orange. (See the January photo from the MotoMatters calendar, for example.) There is something about the night lighting in Qatar that makes it this distinctive blue.

I tried with several bikes to get the blue fire in a frame, but as I said, it appears for such a brief moment (a thousandth of a second maybe?) on my first try I took around 200 photographs without catching any blue fire. I had my camera set to its fastest speed of 8 frames per second, and I timed my attempts to coincide with the likely appearance, if any, of the blue fire, which was just after the engine had been revved. (The flame appears because fuel sometimes passes through the combustion chamber without be ignited by the spark plug. When it reaches the super heated exhaust pipe, the high temperature ignites the fuel and makes the flame appear.) RAAAAWWRRRRRRRRRrrrrrr click click click click click. Often I would see blue while looking through the camera, and if I did, I knew I didn’t catch the fire in a frame. Light only passes through the camera to my eye when the shutter is closed, so if I were to capture what I wanted, I would not see it at the time. When the bike was turned off and wheeled back into the pit box, I looked at the images I’d made on the camera’s small LCD screen and found nothing. Dang.

I tried again half an hour later, this time making 163 images before the bike was warmed up enough to be switched off and returned to the garage. I looked at the images again and saw nothing. It was not until I was deleting all the misfires on the computer hours later than I found I had gotten lucky after all, twice. This is one of the instances. The other will be announced shortly as a limited edition print after I’ve made the usual series of test prints to check color and exposure. This one, as it turns out, is just a teaser.

  • noch

    Wow. Your efforts are appreciated. Can’t wait to see the other one, hopefully a big blue flame on a red ducati not ridden by Hector Barbera!

  • Scott Jones

    Ha ha, sorry, but it’s the same bike, similar photo but with more fire. Similar to how some riders just weren’t heating up their brake rotor to the glowing point, some bikes in the pit lane didn’t spit fire while warming up. This one did, but at least it isn’t bright yellow any more.

  • Mike Evans

    Great work Scott I’m glad your patience and perseverance paid off for you and you were able to get the shot you wanted and thanks for sharing it and the story behind it with us. Right now I’ve just finished packing my gear for World Superbikes at Donington Park, this will be my first race with media accreditation and it guys like yourself, Martin Heath and Andrew Wheeler I look up to.


  • Scott Jones

    Congratulations on the credential, Mike. Donington is a favorite of mine, and I look forward to seeing your photos. I’d love to see some wide shots of how it has changed since I was there. Have a great time!

  • Jan Lee

    I never would have known that was fire had you not said so Very interesting. So tell me the bad news re #46…

  • Scott Jones

    46 did fairly well actually, putting up a good fight in spite of his shoulder and inferior equipment. Give him a few more races and some recovery time, he may well be right up the sharp end soon enough.

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