I have mixed feelings about crash photos. They’re usually interesting to look at, but they also often document some sort of injury. I try to make photographs that show what is astounding and beautiful about motorcycle racing, and injuries are not beautiful. Crashes aren’t beautiful either, but they can be astounding when you see frame by frame what happens when things fall apart.
Getting a good crash photo is a matter of luck, anyway. Crashes happen so fast you can’t say, “I think I’ll take some crash photos this session.” You have to be shooting a corner anyway, and just happen to have your finger on the shutter when the crash happens to record it.
On the second day of the Qatar test I thought that very thing was happening. I was shooting the inside of Turn 6 at Losail, quite a good corner that gets a lot of action with the photographers. It’s the sharpest turn on the track, you can get close, the riders brake hard as they approach and then put as much power as they can manage down coming out of the turn, which often leads to drama.
As Casey Stoner made yet another trip through this turn, I was photographing him, trying to show how he, more so than any other rider in my opinion, lives on the limit. All of these guys are exciting to watch when they are on a quick lap. It’s a kind of David vs Goliath, after all, a small, slight human being against an insanely powerful, much heavier thoroughbred beast that cares more about what Physics tells it to do than what its rider wants.
But Casey seems like he is closer to the limit than anyone else. As I looked through the lens, as soon as he got back on the gas I could see his rear tire say “That’s just a little too much stick, there, Mr. Stoner. Sorry, but I am out of here, mate.” The back of the bike snapped sideways and I thought “Ok, stay calm and stay in focus, here comes a crash. Don’t get all excited and wave the camera around and get a bunch of blurry photos.” I didn’t have time to use all of those words, of course. They simply represent the feeling I had in that fraction of a second.
But as soon as the rear tire moved sideways, Casey did something, I don’t know what, but something that stopped the rear of the bike from going off on its own adventure. Usually by this point in the turn’s exit he’s back over the top of the bike, but you can see he is hanging off the side for dear life. You can also see that the rear tire is not in line with the front. It’s farther from the rumble strip and the front wheel is turned to the right as part of Casey’s effort to save the crash.
Which he did. He then went very calmly on his way toward turn 7 as I sat there amazed at what I’d just seen. In my opinion, Casey is the most exciting rider to watch, and when he says he’s not yet really started to push the Honda, well, I suppose that the Goliath with the 27 on the front is in for some serious lessons in humility.