At RACER, we're always looking for ways to create the most dynamic and original cover images for the magazine. For our new Technology Issue, we wanted to portray the high-tech nature of racing as well as depict technology as a quasi-organic force, as important to motorsports as the personalities in and behind the cars. This prompted the idea of shooting a racing engine with a thermal-imaging camera, bringing its power to life in a visually engaging way.
Easier said than done, of course. Thermal-imaging cameras aren't exactly standard issue for race photographers, but a commercial agency recommended just the right tool for the job: an FLIR E60 infrared camera. (It sells for around $8,000, but fortunately we were able to rent one!) This camera is able to “measure” thermal energy emitted from an object, and convert it into visible light.
The next challenge was what engine to choose and how to shoot it. We wanted a high-end racing engine, but recognized that the manufacturers behind these exotic powerplants are naturally reluctant to reveal too much about them. Fortunately, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda Performance Development offered an ideal compromise: We could shoot their Honda Indy V6 turbo installed in Scott Dixon's No. 9 Target Dallara IndyCar at the TCGR race shop after it returned from a test session at Mid-Ohio, provided the engine cover was not removed. That suited our purposes just fine.
So, after quickly familiarizing himself with the unique attributes of the IR camera, Senior Photographer Michael Levitt (that's him in a "self-portrait" at left) arrived at the Ganassi shop and put together the images you see here.
Well, sort of. There's a catch to thermal imaging: The camera was limited to 320x240 pixel resolution, well short of what was needed for a magazine cover. So the car had to be shot as a mosaic of some 20-30 images.
These were then painstakingly assembled into a cohesive whole by RACER's illustrator par excellence, Paul Laguette, who not only had to assemble the puzzle pieces, but calibrate their thermal signatures one by one. Fortunately this exhaustive task was also highly rewarding for Paul, whose exacting technique is matched by a keen artistic sense, as RACER readers who have seen his work in the magazine for many years know well.
The resulting final cover represents the heat flow from the Honda engine as it begins its run-up within the Dallara DW12 – had the car actually been running on track, there would be heat signatures from the brake ducts and tires, for example. The hottest spots in the composite image represent the exhausts, turbochargers and cylinder heads – a “snapshot” of rising power. The heat spike over the steering wheel isn't artistic license, either, as it reveals the LED tell-tales at the driver's fingertips.
Our sincere thanks to Target Chip Ganassi Racing for its enthusiastic assistance with this assignment, with a special shout-out to managing director Mike Hull and Ricky Taylor, crew chief for Dixon's car. Along with the race crew and HPD's engineer, they gave up a couple hours of their busy Friday – the Mid-Ohio test immediately preceded the Grand-Am weekend at Indianapolis – to enable us to shoot the car in situ. We hope they and our readers will be as impressed as we were by the results.
Inside The Technology Issue:
• Marshall Pruett takes an in-depth look at the technology behind the new-generation IndyCar engines, in just one of the areas spotlighted in RACER's Technology Issue, on sale now. Look for it at major book stores or in digital format at iTunes and the Android app store. Or better yet, click here to subscribe today at a special discount rate!