Behind The Scenes At Grand Prix

By Ian Shalapata

(DETROIT, MI) – When most people talk about Grand Prix, NASCAR, Formula 1, or any of the myriad of other race events held world-wide, the main topics of discussion is who won or of a serious accident. Lost from the dialogue is the ton of work put in by race organizers, sponsors, and volunteers just to make the event happen. Countless hours in planning and preparation are spent reviewing what went right last time, but more importantly, what went wrong.

Grand Prix is continuously trying to improve the procedures behind the scenes so that the experience of attending the on-track spectacle is nothing less than perfect for fans and value for the entertainment dollar. If they didn’t then why would people return year after year, and in some cases, race after race? While this year’s Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix hasn’t been perfect, it has pretty close.

I received my media credentials last Wednesday. It took me all of two minutes when I presented the documents they had sent by email, along with my ID. It wasn’t as easy for my colleague who had to wait while staff quickly created the credentials after dropping the ball. But all was rectified promptly and they apologized for the oversight.

Parking was a snap as well, as media types were directed to the large Gabriel Richard Park right off of Jefferson. From there shuttle busses transported us to the island and an army of golf cart drivers were waiting to take us to the media centre.

Shortly after the gates opened Saturday morning, there was a safety briefing for all the photographers. During the forty minute session no stone was left unturned as every aspect of photographing the Grand Prix from track-side was delved into. You wouldn’t believe how detailed and exacting the rules were. Afterward one insider mentioned that it was best to go so in-depth and cover every conceivable scenario. At the race in Las Vegas, apparently, it was a “death waiting to happen.”

With that bit of information squirreled away, I went out and photographed what is described as the “fastest race in sport”. Click on this link for all the pics from Saturday’s racing. in addition I strolled the pit lane and the paddock areas for a more intimate view. After all, the race on the track doesn’t happen without the crews to keep the cars running, or the sponsors who write the cheques. Have a look below at some of the scenes not usually part of the traditional coverage of the Grand Prix.

As much as the organizers wanted to make the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix perfect, there is still some work to do until perfection is achieved. While speaking with one Grand Prix worker, she said a few attendees were complaining that they couldn’t see the action well. My informant didn’t say where the fans were sitting, but part of the issue may have been the retaining walls and chain-link fences designed to keep both driver and fan safe. During the Firestone Indy Lights qualifying race yesterday two red flags came out due to contact between cars. The collisions weren’t serious, but at speeds topping out at over 100 mph on the Belle Isle road circuit, debris from an accident can be moving at 44 meters a second. The safety barriers are an integral component toward ensuring fans return home in one piece.

In other news, Indianapolis 500 winner, Dario Franchitti will be on Late Night with David Letterman on Monday evening. Franchitti outdueled Takuma Sato to take the checkered flag after to two drivers made contact. Sato drives for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, of which the talk show host is co-owner. It should be an interesting segment.

Visitors to the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix.

Continental Tire estimates that over 60,000 tires will be used during the three days of the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix.

2012 Detroit Grand Prix pit crews go high tech in Pit Row.

Everything needed to be perfect. Here workers clean the soft-tops at the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix.

Crew for Alex Tagliani work between races at the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix.

Crew for Alex Tagliani work between races at the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix.



About the Author

Ian Shalapata
Ian writes for and provides imagery to Square Media Group as well as accepting freelance photographic assignments. In addition, he has contributed to media organizations, sporting groups, and individuals across North America including the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Chatham-Kent Sports Network, the Golf Association of Michigan, League 1 Ontario, as well as numerous colleges and universities in Canada and the United States. Email Ian Shalapata