William and I made our way all the way down to Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Alton, VA, a 4 hour drive from the DC area, for HyperFest 2019 and a boys only weekend. It was a blast to see all sorts of cool cars blasting around, and getting to camp out at the track.
Along with the tons and tons of Bimmers, there were lots of Corvettes, Ford Mustangs, and Chevy Camaros, and miscellaneous other cars. We saw a few Dodge Vipers, a MkIV Toyota Supra drift car (which broke), and some Nissan Silvia (aka 240SX) drift cars, most of which were converted to V8’s. There were also a number of Hondas and Acuras, a ton of Mazda Miatas and some RX-8’s with their screaming rotary engines, and a few Porsches racing around. Strangely missing, I saw absolutely zero Nissan Skyline R35 GT-R’s on the racetrack, which seems pretty bizarre considering there are a lot of these cars around now, and that Nissan is the course sponsor. The only Nissan Skyline I saw was an old R32 which I don’t think was a GT-R, with an instructor on board. We managed to spot the Honda Manufacturing Odyssey race van, so there were more (bleeping) minivans on the track than there were GT-R’s. What a travesty! :)
Not that I’m biased or anything but, my personal favorites were the BMW Spec E46 and Spec E30 cars, which had started out their lives as regular production spec BMW 3-series models, but now converted by their owners into race spec machines. Seeing these old Bimmers tearing around the track with their Straight-6 engines screaming was a sight and sound to behold. The drift cars were also pretty amazing to see and hear (and smell!) as well, so of course I had a ton of fun taking pictures of all of them.
If any Spec E46 or E30 guys happen to see this, drop me a line because I have tons of photos of y’all.
I brought my new Canon EOS RP with the 17-40mm f/4L ultra-wide lens, and then my 70-200mm f/4L non-IS lens, but I knew two things in advance. I wasn’t sure if either the autofocus or the frame rate would be up to the task of capturing race cars at varying angles, and I was also quite sure that just 200mm on a full-frame body was probably not going to be long enough. I had the option of bringing my Canon 100-400mm L II lens, but it’s a tank of a lens and this was supposed to be a fun weekend with my son, and it was also forecast to be in the mid-90 degree range, so didn’t want to commit to carrying too much when I’d also have a backpack full of drinks and possibly carrying chairs around the race track! The big 400mm lens also wouldn’t have done anything about any autofocus or frame rate deficiency on the RP, so rather than bring another big heavy lens, I brought my Canon 7D Mark II instead. It has has unquestionably good autofocus and a blazing fast 10 fps frame rate that ought to capture anything, and also weighs half of what that 100-400L II does. And since the 7D2 is a crop frame camera (1.6x), the 200mm becomes 320mm equivalent, so there’s the extra reach I needed.
Having a second camera body also solved another potential issue in the form of power. Although I had pretty good battery life in Turks and Caicos, shooting sports and action rather than landscapes is a totally different thing, and I wasn’t sure the two tiny little LP-E17 batteries were going to make it through the weekend without recharging. I didn’t feel like bringing my big external power station and A/C inverter, and it’d also be a colossal waste of energy to use the AC outlet in my truck, which requires that the engine be running just for a tiny little battery. The best option here for field recharging the new Canon EOS RP is a portable USB battery recharger that most everybody has these days, but there’s a catch. Unlike my Fuji X100F that will recharge off of standard USB charger, the EOS RP needs a PD spec charger, which I don’t have yet. So to make a long story short, bringing my Canon 7D Mark II along let me kill three birds with one stone in that two fully charged Canon LP-E6N batteries would be more than enough for the weekend. In hindsight, I could have just brought the 7D Mark II, but the point was to try out the new toy and put it through its paces. :)
Photographing Race Cars
The trick with photographing moving objects is to make them actually look like they’re moving. You can go out and shoot shutter priority (Tv or S mode) at 1/1000s and you’ll definitely get nice, sharp photos that are free of any hand shake or motion blur. The problem is, then your speeding race car actually looks frozen on the track and like it’s not moving at all. Not good. Photographing propeller driven aircraft is similarly challenging in that if you use a fast shutter speed, you’ll freeze the propeller, and make it look like the engine has stalled and the plane is going to fall out of the sky. Of course, there’s a catch.
The longer (slower) the shutter speed you try to use, the more shots you’re going to lose that are just too blurry to be usable at all. To keep a speeding race car sharp while dragging the shutter at a slow speed, requires you to track the object that you’re tracking in thew viewfinder as precisely as possible, so that the subject remains nice and sharp and blur free, while everything in the background blurs away as you pan with the subject.
We got to the track, and I saw these beautiful looking and sounding BMW SPEC E46 and E30 cars blasting out of turns 5a and 6, whipped out my camera and fired. The panning blur at just 1/80s was great and looked fantastic, but then ask me what my keeper rate was. Not good, and most of the photos were lost completely to excessive blurring.
1/125s gave me a noticeably better keeper rate while still having nice looking panning blur in the background, so I stuck with that.
The Rally course was fun to check out too. William can still get motion sick pretty easily, so we didn’t give it a try. With the rally cars you’re already getting a big sense of motion from all of the dirt they’re flinging around, so this was at 1/500s.
Here’s where I really struggled with the EOS RP. The autofocus was fine, but the camera kept wanting to display the image review in the electronic viewfinder between when the cars were at the top of the hill, and then in full opposite lock sliding right past us a few seconds later. Trying to show the image review would cause me to lose track of where the cars were through the viewfinder, and there’s a noticeable lag that’s less than a second but long enough to be a distraction, between when the camera gets back into live view mode again through the EVF. This is something that I just wasn’t used to or prepared for from being used to shooting a DSLR with a straight optical viewfinder. Oops. I can easily disable the image review in my “C2” bank for Sports/Action, but didn’t want to mess with it while busy shooting. 200mm also wasn’t long enough to get to the top of the patriot course, and the frame rate is only 4 fps with autofocus and exposure running and not 5, so it’s honestly a pretty pokey camera if you’re used to more. And that’s why I brought the 7D Mark II. :)
I love all of the stuff that newer technology lets you do, but there was nothing like going back to a ground glass optical viewfinder on my DSLR when shooting these high-performance drift machines, with an absolute no nonsense real-time view.
I shot at about 1/1000s for a nice sharp view of the cars far away and up the hill, and then spun the control wheel down to around 1/200s or less as they slide past us in full opposite lock with tires blazing to get some nice panning blur in the background. Yes, that’s some sort of drone with a GoPro mounted to it tracking the Corvette!
They had a 500hp BMW E70 X5M with a fully rigged out camera car to record the drift cars, which was pretty neat to see as well. It has to be fast enough to keep up!
Full Course Drift
At the end of the day, they had a full course drift for the drift cars. William and I were setup near Roller Coaster (Turn 15) for the power wheels downhill competition. Check the full album for those.
HyperFest 2019 in Review
Overall, HyperFest was a blast, and VIR is a truly incredible track. There’s not too many tracks where you can have multiple configurations running at the same time, which is how they had the track spec cars running on the full course, and then the drift spec cars on what’s called the Patriot course, so there’s always a lot going on and a lot to see.
William and I both loved it and we had a fun time camping out, but it was definitely way too hot at 94 degrees! We’d love to go again next year, but not if it’s that hot, and it’d be fun to bring some friends along to help make the long drive a bit more entertaining. Even the cars and the drivers were definitely suffering as the day wore on due to the heat. We kept ourselves well hydrated, but still had to hop into our living room - I mean Suburban - with the A/C running twice for 30-45 minutes each time, just to cool down a bit and avoid heat stroking. After getting up at 5am to leave from Maryland and after walking around in the heat all day, we were too tired to watch the burnout competition, even though it was just 100 yards or so away from our tent. Also, ear plugs are definitely required if you want to get some sleep. This isn’t like Cub Scouts campouts - there’s not really a such thing as quiet hours. Some people had pretty noisy generators running all night, and of course some people nearby had other music playing all night “to help them sleep”, which of course kept us both up, so ear plugs are a must.
Photography wise, sports and action just aren’t the Canon EOS RP’s forte, but I was well aware of this when buying it. There’s a huge difference between 10 fps and just 4 when shooting sports and action like this, so clearly the 7D Mark II did the much better job, and has the autofocus and frame rate to keep up. I still love the look of full-frame more, but for photos like these it didn’t really matter. I’ve disabled the image review on my RP’s “C2” bank that I have setup for sports and action now, so that will help a bit keeping the viewfinder engaged on the subject, and not switching between that and image review mode where there’s some lag, and then you can lose track of your subject. If we go again next year, I’ll probably just bring the 7D Mark II.
The Suburban was, of course, a fantastic road trip machine. It was super comfortable the whole way there and back, and with the optional 3.42 gears that I insisted on getting, it never needed to downshift out of top gear even once though the southern VA foothills. It managed a pretty incredible 23 mpg overall, which included the 1-2 hours of time spent idling with the A/C running, a few full throttle passes around morons, and two minor traffic jams. I wasn’t just impressed, I was blown away, because this was nearly as good as my old Toyota RAV4 V6, which would never seem to do anything better than 23-25 mpg overall on road trips despite being half the size. Minus sitting with the A/C running and WOT passes, it probably would have done 24 mpg. Our old BMW X5 turbodiesel could do 26-27 mpg pretty consistently, but again it’s much smaller, and diesel fuel can tend to get pretty pricey also. A vehicle the size of your living room getting 23 mpg is really freaking good, and after just over 500 miles it still had enough fuel leftover to go another hundred, for a legit 600 mile cruising range. I’m sure some of your minivans will do better per mile if not outright cruising range, but you know how I feel about minivans, so piss off. :)
Two final things to checkout:
Don’t miss my photo album below.
HyperFest 2019 Full Photo Album
Also, this dude with a sweet GT350R put up some cool YouTube videos that are worth checking out. I actually just got a GoPro Hero 7 Black, but have barely even taken it out of the box yet, haven’t even powered it on and have absolutely no clue how to use it, so didn’t bother. My brain doesn’t speak video very well at all, I’ve always been more of a stills guy, but if we go again next year I’ll bring that for sure, along with a decent mic to capture the amazing sounds these machines make as well.
Hope you enjoyed the blog!