Blue Fire from the Ducati GP11, Losail, Qatar
Please click on the above image to view it larger.
This is one of my favorites among my MotoGP images, and one of my favorite Ducati images, partially because of the difficulty required to capture it, and partially because the We X Japan graphic is a reminder of how the MotoGP paddock united to support Japan after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
But mainly I like it because to me it’s a good example of what still images can do that other forms of media can’t. This amazing instance of the escaping flame is frozen for close examination, its color so surprising, its volume not even contained in the frame because it’s greater than I anticipated. I thought I might be able to catch some blue fire, but what I got was more than I imagined was possible.
The Story of the Ducati Fire
On Saturday night of the 2011 MotoGP season opener at Losail, I was working in the pit lane when I noticed something I’d never seen before.
When some bikes were revved up by the mechanics in front of the pit boxes, every now and then 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 instance it would be an interesting image. We often see unburned fuel escape from engines and flame out from exhaust pipes, and during the day this fire is orange. But 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 less?) on my first try I made around 200 exposures without catching any blue fire.
I had my camera (at the time a Nikon D300) 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 being ignited by the spark plug. When it reaches the super-heated exhaust pipe, the high temperature ignites the fuel and makes the flame appear.) I used a fairly slow shutter speed to increase the odds of it being open when the fire appeared. The Exif data are as follows: 1/125th at f/6.3, ISO 1600, Nikon D300 with Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8
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 last bike was turned off and wheeled back into the pit box, I took a quick pass through the images I’d made on the camera’s LCD screen and found nothing.
I tried again a bit later, this time making 163 images before Hector Barbera’s Ducati was warmed up, switched off, and returned to the garage. I looked at the images again on the LCD and saw nothing.
When I got back to the media center and started deleting all the misfires on the computer, the first instance of some fire I found was this one:
I was glad to see something, but to be honest I was underwhelmed compared to my hopes for what I might have caught in the camera.
I deleted many more exposures and when the perspective changed because I’d moved slightly in the pit lane I saw the second instance of fire:
You can barely see the flame, so it’s even less exciting than the first! But after deleting some more images I finally found the one used for the Blue Fire edition, shown at the top of the page, which exceeded my hopes.
Because of the We X Japan decal on the bike, the image was first offered for sale as a Benefit for the Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief fund. Sales resulted in a donation of several hundred dollars to the Red Cross. Now it’s available as a PHOTO.GP Open Edition as a benefit to the PHOTO.GP Travel Fund, and available in several sizes.
Photograph: ©2011 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved
To see more Motorsports Photography Tips, check out this page!