2020 Motorsports Year in Review

2020 was tough. But we were tougher.

 

 

At the start of this year, I put together a promotional brochure (click here to see it) and mailed it to select race teams and agencies as a way to drum up new business. Inside was some of my recent motorsports photography, as well as a little insight into the value of quality photography and media exposure in promoting a brand and maintaining its image.

 

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as they hit mailboxes, the entire world changed.

 

I had to make a decision: Did I want to stay the course and pursue the type of work I really wanted to do, and what I feel I’m best at? Or did I want to play it safe and fall back on something more predictable? I imagine my thought process was a lot like many of my prospective clients’:

 

“Do I really want to go racing, or should I just play it safe?”

 

But as the future came into focus, it became clear (to those of us who could afford to do it) that this was the time to double down.

 

For better or worse, the pandemic and response distilled professions and especially enthusiast industries to their essential cores. All the while, there had never been a more captive media audience than we saw this year, among those staying home.

 

There was literally no better opportunity to gain media exposure and share of voice than this year.

 

Sure, there was risk. But to independent professionals and business owners, risk is a constant in life, and idle time is wasted time. I weighed the risks, implemented the safety measures, and decided to press on.

 
 

7/31 – IMSA Road America | Elkhart Lake, WI

IMSA Porsche GT team at Road America 2020 - Luke Munnell

 

Local work kept me homebound through January and February, so my first trip of the year came all the way at the end of July, with the IMSA season restart.

 

 

Road America is a track I’ve really loved shooting since my first trip to its grounds for the SCCA Runoffs in 2011. After such a long break from racing, trapped in downtown L.A., its fresh air and familiar landscape were just what I needed to get back into my groove.

 

IMSA Road America WeatherTech Championship series GTD Aim Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 Jack Hawksworth Luke Munnell motorsports photography

 

If you know me, you know I love shooting in the rain. Sideways rain … not so much. But again, after months of urban lockdown, cramming as much nature into that weekend was a blessing.

 

IMSA Road America 2020 Luke Munnell motorsports photography Whethertech Championship series GTLM class Corvette Racing C8.R in the rain driver Jordan Taylor Luke Munnell motorsports photography

 

… including a warm, torrential downpour in the final hour of the race!

 

IMSA Road America 2020 WeatherTech Championship series Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi racing in the rain Luke Munnell motorsports photography

 
 

8/7 – SRO World Challenge | Sonoma, CA

SRO World Challenge Sonoma Luke Munnell motorsports photography TCA TC America VGMC Honda Civic Si driven by Juan Diego Hernandez on two wheels

 

I only had a few clients for World Challenge this year, and only for its season-restarting event at Sonoma Raceway.

 

SRO World Challenge Sonoma Luke Munnell motorsports photography GT Racers Edge Acura NSX GT3 driven by Trent Hindman rear shot

 

Slotting into the calendar the weekend after IMSA Road America made the trip a tight squeeze, but that was no match for my lingering lockdown cabin fever. Truth be told, I probably would’ve shot it for free.

 

SRO World Challenge Sonoma Luke Munnell motorsports photography GT4 Sprintx Flying Lizard Michael Dinan Aston Martin Vantage

 

Sonoma is what I’d consider a local track, only about a 4.5-hour drive north of LA with quarantine traffic (as I found out). I’d driven the track once in 2011, but I’d never shot it until this event.

 

 

Open land, those picturesque golden, rolling hills and plenty of terrain — I love Northern CA racetracks. Sonoma is a little older than most, but one drive around its access roads and it instantly became a new favorite. I’d go back any chance I can get. Especially earlier or later in the year, when the lower sunlight would play beautifully with its elevation.

 

SRO World Challenge GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R with driver James Sofranas, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 
 

9/5 – Formula D | Saint Louis, MO

Ryan Tuerck Papadakis Racing Toyota Corolla at Formula D Pro drifting championship 2020 double header Round 1 and 2 at St. Louis FDSTL motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Since way back in my Import Tuner magazine days that first brought me out to CA, the Long Beach Grand Prix and Formula D’s annual first-round competition had long signaled the start of the motorsports season for me.

 

Chelsea DenoFa Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR drifting at Formula D Pro drifting championship 2020 double header Round 2 at St. Louis, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

This year’s competition was of course cancelled, and once it became clear that more months of lockdown were ahead, the unprecedented decision was made to condense the year’s full, eight-round calendar into just four travel stops, each with two double-header competitions.

 

 

If you know drifting, you know how brutal it is on the cars and teams. 1,000-hp engines living at redline as they push fully built race machines right up against cement walls, inches (or less) from their competitors — often at triple-digit speeds — have a way of doing that. Most cars are barely alive after one round of competition, let alone two roughly 18 hours apart.

 

Ryan Litteral and Jeff Jones Nissan 350Z 370Z tandem drifting at Formula D Pro drifting championship 2020 double header Round 1 at St. Louis, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Still, the show went on and the teams, drivers, organizers, partners and fans showed legendary dedication in making it all work. It was also nice to see my teams clinch First and Second at Round 1, and land on the podium again the next day for Round 2.

 

Ryan Tuerck, drifting off into the sunset at Formula D Pro drifting championship 2020 double header Round 2 at St. Louis, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Editorial alert: Click here for my coverage of this event, from Front Street Media.

 
 

9/25 – IMSA Mid-Ohio | Lexington, OH

JDC Miller Motorsports and Joao Barbosa with the Cadillac DPI-V.R at IMSA Mid Ohio 2020 motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Shooting Mid-Ohio was another first for me, though I’d been there years ago. Again, it quickly became a favorite. IMSA has a way of picking the good ones.

 

Chad McCumbee driving the PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 at IMSA Mid Ohio 2020 motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

 

It’s a small track, but with some elevation that’s interesting and fun to shoot. It’s “Madness” section is one of the better known areas, as is the “Keyhole.”

 

Connor De Phillippi bringing the BMW Team RLL M8 GTE through Madness at IMSA Mid Ohio 2020 motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Everywhere I looked I saw other angles and shots that I hadn’t planned on, and I can’t wait to go back for more next year.

 

 

Plus, Mid-Ohio is only about a three-hour drive from my hometown of Pittsburgh. Yinz better believe I stopped by for some perogies and kraut!

 

Jordan Taylor and the Corvette Racing C8.R at IMSA Mid Ohio 2020, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 
 

10/6 – Lexus 0 to 60, Auto Club Speedway | Fontana, CA

Lexus LC 500 0 to 60 campaign at Auto Club Speedway Fontana, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell
 

The week after Mid-Ohio I was back in CA, shooting alongside my Motor Trend friends and fam for a Lexus spot featuring none other than Aim Vasser Sullivan / Lexus IMSA GT-D drivers Townsend Bell and Jack Hawksworth, and the one and only Scott Pruett.

 

Lexus LC 500 0 to 60 campaign at Auto Club Speedway Fontana, with driving instructors Scott Pruett, Townsend Bell and Jack Hawksworth, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

I’ve worked with Townsend and Jack on separate projects in the past (Jack when he was starting out in the Mazda Road to Indy and I was at The Garage agency), so it was great to see them outside of racing … but still at the racetrack. I’ve never worked with Scott, but as the winningest driver in IMSA history, I was an honor to finally make his acquaintance.

 

 

Scott Pruett, instructing the crowd during the Lexus 0 to 60 campaign at Auto Club Speedway Fontana, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell
 

Without spoiling the campaign, I’ll just say that it was a truly fun day with three great drivers, some awesome Lexus machinery, and a team of eager, welcoming celebrity participants.

 

Lexus F Sport close-up badge detail

 
 

10/10 – Club Racer Events, Narita Dogfight Attack Challenge | Chuckwalla, CA

A BMW M4 GTS chases down a Porsche GT3 RS at Club Racer Events' debut at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in California, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

A few days later I was out to my favorite local SoCal track, with some of my favorite people: the VTEC Club / R-Compound / RS Future / Narita Dogfight crew — some of the best and most dedicated local track-driving and time-attack enthusiasts and professionals I’m lucky to call friends.

 

 

Built Honda Fit at Club Racer Events' debut at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in California, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Club Racer Events is the name of their new track-day organization, and their debut event collaborated with Narita Dogfight’s invite-only time-attack competition over the same weekend. It was my honor to shoot both days, and my pleasure to enjoy a long weekend at the track with the boys.

 

Club Racer Events, VTEC Club, RS future, Narita Dogfight, and Late Brake Coffee staff at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in California, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 
 

10/15 – IMSA Petit Le Mans, Road Atlanta | Braselton, GA

Antonio Garcia and the Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, at IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

A few day after that I was off to Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans, an event I hadn’t shot since 2015 when the Porsche GTLM team won overall after 8 hours of record downpours.

 

Helio Castroneves and the Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi, at IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

You know me — I love shooting in the rain. But I was happy to encounter dryer conditions this time.

 

 

Efrin Castro and the TPC Racing Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge car at IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Road Atlanta is another track I love and know well. I’ve probably shot here more than any other major racetrack over the years, beginning with Formula D in 2006.

 

 

It’s another track with picturesque terrain and endless angles, and one I look forward to shooting any chance I get. Especially at night!

 

Sebastien Bourdais and the JDC Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R cut through the night during the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 
 

10/30 – IMSA Laguna Seca | Salinas, CA

Driver Max Faulkner and the FastMD Audi RS3 LMS TCR barreling down the Corkscrew at IMSA Laguna Seca, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

After a nearly two-week break I was back “up north,” as we say here in Southern California, for the IMSA race at Laguna Seca.

 

Silhouette of FastMD pit crew ahead of a tire change at IMSA Laguna Seca, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

 

Laguna Seca is my absolute favorite racetrack. It’s a magical place. And at the risk of jinxing myself, I’ve always had amazing luck here.

 

My first visit was back in 2011, when I had the honor of shooting the legendary 787B for Mazda during the Monterey Motorsports Reunion (my single favorite race effort of all time), and having that work later serve as the basis for a giant hand-painted billboard that greeted guests to the track for a few years before the WeatherTech sponsorship.

 

Trent Hindman, behind the wheel of the Archangel Motorsports No. 7 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 at Laguna Seca, photography by Luke Munnell

 

I came back some years later when I was starting out on my own, and shooting World Challenge practice days at the track was when I feel my motorsports photography process and techniques really began to “click.”

 

 

I went back to shake down my Nikon D850 cameras and 400mm f/2.8 lens during the Intercontinental GT Challenge in late 2018. And my luck continued this year, with yet another awesome another race weekend behind its walls, and some truly warm memories with great company in its campgrounds.

 

James Clay and the Bimmerworld BMW M4 GT4, cresting against the setting sun at Laguna Seca, photography by Luke Munnell

 
 

11/13 – IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring | Sebring, FL

Russell Ward, charging into the dusk in Winward Racing's no 4 Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 at Sebring, photography by Luke Munnell

 

Two weeks later was Sebring, yet another track I hadn’t shot until this point. But unlike so many others, I wouldn’t call it a favorite.

 

Sydney McKee and the Prestige Performance Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo set against the Seven Sebring Racing Hotel, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

I respect it, don’t get me wrong. I “respect the bumps.” But there are some … peculiarities about the track that just rank some of the other tracks ahead of it, in my humble opinion .

 

 

But enough griping. It did have some redeeming qualities (namely the people), and I was happy with my first experience there. I just won’t be looking forward to going back as much as, say, Daytona. Or any other stop on the IMSA calendar.

 

 
 

11/14 – Global Time Attack | Buttonwillow, CA

Jose Mejia bouncing his FK8 Honda Civic Type R off the Buttonwillow curbing at Global Time Attack finals, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Yes, just one day after Sebring. I had been pretty much busy day-to-day with work from September through November, cramming what felt like most of the year’s events into those three months.

 

Cable Rosenberg and his Dodge Viper at Global Time Attack finals, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

But flying out of Florida right after the end of one race, and heading straight to another race in California the next morning (with short road trips bookending it all) took the cake. I was dead tired and dirty that first day back at Buttonwillow for venerable GTA finals, but it really did feel good to be home. And away from that humidity.

 

 

This year’s event may have lacked some of the fire-breathing, spark-spewing action of top-flight time-attack competition (which usually includes a strong showing by international teams), but it probably brought some of the fiercest down-paddock racing I can remember in my 13 years covering the event. It was awesome.

 

Therese Lahlouh behind the wheel of Nick Bright's Spoon Honda Accord Euro R at Global Time Attack finals motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Editorial alert: Click here for my coverage of this event, from Front Street Media.

 
 

11/20 – Formula D Finals | Irwindale, CA

Ken Gushi and Daijiro Yoshihara, tandem battling at

 

And finally, two weeks after GTA Finals at Buttonwillow, I was back at good ‘ol Irwindale Speedway for the double-header conclusion to the Formula D season.

 

Stephan Papadakis and Shawn Hilliard, finishing a motorswap of the B59 GR Supra engine in the Papadakis Racing Toyota GR Supra driven by Fredric Aasbo, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Another event that I’ve covered about a dozen times, it was eerie to see Irwindale finals at the “House of Drift” with the stands not filled to their limit. But depressing? Not really.

 

Fredric Aasbo's Papadakis Racing Toyota GR Supra, flanked by Michael Essa's EA BMW E40 M3 and Chelsea DeNofa's BC Racing Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR in front of empty Irwindale stands, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

 

This was the craziest and most brutal FD schedule ever, and by the end of it I think everyone was looking forward to a long break, and hopefully a return to some normalcy next year.

 

 

Plus, Livestream attendance was record-breaking, and there was no shortage of media people and VIPs (as usual), so we all felt that the crowd was still with us.

 

 

I got to see some of my teams win again at Round 7, as I had at Round 1 in St. Louis. And the next day, I got to see some of my other teams win, and win the season championship, overall. Who can complain about that?

 

Chelsea DeNofa podium ceremony fog champagne streamers, confetti at Formula D Finals Irwindale, motorsports photography by Luke Munnell

 

Editorial alert: Click here for my coverage of this event, from Front Street Media.

 
 

So yes, all this in about four months made for a pretty crazy year.

 

I think those constraints were just what a lot of us needed to learn new, expanded limits of what we could endure, and find some extra motivation in the opportunity it promised.

 

Was it worth it? I think so. These past several years especially have seemed to fly by in the span of one. But I feel like I’ve grown and experienced more than a full year’s worth in these past four months.

 

In more ways than one, it’s been a trip. And I can’t wait to do something like it again, soon.

 

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