Race Cars on Water!

I found out that the APPA Gold Cup Hydroplane race was going to be taking place this weekend and it would be a great opportunity for some panning practice. The Gold Cup race has many classes of boats but it’s the unlimited hydroplanes I wanted to see again. With top speeds up to 200 mph and those large rooster tails as they turn the corners, there are like Race cars on water!  The hydroplanes race on the Detroit river in between Detroit and the island park of Belle Isle. Which is connect to the city via the MacArthur Bridge.

google map image for belle isle

For years now, I’ve been wanting to shoot from the bridge to get a head a on shot of the hydroplanes as they race to the first turn. In past years, shooting from the bridge was restricted and was unsure if I could shoot from it this year. I figure what I’ll do once downtown, drive over the bridge, I’ll try and spot any signs and ropes blocking the sidewalk facing the race course. If so, I’ll keep driving and shoot from the fishing pier on the island. If not, I’ll head back to the parking lot at Gabriel Richard park and walk to the bridge. I packed up my gear, downloaded the race schedule and heading off to Detroit.

Once I got Downtown, I had forgotten how much I love Detroit. I used to live downtown for several years and love to venture all over the city with my camera shooting the urban landscape of Detroit. Driving through Detroit was like revisiting old friend that I had lost. Memories of creating images over the years, finding the right time of day for a shots and searching for new ones… I miss those days.

Going down Jefferson Avenue and a quick lane change so I can take the bridge to Belle Isle. Driving over the bridge and I see no ropes or posted signs. Sweet! Time to “Whip a shitty”, look for parking spot, gear up, walk to the bridge and wait for the heats of the Unlimited class. The first heat came and went without incident.

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During the second heat, the Miss Rock KISW hydroplane flipped and crashed. The driver, Kevin Eacret escaped without injury. The crash did cause the second heat to end early.


I headed back to my car and was going to shoot the remaining heats from the fishing pier on Belle Isle. As I’m walking back, I spotted another shooting location. It’s close to the action and right on the water in Gabriel Richard park. One of the hydroplanes that had stopped due to the flipping had restarted and was heading around the course to get back to the pits. The hydroplane pass by at near top speed and was dragging a huge wall of water behind it. Most of the time I hate back lighting. But here the light lit up the wall of water. The falling drops of water looked like thousands of sparkly diamonds. But it was another hour until the next two heats and decided to move on. I’ll save that shot for next year.

For the next two heats, I’m going the shoot them from the fishing pier on Belle Isle. There are many advantages from shooting from the Belle Isle side of the river. Your facing north and the sun is behind you all day. Also, if you shoot from the pier, it gets you closer to the race course and the action of the hydroplanes fighting the first turn. I have found if you sit on the pier, you can use the lowest rail as a guide for your lense while panning. I shot most of the day in shutter priority, starting out at 1/200th then dialing it down to 1/80th and I’m really happy with my results.


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Until next post,


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