So, lets just say that was fun. I just have to get that out of the way. Being from Central New York myself, always growing up at the opposite tip of Seneca Lake as The Glen, I’ve held a soft spot for this track. I’ve only attended a race there once, which is a total shame. It’s as if it was taken for granted, you know? But boy am I glad we took in this show!
The weather was a pretty big bummer when we were on our adventure down to the track. You could tell the clouds were ominous, and the temperature left a lot to be desired (hovered in the low 50s all morning). However, once we get up in the elevation where the track was, it really was annoying. It didn’t so much rain, as it did “mist”, and it was so persistent that the track and anything around it just would not dry out. Count in the fog, and the slight wind that wouldn’t quit despite my pleas, it all just added into a miserable atmosphere.
That was quickly quelled once we actually ventured inside the confines of Watkins Glen International. With, by my personal estimate, roughly 2,500 attendees in the main grandstands, the energy was there. Everyone was amped to see a Formula 1 car take to the winding twists and curves of The Glen for the first time since the 1980 US Grand Prix. Add in the fact that it was Lewis Hamilton, 2008 Formula 1 Champion and by all accounts a mega-star in his own right, and you could tell everyone was eagerly anticipating an amazing show.
As we took our seats, all you could hear across pit road was the obvious whine of an
Formula 1 McLaren. Never hearing that before in our lives, this was enough to get Mike and I’s blood flowing quite quickly. What added to it was that with the weather being less than optimal, was that the car was under and inside a tent. So all you could do was hear the whine, and that’s it. It was making the anticipation of the coming events that much more exciting. Seeing that tent, hearing that obvious whine, it was almost like Christmas! You just couldn’t wait to see what was inside!
Not long after, the Mobil 1 Chevy of 2-Time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart was fired up. Now, I’ve been to a few Sprint cup races in my life, last being Loudon in 2000. But for some reason this really got my juices flowing. There’s something about that low, guttural growl of a V-8….it’s like sex, in automotive form. Actually, that was really creepy of me to type just now…so I’m going to move on.
We took our seats at the top of the grand stands right at the start/finish line, row 38 to be exact. We wanted prime seats to see as much of the track as possible. Not being to the Glen since the 90s, I actually did not even know they had grandstands that high. You could actually see all the way to the back stretch by the Bus Stop, and the exit of The Boot (they were running the full course today). Taking some quick notes, it was actually just about time for the Emcee of the day, David Coulthard (a former Formula 1 driver in his own right), to take over the duties on the mic and get this shindig rolling.
I’ll skip the details of the presser, because well, who cares about the usual “Oh this will be a good show” and “Thank you Mobil 1″ comments, right?
So now the fun part of our show.
The Mobil 1 Chevy made its first appearance as the Stewart-Haas crew rolled it out on to the front stretch, and I’ll be the first to tell you, in the light rain that we were having that car still looked gorgeous. Easily one of the better paint schemes in Sprint Cup today. For some unknown, and stupid, reason I was under the impression they would run the Office Depot car….yea, I really am dumb. Its a Mobil 1 car, why on earth would they run the Office Depot ride? *sigh* but alas I digress.
And then, the rolling mirror of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren finally showed it’s beautiful face to the world. First impression? It looked alien. The curves and twists and wings on that body made it look like something from “Independence Day”. Throw in that it has a mirrored finish (hence the rolling mirror comment), and it seriously looked like something from out of this world. I couldn’t and still don’t believe that that car could do what it does without somehow flying to Jupiter or some distant galaxy first.
The cars were lined up next to each other on the grid, as the drivers were to do 1 parade lap side by side, then Hamilton would let it rip on his own warmup laps at speed. This is where everything got gooooood!
The cars were fired up and the pace car rolled off the line, followed immediately behind by Stewart. However, Hamilton kind of lingered on the line. Rev’ing the motor a few times, he just lets it rip. Burns the tires about 30 yards down the track, smoke everywhere, engine hitting the red line like you wouldn’t believe. Mike looked at me at this instant with this look on his face that would make you think he just saw a naked woman for the first time. I swear, the sound of that car taking off rivals nothing I have ever heard in my life. Thank god I saved that as a video on my phone so I can listen to it later!
So they make it around the track and Stewart and the Pace Car hit pit road, but whipping around turn 11 was Hamilton, this time at full speed, hitting the front stretch like its his job. Tearing down the straight at speeds I can only begin to fathom, he blew by us at the line like a bullet. I’ve seen things in my life I can never describe in adequate detail, and this is one of them. Just awe inspiring.
Hamilton hit turn 1 a little slower than I’d have expected, but it was his first time on the track at speed so I can’t fault him. Coming through the Esses and on the back stretch it almost seemed like he wasn’t flat out, but still at that point he was going faster than Superman, so I can’t be too angry. Unfortunately I lost him at that point until he came down through turns 10 and 11 again, but I tell ya he surely wasn’t holding back there.
Coming off turn 11, whipped it out to the rumble strips, and off he goes by us back into turn 1. Slightly overshot it this time, hugging the outer rumble strips instead of the inside prefered line like most people would have. But still, he was setting a blistering pace.
It was after this lap that things got a little disappointing.
Hamilton, after hitting turn 11, cranked it into the pits before completing a 2nd lap. I’m not going to lie, I felt a little cheated at that. He pulled in, went to the tent and they immediately put it back up on stilts. I commented to Mike that something must be amiss, as on that 2nd lap by the Bus Stop, the motor didn’t sound right, so maybe something was wrong. But we just figured he’d had enough and wanted to see Tony do his thing.
After I got home and was able to take in the Speed Channel special on the event, that I learned that indeed nothing was up with the car, he just wanted to get it warmed up enough and that was it. This was kind of disappointing, to be honest, as I and everyone else in the crowd were really hoping he’d put on an amazing show in that car to really show us what it could do. But, this was but a minor speed bump in the day so we all survived just fine.
Next was Smoke’s turn in the Mobil 1 Chevy. Tearing off the pit lane, he took it quite easy that first lap since (and we found this out later as well) he’d never taken a lap in a Sprint Cup car in the rain before. So not only was Lewis Hamilton learning how to drive that car on rain tires, Smoke was as well. He didn’t really light up the track as well, it really seemed like he was just warming her up, he wasn’t going full bore but he also wasn’t taking it easy. A nice mix of the two, I’d say.
The downside to his run? NASCAR testing rules forced him to only run 5 laps, or they’d have deemed this a test and penalized Stewart-Haas Racing. Luckily, he pulled off the track coming to the start of lap 6.
After a brief intermission where the drivers did the gratuitous interviews for Speed and spoke to each other about their respective cars and how to handle the track, it was finally time for the first swap to take place. Lewis Hamilton would climb behind the wheel of the Mobil 1 Chevy for his first time in a full fendered racer. Seriously. He’s never ran anything with fenders (or a roof for that matter). Crazy, huh?
Everything started out kind of crazy, and this is what made me laugh. Poor Lewis had no idea how to even start the car! Tony had to lean in and show him how to fire up a NASCAR Sprint Cup car. This wasn’t to be unexpected. In F1 cars, to save every ounce of weight they can, they disregard starters and ignitions. The F1 car is started by an outside, handheld starter that plugs into the rear of the car. But, after that initial bump in the road, he was somewhat ready to roll.
Seeing someone as famous as Lewis Hamilton having some issues shifting a manual transmission kind of made me feel good, as I too had some major issues when I first got behind the wheel of a standard. He had a lot of trouble getting going at first, though to his credit he did not stall once and eventually took off just fine.
To say he was timid would be a discredit to his skills and experience. I will say though, he really seemed to, at first anyway, really be kind of….apprehensive? I’m not even sure if that’s the word. Probably isn’t but we’ll go with it. This could probably be chalked up to nerves, so it’s not that big a deal. Eventually Hamilton really seemed to finally get the hang of shifting, and by the end of the 2nd lap he was really hauling the mail out there.
He overshot turn 1 on the 3rd lap a little, riding the car right up to the outer rumble strips. He was still feeling out the breaking points, as driving an F1 car (which comparatively is like driving a motorcycle then hopping in a big rig) has much later breaking points so this was totally out there for him. I will say that at least 3 times I was able to observe, he fishtailed the car coming out of the turns and not a single time did he lift.
There isn’t a bone in my body that feels he wouldn’t excel in a cup car, at the very least as a road course ringer. Though that would never happen, especially with someone of his stature in the open wheel racing world.
The fans couldn’t hear this, but I saw on the Speed channel, that coming to the end of lap 4, Hamilton was told over the radio to head to pit road. The most hilarious thing about this? His reply: “Sorry, didn’t hear you.”
The guy was having so much fun, he poked a little fun and tore right by the pits without even a hiccup of the throttle. There was no stopping him now! It was awesome!
After that last lap he finally slowed, but again continued by the pit entrance. The Speed special didn’t show this, so unless you were there you totally missed the best part.
Take a gander:
How awesome is that? He really picked up a new fan in myself, and I know Mike was about ready to marry the guy after that. So he can count us two as new members of his fan club effective today.
Now time for Smoke to take the wheel in the 2008 McLaren (this was the car that Lewis won the 2008 Drivers Title in F1, winning the title on the final lap of the final race of the season). I tell you what, we could see his smile from our seats in row 38, as Smoke took a quick walk around the car to assess the situation.
As a funny little aside, at least on our blog here, we took a quick poll about what the odds were that Tony would fit in the tiny F1, considering he has probably munched one too many whoppers from his sponsor, Burger King. This was probably mean and wrong, but come on….how hilarious would it have been if Tony “Cheeseburger” Stewart couldn’t fit? Come on…you’d have laughed a little.
Unfortunately, Tony didn’t have the same sense of humor as us and fit perfectly inside. After initially stalling in his first attempt at taking off, he got a hang of it and slowly crept off pit lane.
Any pretense that he would “take it easy” were quickly whipped away, as before he even hit the esses and ran up the hill toward the backstretch, he was flat out. Pedal to the carbon! Smoke was leaving nothing behind, as he was taking to the track as if it was the last lap of the US Grand Prix, and he was chasing the checkers. Coming off turn 11 for that end of the first lap, he fishtailed just slightly and came barreling down the front stretch to a big round of applause from the crowd.
I’ll take this chance here to tell you that after seeing this, I can’t help but wonder why Watkins Glen didn’t get the chance to host the next US Grand Prix, and a track that still isn’t built yet in Texas won out. This track was meant for F1. It MUST come back. The enthusiastic crowd proved that to me today.
With every lap Smoke took, he got faster and faster, improving his times by almost a second a lap. By the end of the exhibition, he was almost 4 seconds faster than Hamilton was when he took the track in his own ride. Though, it was admitted later on apparently that Hamilton didn’t go full bore. But we don’t need to think about that, lets just be happy an American beat a Brit again. Do we need to mention The War of 1812 and that little spat we like to call the Revolution? Yea. Smoke beat him again in round 3. Flawless Victory!
The only disappointment of Smokes run was that instead of besting Lewis with a burnout of his own, he just calmly pulled it onto pit road at his conclusion and parked it. Though I will say it was quite hilarious, as he hit pit road, you heard 2,500 collective “Awwwwwww”s of disappointment. Everyone was hoping he’d pull out an epic burnout as well, but alas we were not to get one today.
So, in conclusion, I would say that the entire test was an absolute success, for all parties. Mobil 1 received some very nice press, Hamilton showed his chops behind a cup car and showed he really has what it takes no matter the discipline, and Stewart gave the show of the day behind the McLaren. Sure there were some disappointments (weather, no Smoke burnout, it didn’t go as long as we’d hoped), overall this was a wonderful event. One can only hope that this continues once again in the future, hopefully back here at the Glen.
Now, for my final grades of the day:
Hamilton – B+
Why? I gave him a B+ because I really felt that he cheated a lot of us fans out of one aspect of the show, by being out there only 1 full speed lap in his McLaren. Stewart was out there for 5 full speed laps, and probably would have kept going if not for NASCAR regulations. He really did make up for it somewhat when he took the track in the Mobil 1 Chevy, so I won’t fault him too badly. As well, when he was interviewed, he really seemed happy and pleased to be there and didn’t treat it like just collecting a check. I love that. And the epic burnout at the conclusion? That was amazing.
Stewart – A
Why? I wanted to give him an A+, and I do think he deserved that grade, but he really disappointed a lot of the crowd by not doing that finishing burnout to show up the Brit once and for all. However, when he was behind the wheel of the Cup car he gave us a nice 5 lap treat. Then followed that up with some expert piloting for a rookie behind the wheel of the McLaren. He sure showed that us American full-fendered drivers have just as good of chops as the European kart and open wheel drivers. Very good show, ole chap!
Watkins Glen International - A+
Why? The traffic was good, the parking was good, they had the concession stands open, there was plenty of general admission seating (and free to boot!), where could I find any fault? They had cars on the track attempting to dry the racing lines for at least 2 hours before any race cars hit the surface, and they made every attempt to make everyone comfortable and happy. I can’t find a single fault with them, as they did the absolute best they could with the weather being what it was. I sure hope they bring this back again next year!!
Be sure to check out our Youtube.com video library for videos of the entire day, and our thoughts at the end. We look forward to using what we learned this week to pick up on some good ideas for August when we cover the Cup race, and we sure hope you are right there with us here at Startnparkblog.com to follow along.
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