Thursday, June 16, 2011

Event Recap - Mobil 1 Seat Swap at Watkins Glen

In spite of a weather forecast of sunny and 70 degrees, Watkins Glen International was cold and rainy on Tuesday morning when a surprisingly large number of fans began turning up at the track for the Mobil 1 sponsored "Seat Swap" event. Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and Nascar driver Tony Stewart were set to trade cars for a few laps around the historic circuit in New York. The Glen made a name for itself by hosting the United States Grand Prix (among other international racing events) for roughly two decades. In more recent years, Nascar has utilized the track for one of a couple road courses run throughout the season. Tony Stewart, therefore, is no stranger to Watkins Glen in a Nascar, though it's been nearly 30 years since a modern Formula 1 machine has raced around the circuit.

The relatively quiet atmosphere was awakened as Hamilton's McLaren MP4-23 (2008) was fired up in a tent across from the grandstands on the front straight. Perhaps it's the newer, smaller 2.4 L engines, or the fact that the Glen is fairly open in terms of surrounding structures, but I couldn't help but think that the McLaren didn't seem nearly as loud as the old V10 F1 cars I recall from Indianapolis in 2000 and 2001. After a few minutes of warm-up revs, the McLaren was switched off, and there was more waiting. This would be the case throughout most of the day. The F1 was turned on, revved, and switched off several times before it was finally wheeled out to the track along with Stewart's Chevrolet Impala Nascar.
In the mean time, F1 driver David Coulthard was keeping busy by taking VIPs around the wet track in a Corvette. Since Nascars don't race in wet conditions and Stewart himself is not experienced in the rain, let alone in a Formula 1 car, there was a bit of worry that the event may be called off. Interestingly, the Nascar was fitted with rain tires, a windshield wiper, and even a defogger. After a few hours the rain let up, and the two cars were finally rolled out to the start/finish line.

The scene of watching the respective team members prepare their cars was rather telling of just how different the machines are. The Nascar was simply pushed out on its own wheels whereas the F1 car was wheeled out on a dolly with tire warmers kept on until the very last moment. Most of the activity seemed to me centered around preparing the McLaren - the Nascar waiting patiently. It was like imagining a country boy going out on a date with a European super model.

The two drivers eventually got into their own cars and went around for a parade lap. Stewart came in to the pits while Hamilton went stayed on track for a few warm-up laps. The sound of the car could be heard the entire time as it went around the 3.4 mile circuit. Hamilton had never been to Watkins Glen before but seemed to have no trouble at all. Seeing the F1 car at Watkins Glen just seemed to fit. I'm certain that many of the people there were thinking that it's a shame the series no longer races at the rightful home of Grand Prix racing in the United States.
Stewart went out in his car, but was notably conservative. The track was still quite damp, however, and it has to be one of the only times a Nascar has been driven at speed in such conditions. Stewart came back in and it was Hamilton's turn in the Impala. The track had started to dry significantly at this point, but Lewis seemed all the more fearless with the car - even sliding it sideways before coming back to the front straight on his final lap and doing an incredible series of doughnuts in front of pit lane.
Hamilton remarked at how well planted the Nascar seemed and how much he enjoyed the Watkins Glen circuit. (Maybe Bernie Ecclestone heard him?)

Stewart got into the McLaren and after a stall, was out on track. He seemed very timid with the car the first time around, though one can't blame him. The next couple times around, he seemed to gain a lot of confidence. The only noticeable difference in driving styles from this observer's point of view, being the much more relaxed downshifts going into the 90' after the front straight.

In the end, and to be perfectly honest, Hamilton was the faster of the two in both machines. That being said, Stewart couldn't be blamed.
The event could have been more spectator friendly and a little better organized, but hopefully the several thousand people who showed up on a weekday in terrible weather will get the point across that we want to see Formula 1 cars in the US - and at The Glen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hang in there!

If you've been checking for new content, we're sorry for the lack of updates.

As primary editor of RR as well as full-time college student, I've been forced to neglect this site a little as I finish up the current semester at Penn State. Fret not! The racing season is starting and I'll be sure to get busy with new stuff soon!

Ian R.

Monday, February 28, 2011

1912 Daimler "Mercedes" Grand Prix

In 1912, the automobile was still a relatively novel idea for many people. Even though most people could not afford a car, motor racing was becoming very popular. For those constructing vehicles in those days, the sport offered an opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of the machines they were offering to those who were fortunate enough to be able to purchase one.

At that time, the "Mercedes" brand, owned by Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, was still a separate entity from Benz & Cie. (The two would not merge until 1926) and both companies were utilizing the marketing possibilities of racing to full extent - both would be quite successful as well.
The Mercedes shown here was built nearly 100 years ago, but it would not be unfair to say it was just as radical then as say, a Mercedes MGP W01 Formula One car today. It has been seen running at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (among other events) for the last several years now, and remains quite a machine to behold and admire.

Its history is a little hazy. As the placard accompanying the car owned by Hal Fillinger states, the chassis was discovered in Australia. At that time, the body fitted was that of a "sports racer" and in place of the original Daimler Flugmotor was a 1915 WWI four cylinder Hall-Scott aero engine. It seems unclear what the full extent of the car's racing career was, or, how it ended up in Australia. Regardless, these are rare beasts.
The body currently fitted to the chassis is a 1914 Mercedes GP body. To some, it may seem like such an historic car should be restored to the exacting specifications that Daimler intended, but we must remember, even the replacement engine in the car is a bit of history itself. These cars were often modified heavily and continuously throughout their careers. After all, the technology did not change so rapidly as today and such a vehicle was quite an investment. (According to a recent article in Autoweek about this very car, it would have cost roughly 40,000 Marks when new - that would work out to roughly $9,500 - a princely sum in 1912)

The current Hall-Scott powerhouse of the Mercedes produces about 100hp from 9.5 liters. A hefty amount of horsepower for the time. Having seen this car run, I can tell you that its massive engine isn't exactly a screamer. That being said, with a narrow rev range similar to a German U-boat engine, and a displacement larger than an average Manhattan apartment, it's got to have some serious torque. One can assume that the original Mercedes engine was either replaced due to mechanical malfunction, or, perhaps the Hall-Scott proved to be more powerful or offer a better power to weight ratio.
To hear the engine run is not unlike imagining an old WWI bi-plane idling on the tarmac. Under power, the noise from the car isn't overly deafening, but pretty damned attention getting.
One can only assume that with such power and mass, the two hand-lever operated drum brakes on the Mercedes are one of its weak points. Also bear in mind that with such narrow tires, there's probably less than 10 square inches of rubber holding it on the road.

To be behind the wheel of this massive car 100 years ago must have been as exciting as it was terrifying. Driving such a vehicle on sub-standard roads at 100 mph (and they could do it too) would not be for the faint of heart.
While parked in the paddock at Schenley Park, I was able to get a close look at the details of the car. The craftsmanship is really quite astounding. Little details everywhere, even down to the manufacturers plates and three-pointed stars on the pedals, are a delight to examine. To say one could spend several hours just looking at this Mercedes is not an exaggeration.

Finally, we must be thankful to people like Mr. Fillinger who bring these cars out to be driven and shown off. They are some of the finest pieces of automotive history out there, and to see, hear, and even smell a 1912 Mercedes race car nearly a century after it first wowed the public is an experience that a static roped-off display in a museum simply cannot offer.

Photos by Ian Rothwell @ the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, 2009 & 2010

Monday, February 21, 2011

Welcome to Racing Redux

This site is still getting off the ground, but if you came here via Ran When Parked, you may recognize some of the posts below. Consider Racing Redux a spin-off from RWP that focuses on auto racing through the ages. Here, we'll be covering the cars, stories, people, etc. from the birth of racing through modern times - Grand Prix, endurance, touring cars, and rallying.
There may be a few format changes and so on in the coming weeks and months, but we hope you'll be back and enjoy the site.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Race Oddity: Lotus 56 "turbine car"

Turbine powered automobiles have been tried and tested many times as a replacement to the conventional piston engine. Essentially a jet-engine mated to a mechanical drive shaft, turbines allow a vast power curve and relative simplicity. The idea became gained popularity in the late 1950's "Jet Age" and was experimented with heavily by Chrysler in particular. They proved rather impractical on street cars though for various reasons like extreme heat, noise, and high fuel consumption. Even Rover took the technology to LeMans in 1963 with Graham Hill and Richie Ginther, but that of course is another story.

Andy Granatelli's STP-Paxton turbine-powered special came close to winning the 1967 "500" at the hands of Parnelli Jones before dropping out 10 laps from the finish due to a bearing failure in it's unique 1-speed drivetrain. The turbine's wide operating speed range meant changing ratios was unnecessary, but power was sent to the ground with a bespoke Ferguson (as in Massy-Ferguson tractors) four-wheel-drive system. Though it didn't win, Granatelli was sold on the potential of the formula.
(The STP-Paxton chassis and engine)

The next year, Lotus joined STP's efforts with their vast racing expertise and built on Granatelli's idea. This project became known as the Lotus 56. As if the 500+ horsepower Pratt & Whitney turbine (designed for helicopters) wasn't radical or innovative enough, designer Maurice Philippe clothed the car in an unusual new aerodynamic "wedge" shape. Unlike the 56's predecessor, which placed the driver beside the engine, the Lotus had its turbine was mounted in the center behind the driver, which allowed for a completely symmetrical and balanced chassis. Perhaps even early in development, Lotus had plans for the four-wheel-drive car on tracks that were not just ovals. In any case, it seemed like a very promising package and STP's Granatelli was eager for his team to have a victory at Indy.

(Granatelli and his 1967 effort with Chapman, Clark, and the Lotus)

Initially, Chapman intended to have his best F1 drivers and Indy veterans drive the new machine - Jim Clark and turbine veteran Graham Hill. Tragically, Clark was killed early in 1968 in a Formula 2 crash before the Indianapolis event. Chapman then asked Mike Spence to step in, though he too died at the wheel. During practice for the "500" he struck the wall in one of the 56s and was hit in the head with the right front tire. Former motorcycle racer Joe Leonard replaced him and went on to capture the pole, his teammate Hill qualified in second, and relative newcomer Art Pollard took 11th in a third car.

(Spence's fatal crash in the Lotus 56)

When race day came, Hill's car was the first to bow out, losing a wheel at lap 110 and crashing into Turn 2. Leonard was passed after 31 laps of the race, however, he regained 1st after leader Bobby Unser had problems with his car's transmission. At a re-start after the final caution flag, both Lotus 56s suffered from snapped fuel pump shafts and were forced out of the running. Victory once again eluded the STP turbine-car effort in spite of so much promise. To make matters worse, USAC (Indy's governing organization at the time) banned turbine-power as well as four-wheel-drive.

(David Walker in 1971 at the wheel of a 56B - note addition of wings)

Back overseas, Chapman was still trying to get his money's worth. A modified version of the 56 (the 56B) was casually tried in Formula One during the 1971 season. The "B" would only compete in three F1 races where it proved heavy, unreliable, and overly complex. The car looked like a contender in the Dutch Grand Prix where wet-weather allowed the FWD system to come into its own, however driver Dave Walker went off-track and didn't finish. At Silverstone suspension failure put the car out, and finally Emerson Fittipaldi could only manage 8th at the Italian Grand Prix.

(Fittipaldi in Italy with later livery - front wings removed for this high-speed track)

The 56's career was finally over. Lotus had already carried-over the "wedge" design to the very successful 72 F1 car, but turbines whirred away into the history books.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Paperwork from the Past

Ah, the glory days of sports car racing were the early '70s when Porsche 910s and 917s battled with Ferrari 512s and 312s at Le Mans, the Nurburgring, and Watkins Glen. The cars can still be seen today at vintage racing events (or on a DVD "Le Mans" the film with Steve McQueen), but it's always interesting to have a peek behind the scenes of that era. Fortunately for us, some years ago, Watkins Glen International liquidated a great deal of their old records and now they're popping up in area antique stores at reasonable prices. Such an example are these entry papers my dad found in a shop downtown for the John Wyer Gulf-Porsche 917s and SEFAC Ferrari 312s in the 1971 6-Hours of Watkins Glen: (click to enlarge images)

Interestingly, the UK based Wyer team submitted their papers through the R.A.C. - Note various typos such as " (17k " on the visa slip and " MEXCIO " under Pedro Rodriguez's address.

And here, the Ferrari SEFAC (Scuderia Enzo Ferrari Auto Corse) papers. Amusing that even though the paperwork was being sent to the US, the letter is written in Italian. Ferrari also seems a lot more lax in general in terms of filling things out completely.

Roughly translated:
"To whom it may concern, we enclose your model registration for the 6 hours of Watkins Glen of July 24, 1971, drivers Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti, and we confirm participation in the Can-Am race on July 25, 1971 with a car 312P and a Can-Am car."


130Andrea de Adamich/Ronnie PetersonAlfa Romeo T33/32796:00:25,000
21Jo Siffert/Gijs van LennepPorsche 917K277+ 2 laps
32Derek Bell/Richard AttwoodPorsche 917K259+ 20 laps
463Alain De Cadenet/Lothar MotschenbacherFerrari 512M253+ 26 laps
549Robert R.Johnson/John GreenwoodChevrolet Corvette229+ 50 laps
659Peter Gregg/Hurley HaywoodPorsche 914/6 GT228+ 51 laps
757Dave Heinz/Don YenkoChevrolet Corvette221+ 58 laps
841Bill Schumacher/Bob McClure/Bob KieferChevrolet Corvette210+ 69 laps
931Bert Everett/Bob BeasleyPorsche 911T168+ 111 laps
1068Pat Keating/Levon Pentecost/Anthony TorgersenPorsche 911S162+ 117 laps
DNF36Nanni Galli/Vic ElfordAlfa Romeo T33/3258Collision
DNF67Pete Harrison/Tom Fraser/Bobby Rinzler/Skip BarberLola T212 Ford226Collision
DNF43Tony Adamowicz/Mario CabralPorsche 917K191Not classified
DNF46Mike Rahal/Hugh Wise/Horst KrollPorsche 906180Not classified
DNF14Sam Posey/Ronnie BucknumFerrari 512M126Starter motor
DNF61Hugh Kleinpeter/Tony BelcherLola T212 Ford104Engine
DNF33Henri Pescarolo/Rolf StommelenAlfa Romeo T33/397Accident
DNF64Bob Baechle/Michael Summers/Fred KeplerChevrolet Corvette90Radiator
DNF40Jacky Ickx/Mario AndrettiFerrari 312PB55Starter motor
DNF6Mark Donohue/David HobbsFerrari 512M53Steering
DNF87Tony Dean/Steve Matchett/Chuck ParsonsPorsche 908/0247Fuel pump
DNF32Jim Locke/Bob BaileyPorsche 911S25Wheel
DNF48Herbert Müller/George EatonFerrari 512M17Collision
DNF16Michael Keyser/Bruce JenningsPorsche 911T13Collision
DNF50Richard Hoffman/Frank Cipelle/John GreenwoodChevrolet Corvette6Suspension
DNF60Robin Ormes/Bobby Brown/Bob BondurantLola T70 Mk.32Throttle cable
DNS21Gregg Young/Jim AdamsFerrari 512M0Fuel leak
DNS35Vic Elford/Nanni GalliAlfa Romeo 33TT30Accident practice
DNS80Milt Minter/Rudy Bartling/Fritz HochreuterPorsche 9110

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Race Oddity: Chaparral 2J "sucker car"

Texas racing driver, team owner, and oil man, Jim Hall had become rather succesful in the Can-Am series by the time the Chaparral 2J was put on the track. Hall and his Chaparral cars had become known for pioneering aerodynamic developments from the start and the 2J of 1970 was perhaps the most advanced - if not outlandish - of the time.
The Can-Am series was a perfect test-bed for new ideas as the rules were extremely open to design variances. As Hall already knew, aerodynamic downforce was extremely important to keep a 700+ horsepower race car sticking to the track. Chaparral's previous models had sprouted wings and air-dams already though the 2J sort of "went to hell with the joke".

To create downforce, the 2J used a 2-stroke snowmobile engine to power two large 17 inch fans which literally sucked the car to the track. The suction was comperable to adding 1000 lbs of force to the car's tires. The car was skirted with Lexan to create a seal between the underside of the chassis and the track. The fans ran at a continuous speed, and therefore the downforce of the car remained nearly constant at all times regardless of the speed of the car.

To actually drive the wheels, a Chevrolet ZL-1 Corvette V8 was mated to a three-speed semi-automatic gearbox which was essentially a manual with torque converter rather than a clutch. It was rather similar to Porsche's Sportomatic transmission. Between the massive power and the massive downforce the 2J was a remarkable force to be reckoned with. Though extremely fast, the Achilles heal of the car was reliablity. Despite this, the potential was there, particularly with Jackie Stewart behind the wheel and McLaren in particular was not pleased. Due to complaints from that team, and others, that the car's fans kicked up debris from the track and als violated the rule banning 'movable aerodynamic devices' the SCCA outlawed the car. 1970 was the only season the car competed.