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.