Tony Stewart, McLaren, Watkins Glen, 2011

Watching Lewis Hamilton’s maiden NASCAR run

F1 videoPosted on | Author Gerard Hetman

Gerard Hetman was at Watkins Glen on Tuesday to watch Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart try each others’ cars.

Here are his thoughts from the day plus onboard footage of both drivers’ laps.

From the outside the Watkins Glen media centre looks like an ordinary residential house. But on the inside it’s a properly-equipped facility with every modern amenity you could wish for.

After checking in I notice the massive attention Mobil 1’s F1 and NASCAR driver-swap project has attracted: there are media from national and international outlets, plus others from the local press.

Right from the start of the day, we had nearly-unlimited access to the tents that were acting as garage areas for McLaren and Stewart-Haas. All press and VIPs were free to walk in and look at pretty much whatever they wanted to, which led to some great photo-ops.

David Coulthard was out running laps of the track in a Corvette street car with BBC’s Lee McKenzie. Then, to my surprise, as I was looking at the Chevrolet Impala NASCAR, I heard some commotion outside the tent. I looked up and Lewis Hamilton was walking towards me!

After Hamilton had an up-close look at the Sprint Cup car – including a climb inside the cockpit – it was off for the drivers to meet up in the media building, before they made a reconnaissance run of the track together in a black Chevy Suburban. After the run, Stewart and Hamilton gave each other a tour of their respective garages and cars.

It was then off to the writing room at the media centre, where Coulthard introduced the drivers to the media. The fans outside were wired in via the circuit?s public address system, which helped make up for the decision to move the conference inside due to the rainy weather.

Off to the races

Lewis Hamilton, NASCAR, Watkins Glen, 2011
Lewis Hamilton, NASCAR, Watkins Glen, 2011

After each driver gave a brief description of what he expected from the cars- including how they would handle under wet conditions – both headed out to their waiting cars at the start/finish line.

With Coulthard driving the pace car, both Hamilton and Stewart drove a lap together in their own cars for the photographers. Stewart then pulled into pit lane as Hamilton gave the crowds a first-hand look at the power of an F1 car.

When Hamilton pulled back into his tent after finishing a few laps, it was Stewart?s turn to show what he could do, as he turned some laps in a car that will look familiar to fans at Watkins Glen come August.

Hamilton was up first in the NASCAR machine, and while many expected him to slide all over the course, he never had an off moment. Saving the best for last, Hamilton demonstrated his new-found mastery of NASCAR equipment by thrilling the crowd with several doughnuts in front of the main grandstand.

Stewart then calmly walked to the waiting MP4-23. With Hamilton at his side, he climbed into the cockpit without a problem. The anti-stall kicked in once, but after that he was fired up and gone.

It seemed as though he ran a few more laps than Hamilton did in the NASCAR, but the crowd was every bit as happy.

After the main event

Tony Stewart, McLaren, Watkins Glen, 2011
Tony Stewart, McLaren, Watkins Glen, 2011

After Stewart parked the McLaren, the day rounded off with a press conference. Naturally, Stewart and Hamilton both offered praise for each other?s job, and talked about how neat it would be to run an actual race in each others? series.

Lots of questions came from the floor, including one about Hamilton?s reported conversations with Red Bull team bosses in Canada, which he have a guarded response to. A final photo opportunity concluded the day.

The staff at Watkins Glen put on a first-class reception for all visiting media and every single fan in the stands.

Not everyone wants to come out on a Tuesday in bad weather, but judging from the number of people at the track as spectators, I think there is a healthy body of support for Formula 1 in America.

That has to bode well for next year’s United States Grand Prix at Austin.

See pictures from the event here: Lewis Hamilton drives NASCAR at Watkins Glen

Video courtesy of McLaren with thanks to Dan Selby.

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