First out was Hamilton in his 2009 McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 for some exploratory laps to learn the circuit.The track was wet when the two drivers took their own cars round, Stewart using the opportunity to learn the full 3.4 mile circuit as Sprint Cup races traditionally use a 2.45 lap leaving out the section they call The Boot.
Hamilton, on a drying track, was supposed to do five laps in Stewart’s Mobil1/Office Depot Chevrolet but missed the pit lane so had to do a sixth lap. As he came back he performed a burn-out worthy of any NASCAR driver.
Stewart grinned widely as he watched the burn-out, not concerned that it was one of his cars being given the treatment.
“The good part is when you see somebody doing a burnout like that, you know they’re having a good time,” Stewart said. ‘That was icing on the cake.”
‘I just feel like a kid. It’s good to feel like a kid again. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve done outside of racing Formula One,” said Hamilton. ‘The competitive side of (racing) is so serious. After a tough weekend, I was worried even this morning.”
Stewart had a bit of difficulty getting the McLaren out of the pits but once he got going settled into four laps in his first drive in an single seater for ten years. His best lap was 1 minute 42 seconds in less than ideal conditions which compares well with the lap record of 1 min 28.597 set by Ryan Briscoe in an Indycar in 2009.
Stewart wanted to go faster but was mindful he was driving someone else’s car. “As a competitor, you want to go out and find the limit. At the same time, you realize that if you make a mistake, the penalty for that mistake is going to be pretty harsh, so you may back it off a little bit just to enjoy the experience. Once we got rolling though, it was unbelievable. It’s just amazing what the capabilities of the car are. I told the guys on pit road that it’s probably going to make my crew chief a little more stressed during the weekends now because I’m going to want it to handle like that all the time. That was truly the experience of a lifetime.”
The whole event was put together by Mobil1 oil which sponsors both cars and fulfilled the dream of Michael Printup, the president of Watkins Glen whose dream was to see a Formula One car driving round the Glen again. “I can’t get rid of my goosebumps and my chills,” Printup said. “It was amazing, and it was amazing to have these fans out here.” It is estimated between eight and ten thousand fans turned up for the free to enter event.