Ben Robertaccio

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Posts by Ben Robertaccio


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Something new is coming to Morrie’s Luxury Auto – Hint #1

Yesterday we announced that we will be adding a new brand here at Morrie’s Luxury Auto in early 2015.  We’ll officially reveal the brand next Monday and in the meantime we’ll be posting a daily hint.

Today’s hint is an engine note of one of the brands cars on the track.  Crank up the volume, enjoy and begin guessing.


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A First Timer’s Trip to a Formula 1 Race – 2013 US Grand Prix in Review

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As long as I can remember I’ve been a huge motorsports fan, but nothing could prepare me for my first Formula 1 race.  Nothing.

 

I started attending auto races when I was in the womb.  At three years old I battled chicken pox watching IMSA GT racers zoom by at Brainerd International Raceway.  At the ripe age of eleven I had the good fortune to bump into Mario and Michael Andretti in paddock at Road America.   I’ve attended many of other races ranging from amateur club level races to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, yet I never had the chance to attend a Formula 1 race.  That all changed just over a week ago when I attended the 2013 US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas

 

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If you’re not familiar, Formula 1 is the pinnacle of auto racing.   Weighing in at just 1,415 pounds and delivering nearly 750 horsepower, a contemporary Formula 1 car can sprint from 0-60 mpg in under two seconds.  Read this last sentence again.   A short seven seconds later a Formula 1 car will hit 190mph.  The same cars will decelerate from 190 mph to 0 in just over three seconds.   It has to be the equivalent of being shot out of a cannon and into a brick wall.

 

To say these cars can move is an understatement and their handling is equally impressive.  Much like in aerospace, Formula 1 teams use the same wind tunnels to maximize aerodynamic forces.   Whereas planes rely on lift, Formula 1 cars thrive on down force.  This force allows a modern F1 car to grip the road like an insect to fly paper.   To put this down force into perspective, a Formula 1 car could drive upside down in a tunnel.   Myth busters proved it, so it must be true…but enough about the cars, let’s talk about the Formula 1 experience.

 

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If you could ever ride in a Formula 1 car it would surely blow your mind.  If you think racecar drivers are not athletes, you’re delusional.  I learned this firsthand when I had the opportunity to ride in a legit Formula 1 car that had been converted to a three seater for ride-alongs.  At a small private racetrack roughly 30 minutes from the Formula 1 course, our group was treated to two laps around Harris Hill Speedway with one of two highly qualified drivers.  The first, Jerome D’Ambrosio, drove previously for the Lotus F1 team.  The second, Martin Plowman, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012.

 

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Analogous to a sumo wrestler climbing into a Smart Car, I nearly had to ask for some Crisco to ease the squeeze into cars passenger side pod.  Once in, I was sure that I would never make it out.  Martin Plowman fired up the car and immediately high octane fumes permeated the cockpit.  Heat radiated off my back and I suddenly understood how claustrophobics feel in a crowded elevator.  I needed some airflow fast and I certainly got it, in the form of a 750 horsepower jetpack strapped to my back.

 

As we accelerated out of the pits the sensation was unlike anything I ever felt before.  As we approached the first turn, a sweeping right-hander I no longer had to worry about it, as I was experiencing the most extreme g-forces ever.  I’m certain my internal organs were struggling to stay in place.  As we accelerated out of the turn the wind pulled up on my helmet so much I was sure that like a schoolyard dandelion, my head would pop off.  But again, time would not permit it as Plowman put on the clampers and the car slowed down for the next turn and I could see the road again.  Another game of rib crunching ensued.  Accelerate.  Brake. Turn.  Brutal acceleration.   Rinse and repeat for a couple minutes and we were done.  The video below puts it into perspective.  That is indeed me shoe horned into the passenger compartment…. fat guy in little suit.  Had this been the only thing planned for the Austin trip I would have been happy, but it was just the beginning.

 

People always say that Formula 1 cars are loud, but they are dead wrong.  When I arrived at the Circuit of the Americas that afternoon for Friday practice I found that Formula 1 cars are downright deafening.  I’m not talking about rock concert at First Avenue loud or turn it up to eleven loud; I’m talking about shoving multiple M80s down your eardrums loud.   With engines revving to 18,000 rpms, the cars emit a high frequency wail that both gives you goose bumps and makes you run for cover.  Never have I experienced something so uncomfortable and heavenly at the same time.   Without earplugs I was certain my ears would bleed.

 

Upon arriving I knew that the racing gods were looking down favorably on me during this trip.  I had the unique opportunity to call a grandstand suite on the start finish line my home for the three-day weekend.   This home base provided spectacular views of turn 20, a great vantage point of the start-finsh straightaway, a bird’s eye view of the pits, and views of the cars as they climb the monstrous hill to turn 1.  As we arrived for the second half of afternoon practice, I got just a taste of Formula 1 racing.  Saturday I would drink from the Formula 1 big gulp, or in Formula 1 elitist circles, the silver chalice.

 

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Saturday appeared to be a theatrical mind game.  As the penultimate race of the season, the US Grand Prix represented a best of the rest opportunity.   Sebastian Vettel had already won the driver’s championship in his Red Bull RB9, winning the seven previous races and leaving fans divided.  Some love him, some hate him, but in the end his talent cannot be denied.  When the morning practice rolled around, part of me was happy to see him running mid-pack.  I soon discovered, however, that it was all just a mind game. Through the first 58 minutes of qualifying session 1, someone other than Vettel held the top spot.  Would someone else take the glory?  Nope.  With less than two minutes to go in the session, Vettel snuck up and took a commanding lead.

 

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I’ll spare you the details, but top performers from the first two qualifying session advanced to the third session where the board was wiped clean.  Can you guess what happened?  Vettel, again, snatched the pole position with minutes to go in session, ruining the hopes of many jaded Formula 1 fans tired of seeing another Vettel parade on race day.   Still, attending a Vettel dominated race is much better than not attending at all, right?

 

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We arrived early on Sunday for race day and enjoyed watching two race groups run in support of the Formula 1 big show.   Formula Vintage cars took to the track first.   An eclectic mix of vintage and historic racecars this group put on a good show, albeit one with a large speed and skill differential.  Out front, two Formula Atlantic racecars battled hard for the lead.  Towards the middle a couple of stunning Formula B cars provided great photo opportunities harkening back the golden age of open wheel racing.  After 8 short laps the race was over.

 

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Shortly following the Formula Vintage race, what seemed like fifty Ferrari Challenge cars grid the main straightaway with much pomp and circumstance.  There were scantily clad grid girls.  There were more engines revving than in a Fast and Furious movie.  There were cars of every color imaginable.   This group, consisting of identically prepared Ferrari 458 Challenge cars, showed that wealth and driving talent do not always go hand in hand.  The race did, however, make it clear that with enough money you can fix anything.

 

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Upon cresting the hill into turn one on the first lap, one of the front-runners got nudged, putting into motion an entertaining chain of events.  The nudged car spun, creating an obstacle to the dozen of cars yet to navigate the turn.  Just to add to the excitement the car that initiated the nudge damaged his radiator.  In the heat of the moment he proceeded to drive the next several turns spewing slippery-as-ice coolant out of his car.   As the cars pirouetted on the spilled coolant all I could think of was the Ferrari boys back in Maranello enthusiastically adding up new parts sales.   After the Ferrari Challenge drivers completed their race and sent half a dozen cars to the wrecking yard it was finally time for the Formula 1 race.

 

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At the start of the Formula 1 race there was a bit of shuffling for position.  Vettel got his signature jump on the field, but Red Bull teammate Mark Webber who qualified 2nd, slipped back to fourth when Romain Grosjean snuck by in his Lotus and Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes AMG.    Things cleared out a bit out front, but soon enough the mid-pack Force India car of Adrian Sutil careened into the wall after a bump with Esteban Gutierrez.  Short of a brief yellow flag period, the remainder of the race was rather uneventful.

 

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While the race was uneventful, the pit stops were truly a sight to see.  Whereas it might take you 20 minutes to change a flat tire on your car, these teams can change all four tires in under 3 seconds.  The Red Bull team did it in 2.3 seconds.  Seriously, if you blink you’ll miss a tire change.  The pit crew is a well orchestrated machine that practices their craft over and over and over, probably more than your typical pro athlete practices his swing.

One key to their success is their equipment and having everything in the right place.  By a stroke of luck we got the opportunity to tour the pits pre-race and get a firsthand look at the equipment and tools at their disposal.  I’m guessing that one tire gun costs more than my car.

 

2013 US Grand Prix 2-3

 

As the race wound down Vettel maintained an eight second lead over Grosjean, and Webber couldn’t quite bridge the gap to Grosjean.  In the end, they maintained these positions at the end.

 

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As quick as the race started, it was over and fans flooded the front straightaway for the awards presentation.  As soon as the presentation was over, logistics workers flooded the pits like worker ants with forklifts and airfreight containers.  It was truly a site to see and I can only imagine the planning involved to fly the cars and equipment across the world for all 19 races.

 

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All in all it was an incredible experience, unlike any race I had attended before and I look forward to the opportunity to attend another in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Hawk Vintage Races at Road America

Every July vintage racers and automotive enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to Road America for the Hawk Vintage Races with Brian Redman.  Arguably one of the nation’s greatest vintage auto racing events, The Hawk brings together over 450 races cars spread across 10 race groups.  Whether you like early fifties production cars, late-model Formula 1 cars or anything in-between there is certainly a number of cars to get engine racing at this event.  Below you will find a small snapshot of the impeccably prepared race cars that were in attendance.  If you have never attended it is certainly something you should add to your automotive bucket list.