One of the highlights of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend came not during any of the on-track scheduled sessions themselves, but in a single-lap run by Sam Schmidt in a modified 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray.
As he did in Indianapolis last year on pole day Sunday, Schmidt got behind the wheel of the SAM Car he controls only with his head – operating the car with his head and mouth only. It’s a design feat pulled off by Arrow Electronics, which initially came to Schmidt with the idea.
Sunday in Long Beach marked the first time that this vehicle designed for quadriplegic drivers navigated the twists, turns and concrete barriers of a streets course. But Schmidt pulled it off with aplomb.
“It’s basically a miracle to even be involved in the project,” Schmidt said, via IndyCar.com. “It was sort of the honeymoon effect going to Indy and getting to 107 (mph); basically checking everything off the list. But that was a seven-month process to get there. Then it was a step back and say, ‘Hey, we want to keep going and take it to the next level,’ and clearly that was make the acceleration and deceleration more in control, more intuitive.
“Then how are we going to challenge ourselves, and the challenge is to go left and right in an instantaneous fashion.”
Schmidt’s preparation for Long Beach was chronicled in an NBC Nightly News segment last night, where Harry Smith spoke to Schmidt during a test session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
The Red Bull Racing pit crew may have already made headlines last weekend when it completed the fastest pit stop in Formula One history, changing Max Verstappen’s tires in 1.82 seconds, but the team’s most recent stunt took their skills to new heights – quite literally.
With the help of the Russian Space agency Roscomos, a group of the team’s mechanics completed the world’s first zero-gravity pit stop, on-board a IIyushin II-76K cosmonaut training plane.
Using a 2005 BR1, the team filmed the viral video over the course of a week, enduring seven flights and about 80 parabolas – periods in which the plane climbs 45 degrees before falling again at a ballistic arch of 45 degrees, creating a period of weightlessness for approximately 22 seconds.
With such a short time frame between weightlessness periods, the car and equipment had to be both quickly and safely secured before gravity once again took effect. Each filming lasted roughly 15 seconds, and the stunt was the most physically and technically demanding activity the live demo team had ever undertaken.
“It pushed us harder than I thought it would,” said Red Bull Support Team Mechanic Joe Robinson. “You realize how much you rely on gravity when you don’t have any!
“It challenges you to think and operate in a different way – and that was brilliant. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and honestly, I could have stayed and done it all month. It was amazing. I think it’s the coolest, most fun thing the Live Demo team has ever done with a show car.”
Though Red Bull was the first team to perform a pit stop in zero gravity, surprisingly Red Bull was not the first team to put a car through zero gravity. In 1999, McLaren driver David Coulthard and his car experienced zero gravity as part of a promotion for then-sponsor West Cigarettes.