The State of the Art

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The Sonoma Speed Festival seemed to be a celebration of automotive history before the year 2000, although there was one notable exception: Mercedes brought out their 2016 Formula One racer, the W07.

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It makes about 950 horsepower through the combined forces of a 1.6L turbocharged V6 and battery-stored electricity, but it sounds like a tiny go-kart or something with a very small engine. I heard it way before I saw it, and I thought they had sent out some sort of 250cc shifter kart.

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Some people complain about the new cars being too quiet, but I found the volume is entirely reasonable. The old N/A cars sounded unbelievably cool, but they require ear plugs to even think about them.

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I just stood in the same place, experimenting with shutter speeds. For the most part, he would do a slow lap followed by a fast lap, which was repeated a few times.

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When that car is at full tilt, it’s quite something to behold.

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Seeing how it moves around the track makes me completely forget about the sound, which everyone loves to complain about. Sure, it doesn’t sound as good as the best sounding cars of all time, but does it sound horrible? No. The 2013 F1 cars with their blown diffusers sounded horrible. The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang cars from the 20’s that rev out to 2100 RPM and have no exhaust sound horrible. This actually sounded cool, if a bit incongruous to the beastly nature of the machine.

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I got caught in the wrong place when they ran again in the afternoon, so I didn’t really get a different angle of the action. Even worse, the camera had major trouble focusing on such a fast object against the sun, so most of my shots from here didn’t come out anyway.

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We moved back to the garage to await its return, but it snuck up on us! I turned around, with my long lens still attached, and saw the car coming at me with a crowd in the way.

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It was pretty cool to see them go through their procedures in the garage; it takes a serious team to keep these cars alive and running.

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It turns out they smashed the lap record, which is no surprise because nothing modern has really ever made a serious run at this particular layout of the course (however, just a few days earlier the 2004 Ferrari F1 set the lap record for the IndyCar layout of the track). They weren’t even going 100%; more like a swift run compared to an all-out sprint. I’d love to see what a Porsche 919 would do, or even just a current IndyCar. You get used to seeing cars at a particular speed, and then these über-cars come out and just blow everything away. It’s something you really have to see to see to believe. Does the onboard video convey the relaxed speed?

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