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After a shaky departure from the pits, Stewart got up to speed fast in the McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 despite not having driven an open-wheel car in a decade. Among his four laps, he turned a fast one of 1 minute, 42 seconds in tricky conditions.

That was 8 seconds faster than Hamilton’s best setup lap, which Hamilton ran on a much wetter surface. The track record for the long course is 1:28.597 at 136.935 mph, set by IndyCar’s Ryan Briscoe in 2009.

“I couldn’t even get it up high enough in the revs to get it to actually pull away in first gear. I kept having to reset it,” Stewart said. “I kept trying to tell myself, just get on the gas a little bit. 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 event was a triumph for Watkins Glen president Michael Printup, who counts F1 as a passion. The Glen hosted F1’s U.S. Grand Prix from 1961-80. And for one day, that distinctive engine roar that once woke campers up on race day echoed through the hallowed turns of the famed course.

Heck, the event, which was free, attracted 8,000-10,000 fans.

“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. For me, personally, I haven’t come down from Cloud Nine. And I think I’m going to stay there at least for the rest of the day.”