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“I will have to say that orgins of the Gentleman Racer chronograph came to me at about 220 kph heading down the back straight of Sebring in my Spec Racer Ford.” Said Robert Blanchard Owner of Blanchard Watch Company and creator of the Gentleman Racer. “I was in a 20 min qualifying run and had no clue how much time I had left.“
My radio was down and all I was thinking throughout the run was about hitting my line… you see, it is only on the back straight that one can take a few precious moments to check gauges, tighten belts, relax and take a few deep breaths before the treacherous double apex turn 17.
After that race weekend the thought of a wearing a watch outside my suit seemed like a logical tool to have as back up incase one’s radio died, like had happened to me. And the idea of Gentleman Racer came to be.
So, what is a Gentleman Racer? The name harkens back to the early years of racing where well to do Gentleman would purchase their own cars and race them against professionals in races around the country… one of these being the most famous of all endurance racing… the 24 hours of Le Mans.
The Gentleman Racer by Blanchard Watch Company
So Blanchard decided to name his creation the Gentleman Racer… since it was a tool that Gentleman racers will use out on the track. But not only that… before he became a racer Blanchard, like hundreds of thousands out there was a spectator first, so he didn’t want to forget those out there that also dream of one day handling a perfectly tuned car around the track.
It was after that notion that he came to the eureka moment to have interchangeable bezels. And these bezel designs would incorporate everyone at the track. From the spectator on the grassy mounds looking down as the cars beautiful exhaust note penetrated their bodies, to those mechanics at the paddock and pits timing events during the race, to the driver manipulating the car in ways to squeeze out every last drop of performance.
So after two years of engineering, movement choice and testing on the track Blanchard produced a watch that can be used both on and off the track, yet look good with a quick change of the bezel from 60 minute time zone to the all black Tuxedo bezel for that evenings event.
The dial design was also a great study in the classics like Gentleman racer and actor Paul Newman. Most here know of the price his Panda Daytona fetched at auction for a good cause. What most don’t know was that he also had a Reverse Panda dial. So, Blanchard took his idols two watches and re imagined what Mr. Newman would like to wear around his fire suit . But he also added a third design… the Steel Panda. The idea came to him in two phases. Blanchard tells the story, “I was changing the rotors on my car and I became mesmerized by the circular pattern around the disk and then that old racing adage kept repeating in my head. It’s braking that wins a race. I had to incorporate that in my watch design. So, the steel Panda was created.”
The movement was another calculated move by Blanchard. He tells that Sebring international racetrack is extremely bumpy, built on a WWII airfield you have your mix of concrete and asphalt… and because of this mixture it has become a testing ground for teams to see if their cars and drivers can withstand the punishment of 12 hours and when and if they pass the test they know they are at least 12 hours ready for the big race of the year… the 24 hours at Le Mans.
These asphalt to concrete and back to asphalt changes make this track difficult at best to control your car especially in turn 17 as your car bounces towards the outside wall due to the lateral forces of the turn. So one has a lot of vibrations in the cockpit and transferring from the steering to your wrist. Blanchard decided he wanted a movement that could take the vibrations… which lead to the Seiko VK64A Mechaquartz. The best of both worlds… accuracy of quartz with the feel of a mechanical movement. Activating the chronograph gives one the satisfying click and fly back reset of the second hand we all so love in our mechanical chronographs.
Now we get to what Blanchard calls his eureka moment… The bezels. This alone was an adventure in design… it took him over 15 different design ideas until he settled on the simplicity of the 3 Hex screws. He tells me, “ I went from an intricate leaver and gear system to the simplicity of a screw in the design phase. The truth lay in the use… and this watch is meant to be used so the complicated gear lever systems just gave an owner more failure points… so I simplified it. Like myself, most of us racers and enthusiast do like to wrench on our cars… we are ‘mechanically inclined’. I also wanted the owner of the Gentleman Racer watch to have that same feeling with their watch as when they get ready for a race weekend… from working on their cars to working on their watch… everything must be ready and checked before the weekend of fun begins.”
Working on the Gentleman Racer requires tools. So Blanchard also provide the tools for the new owners to do their bezel change with ease. Currently Blanchard Watch Company has produced 4 bezel designs:
- A 60 min second time zone bezel with 30, 45 and 60 min red triangle placement spots allowing a driver to set the bezel to the proper position to time a practice, race, etc.
- The all black Tuxedo bezel. This was made for a night out on the town. The simple slick black bezel gives your Gentleman Racer an air of class
- The 6 plus hour Endurance track timing bezels. To use for example, if you are at Le Mans you set the Le Mans arrow to the 12 o’clock position and when your team car passes you start the chronograph. When the car passes you once again you stop the chronograph and see where the second hand has stopped. Now you can see if your team was faster, slower or equal to the fastest lap during the race the prior season.
- The GT US Endurance track timing bezel. This bezel works the same way as the 6 plus hour endurance bezel but with US tracks.
The Blanchard Watch company will be working on updating the GT bezels every season plus designing different bezels to add to ones collection. From countdown bezel to an SCCA specific 90 min endurance race timing bezel to a sailing bezel. “Frankly, only the imagination is the limit. I am also looking into laser etching machines so I can create one off bezels for that Gentleman Racer that wants to keep track of their own times at their local tracks.” Said Robert Blanchard.
The Gentleman racer can also be purchased with a signed clasp, black and silver nylon NATO strap and or a beautifully tapering Stainless-Steel bracelet with solid end links and signed clasp that has 4 micro adjusting holes. The Bracelet can be easily fitted by the use of screw link pins.
Each Gentleman Racer comes with a leather pouch with space for 4 addition bezels, a pocket for your tools and two pockets for the leather NATO strap and suit extension strap. Blanchard chose this strap to be made from leather thus providing a material that would not melt during a fire.
It is Blanchard Watch Company’s goal to bring back the tool watch chronograph back into the racing community both at home, at the track, and in the driver’s seat, because for Robert Blanchard, a watch is first a tool and after you win, it becomes an accessory.