Many hours from master craftsmen in Ireland are needed for these detailed – and apparently delicate – awards for racers.
- Check out the original post on driving.ca HERE, and pdf coverage from The Sun Times HERE and National Post HERE
It’s one of the most famous podium celebrations in motor racing history. Four-time CART champion Sébastien Bourdais, having finished 2nd in the first race of a 2013 Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader, doesn’t notice that the crystal trophy he’s just picked up isn’t attached to its wooden pedestal. Seconds later, time stands still as the runners-up trophy slooooowly tips over, bounces off the podium twice, and detonates itself right in front of 3rd-placed Dario Franchitti.
You can’t buy that kind of publicity, and you could almost feel the entirety of the IndyCar community hold its breath when Bourdais finished the second race of the day on the podium as well!
“It was definitely…interesting,” explains Claudia Truchan, general manager of William Ashley, which has handled the logistics and delivery of Honda Indy Toronto trophies since 2010. “I remember receiving the phone call from our team that day – I was at the track to help present the trophies – and our operations manager was saying, “oh my God, oh my God, the trophy broke, oh my God!” We were disappointed for Sébastien, but secretly quite relieved it wasn’t the winner’s trophy!”
Rather than being swept furiously beneath the rug, this potential PR nightmare has become one of the most endearing moments in an eight-year relationship between the Honda Indy Toronto, Waterford Crystal and its Canadian emporium, William Ashley. Indeed, five days before this year’s race, staff at WA’s flagship store in Toronto even presented Bourdais with a paper replica of the 2018 trophies he was there to unveil. Which, naturally, he dropped.
“Time stands still as the runners-up trophy slooooowly tips over, bounces off the podium twice, and detonates.”
In the last five years though, there have been no panic-induced calls from top brass to screw, glue, or in any way permanently affix the Waterford Crystal trophies to their respective wooden pedestals. That’s not the kind of craftsmanship Ireland’s oldest and most famous crystal artisans are known for, after all.
“Honda Indy Toronto actually approached us a few years ago about a partnership,” Claudia continues. “For years, we’ve had a very good relationship with House of Waterford Crystal in Ireland. They’re one of the most prestigious crystal stylists worldwide, they have a great heritage, and we knew they would be a fantastic fit to partner with for the trophies. So, together, we came up with this custom design for the winner that featured a stunning silhouette of the Toronto skyline, including the CN Tower, with a stream of IndyCars in front of it. And every one, in those eight years, has been made in Ireland. That’s how we have guaranteed quality.”
‘Quality’. Le mot juste, without a doubt.
After the initial ‘incubator for dreams, ideas and inspirations’ design phase, very fine beech wood is carefully moulded with hand tools to shape the molten crystal that will eventually become the Honda Indy Toronto trophies. Master Blowers (steady now…) manipulate these shapes yet further in a furnace heated to 2,400°F, and only after the first of six rigorous inspections is completed is the sculpted stem and bowl ready for the first cuts to be made. An exercise where patience and a deft hand is crucial: should a craftsman, even one with the required eight years of training under his belt, angle his diamond-tipped wheel too aggressively, the whole design is immediately considered flawed, and thrown in the garbage.
Any and all rough edges are polished thoroughly before the ‘Intaglio’ engraving process can begin in earnest. It’s a mind-bogglingly detailed and precise art form, one that the House of Waterford Crystal has practiced since its foundation in 1783 (give or take a 94-year dormancy), and one that incorporates over 750 tons of crystal per year to produce more than 45,000 products.
“Waterford is one of Europe’s most respected companies when it comes to crystal production, and it’s because they use a very specific content of lead. Traditionally, the definition for crystal is that it needs to be 24% lead. Anything below that is glass. This allows Waterford to make deep cuts, which creates the beauty and also provides the weight. Imagine picking up a heavy crystal goblet: you know immediately that it is something special! And that’s so important for William Ashley and House of Waterford Crystal in our partnership with Honda Indy Toronto: we want the drivers to know they are holding something special.”
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Verizon IndyCar Series is far from the only global sport that presents Waterford Crystal trophies to its winners. Today, the House of Waterford regularly graces the worlds of football, tennis, golf, snooker and horse racing among many others. Naturally, the attention to detail is beyond staggering, as for that matter is the time spent on its creation. And, yes, the price.
“All of the trophies are mouth-blown, hand-cut, and hand-engraved in Ireland, and it takes at least 48 hours of manpower across up to four months for each piece. That probably helps you understand why the winner’s trophy is valued at $5,500!”
“Master Blowers (steady now…) manipulate these shapes yet further in a furnace heated to 2,400°F, and only after the first of six rigorous inspections is completed is the sculpted stem and bowl ready for the first cuts to be made.”
Jolted perhaps by Monsieur Bourdais’ incident five years ago, Claudia and her William Ashley crew take the safety of this near-$15K collection very seriously, especially because there are no spares to-hand during a race weekend! You might think then that the three trophies being readied for the 2019 race will be kept in hermetically sealed vaults deep beneath the circuit, entry to which only the most sophisticated of iris scanners will allow…
But no. Indeed, as I speak with Claudia, all three trophies stand mere inches from us in the Honda Indy Toronto paddock, admittedly encased in shatter-proof plastic and atop some VERY sturdy pillars. Even so, I’ve rarely been more conscious of where my elbows are pointing during an interview.
“Fortunately nothing like [the Bourdais podium] has happened since, but our team is still extremely careful when transporting and storing these trophies. We always have a dedicated team monitoring them, and any movement of the collection is only ever done by us.
“That includes after the podium presentation too, where things can get a little complex. Some teams – I won’t say who! – prefer to keep the actual trophy, so we’ve had a lot of requests over the years for copies of trophies to be sent to the drivers.”
I doubt very much those replicas come with wooden pedestals though. Apparently that’s caused a few problems in the past…
*Images courtesy of IndyCar and Waterford Crystal