Donington Historic Festival

HTYASOT

You will hear this often, usually in the morning when signing on and finding out where you’ll be posted.  “You’re on 8, inside of Craners, where the rescue crew are stationed.  Speak to Dave.  He’ll Tell You A Story Or Two.”

I chat to Dave whenever his rescue unit is in rotation with us.  We laugh with the doctor, who is flicking through the index of a heart surgery manual.  He has views on lots of things, a lighthearted, mickey-taking approach, but is very serious about safety, even if his jokes can be a little near the knuckle.  He is visibly affected with the recollection of some incidents.  He’s also spent a lot of time in rallying.

Such as the time Ford asked him to join them in Portugal, presumably ‘just in case’.  The fans were known for being, ahem, brave, and there was a culture (not just in Portgual) of trying to get a touch of a car as it came past.  Group B might have been banned because the cars were too dangerous (well, they were) and too fast (though modern cars are quicker) but spectator safety and discipline were, and still are, much harder to nail.

Back in the garage at the end of the day, and Dave is called over by a mechanic.  He doesn’t seem too panicked, but Dave is slightly concerned.  “Come look at this,” the chap says, pointedly.

They go over to the car, where other mechanics are working on the rear.

Stuck between the bodywork and the numberplate is the tip of a finger.

WEC Weirdness

Firstly, the snow.

We hid in scrutineering.  I asked about checking ride-height.  F1 has the plank.

“We have a skid block, that need to be a minimum thickness.  Its pretty much the same thing.”

So the race was quiet at Copse inside, with only Nakajima pulling up with a puncture, then driving away again when we reached him (which always happens).  After the race, instead of dashing out of the circuit, I headed over to the Wing to enjoy the atmosphere.  I met up with Matt, my good friend from the Race of Champions (aka #DancingMarshal) who is also the most the super-enthusiastic passionate race fan ever.  We looked at the cars in Parc Fermé.  A man with badges on his jacket (FiA, ACO, WEC) came over and asked us with a French accent “Are you the fire marshals I asked for?”

Err, no.  But we can be.  If you need two people, we’re two people.

So we found ourselves amongst the cars.  Which was a bit awesome.  Here the Toyota, there the Porsche.  Here an Aston, there a Ferrari.  And the Audi.

Ohhhh the Audi.  A member of the technical delegate approached us.  “I realise you’re volunteers, but we could be here some time.  Maybe, one or two hours.”

“He means three or four,” said Matt.

I went back to my car for a coat, and stopped of at the WEC hospitality for some coffees.  Lovely lady, very obliging.

Two hours (ish) later, and an *ahem* senior figure arrived to check we were ok.  Things were clearly getting tense.  Half an hour after that, and he’d bought us both a Chinese take-out.  Which we ate.  In Parc Fermé.  With our fire bottles.

Then, three chaps emerged and began to push the Audi into the garages.  Not wanting to touch the cars without clearing it with the exacting (and clearly exhausted) official, I pointed at myself and made a pushing motion.  “Oui”.

So we pushed the troublesome prototype into the garage.  “Bien?” I asked.

“Fin”.

Five minutes later and a notice goes up.  The No. 7 Audi was to be excluded.  Because its front skid-block was of inadequate thickness.

Preparing for WEC

Well, the World Endurance Championship kicks off this weekend.  Here is my face with some words on the subject:

If you’re heading to the race, have fun, stay safe, and give me a wave if you see me!

Marshal’s Tricks for the Everyday Race Fan

I was at the Goodwood 74th Members’ Meeting at the weekend – not in orange (or, technically, white), rather a sort of a working holiday – but that didn’t stop me applying some of my experience.

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Knowing how races are rungives you a bit ofaheadstart when planning things.  At the beginning of the 2.5l F1 race, there was a major incident (nothing life-threatening, thankfully). The minute you see ambulances on track, you know you’ve got an hour’s stoppage.  Rather than dwell on grim possibilities, I decided to keep busy.  So I nipped down to the miniature autosolo for a crack in a Pocket Classics Lotus 25 and bumped into Dario Franchitti.  I’m not saying I beat his time, but, you know, cream rises…

Another example:  whilst working, I overheard some fans trying to position themselves at Parc Fermé to snap the winner.  Customer service mode: activated.

“I think Dickie will be over here, they line them up and he should be at the front.”

“Excuse me, are you looking for the winner?”

“Yes.”

“The top three are often stopped separately beforehand, where they do the TV interviews and presentations.  Try further up-stream and you should see them.”

Most rewarding is knowing when to go home.  Which is after everyone else has.  A lot of people rush to be first out of the car park, but I learned at Donington last year that if you really love the cars, you’ll hang around in the pits and paddock for that extra chance.  And so it was at Goodwood, when I saw a lone mechanic struggling to push his Ferrari 512M over to its trailer.

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“Need a hand?”

“Would you?”

€15m worth of Ferrari, he told me.  That’s a bit special.  Next?  Porsche 917K.  The battery on their winch was dead.  And finally, a Steve McQueen Ford Mustang GT Fastback.

When you know, you know.  You know?

The Importance of not Falling Over on Television

I can say for certain than I have appeared in front of the cameras at races.  

For example, a Fun Cup race last year at Donington.  These are single-make endurance events, and I was in ‘the cage’ at the Fogarty/Roberts esses.  This post is in the straight-ahead position, behind the gravel-trap.  Post-chief warned me to look out for anyone rejoining unsafely.  And it IS a great spot for overtaking, minor shunts and spinners.

Which is what we had.  The first car (we’ll call this driver Juanita) went up the inside of, erm, Mr Cyril Sneer (?) on the brakes.  It was a righteous ol’ move, but contact was made (racing incident, impartial, not judging) and both cars had gentle half-spins onto the tarmac run-off.  The first car floored it and got away into a gap.  Nice on, Cyril.  Juanita tried to get going, but a mixture of hesitation, clutch judder and poor visibility compromised her re-entry.  Also, it might be said, some competitors were somewhat blinkered to the yellows.

Skip to the ensuing safety-car, and I’ve run up to Goddards.  I’m stood on the bank awaiting a signal from the chief to scramble down the tyre barrier, across the track and retrieve a big chunk of body work.  There, I’m off, grab it, stop to kick some smaller bits of GRP away, listening for, there, the whistle, cars approaching, and I dash up to the barrier again.  Which I realise is, really, quite high.  With a camera staring straight at me.  Oh.

Don’t worry, I made it up.  On the second try.  Because although the qualities of poise and grace portray a lightness of being, they are in fact quite heavy, and I was forced to leave them on the grass.

Aston Martin Owners Club Meeting

LakituSilverstone, 2015, and I nearly got caught.

My first trip to Silverstone as a marshal, and I arrived the night before. I put up my tent, and went for a look around to get my bearings.

Yes, its true, I like to walk a track if I can.  I had a nosy through the paddock, before passing through an open gate into the pitlane.  This is the ‘old’ pitlane, and standing on the pit wall, looking down the garages, felt really special.  It was quiet, except for one mechanic struggling with a roller door.

I walked onto the track.  There I was, at Copse.  Stood on the apex of the corner.  I thought about Jim Clark turning off his engine during the 1965 Grand Prix, to avoid the oil pressure spikes he was getting in the right handers, then bump starting on the exit. He won the race doing that.

The event I’d volunteered for was being run on the shorter club track, so after the first part of Maggots, the track goes right into Aintree.  This is where Kimi Räikkönen went wide in 2014, eventually hitting the guard rail around the bridge support (47g)  I ran the sole of my shoe along the slightly raised edge of the circuit, proud of the grass by about an inch.

Past the BRDC clubhouse.  Brooklands and Luffield.  Then Woodcote, where James Hunt passed Ronnie Peterson, flat out and sideways in the Hesketh 308, to win the International Trophy race of 1974.

Then back into the pits.  Except a problem.  The gate I’d entered through from the paddock was now padlocked.  And the next one.  I walked all the way to the bottom.  All locked.  Big fences.  Big fences everywhere.  Someone would notice me climbing them.  Oops.  Erm.  Now what?

A small glow, there.  The garage with the broken door, lowered only most of the way.  I weighed up my options, then ducked under.  The mechanic had his head in the pedal box of a Jaguar XK120.  “Running ok?” I said, trying to be nonchalant but clearly giving the mechanic a shock.  Back to the tent, quickly.  Put the kettle on.  It’ll be fine.  Laugh about it.  Pray to the Great Chicken of Bicester I don’t get told off in the morning.

 

Sid Watkins Lecture 2016

Given by Jean Todt, president of the FiA, with questions by James Allen.

Ah but then the lecture was opened up to questions from the floor.  And this is were a few opportunistic journalists sort of, a bit, not really but just slightly hi-jacked proceedings to ask awkward questions.  Which was fun.

Dieter Rencken asked about corruption in sporting bodies.  That got a good reaction from the crowd.  “Dieter, you are volunteering now?  As a marshal?  You should speak to the MSA, I’m sure they would organise a good package for you,” joked the president.

Sexism,’grid boys’, and the crowd sniggered.  Because, I suppose, the crowd was 90% male, forty years plus and all white, by my estimations.  But Todt’s answer, on a day when Susie Wolff and the MSA announced their Dare to be Different campaign, was that women probably aren’t genetically predisposed towards racing.  He mentioned Michelle Mouton, the rally driver who fought Walter Röhrl and who now presides over Todt’s own Women in Motorsport commission, with a kind of dismissive tone, and imagined a female tennis player attempting to beat a male.  Finally, he added that perhaps he is wrong, and we need to find a strong woman driver to prove ‘us’ (yes, collectively) wrong, “but it is not up to me to give her that chance”.

At the end I thanked Jean for an interesting talk.  He looked at me slightly oddly, possibly because I messed up my French, but more likely because I shoved my lecture notes under his nose.

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“Merci bien, tres bien, merci”

And he signed them.

Other stories from the talk here:

On being audited

On Michael Schumacher

On 21 race F1 calendar

Intro

Hi!

Welcome to Track is Live, a blog about motorsport marshalling in the UK.  I’ve been a marshal since May 2015, after a taster day at Cadwell that got me closer to the racing than ever before.  I’d wanted to take it up for a long time.  Racing is very important to me, and to my family.  Its a common ground that we all love and have memories of, together.  I decided it was time I put something back into racing by giving my time.  In truth, I’ve ended up getting more out than ever.

I’ve always felt a weird respect and envy for marshals at race tracks.  Like a kind of hierarchy that places them above common spectators and dedicated fans.  Above us are the officials, in a sort of invisible way, but much more obvious are the drivers.  Because everyone wishes they were racing, don’t they?  When we get a driver pull off or have an accident, I feel now that I’m more on their level than before.  Meeting famous faces, rather than asking for autographs you try to play it cool, smile, give a nod, make a joke. But we’re all fans, really. Bottom to top.