Today was a full day of practice for the participants. An opportunity to test their cars, make adjustments and fine tune them before the competition sessions begin tomorrow. I thought that the students were protective of their cars in the paddock but launching their creations out onto the track seems to be, for them, like sending their child out into the big, wide world.
The fussed, they tweaked, they stayed by it for as long as possible and finally the object of their time & attention headed off down the start lane and into the distance.
Many teams sent some of their number out to watch at different parts of the track to see how things were going. Students on foot and students on scooters passed us by as they studied how their car performed at different parts of the track.
For some, their pride and joy circled the track several times. For others, it came to a slow halt and was unable to start back up again. Que the rescue cars!
I am part of Delta Team in the overall Safety On Track Team and today was our turn to man the rescue cars, the drop zone (where the rescued cars are dropped off) and the Pitboard area (where we try to prevent the students from holding up the communication boards to their drivers in the middle of the track). I’d been looking forward to driving one of the rescue cars and today was my day!
I feel I should explain. A ‘rescue car’ consists of a golf cart with a trailer attached – sometimes with a big foam brick on it, sometimes not. Rescue car sounds much better then golf cart.
The track was split in two for manning purposes, and after the morning briefing we made our way to Fred’s compound to pick up our chariots for the day and then headed out to our positions. I was driver of one of three Race Car TWOs manning the second half of the track. Yes – I have been let lose on a golf cart around a race track.
First practice session of the day was for the Urban Concept cars. We waited, and waited, and waited. Finally Race Control shouted over the radio for Rescue Car 2 to collect a vehicle from Marshall Point 15. Off went the first car. Then another shout came over the airwaves and it was my turn. At this point I had two co-pilots. We buckled in and off we went.
Now (being very generalist here), men tend to be quite critical of womens’ driving and I had two men in the car with me & was watched by three men in the nearby Marshall Point as I pulled away. No pressure then. The broken down car wasn’t far away but recovering it involved some creative parking and reversing followed by a very tight corner. I was relieved when we were finally on our way with a full trailer.
Once loaded, we headed to the Drop Zone by the paddock, where we were greeting by the rest of the team who unloaded their car and pushed it back to their paddock area for repairs and maintenance. Hooray. Job done. Not quite. We now had to make it back to our standby position ready for the next call, but this was easier said than done. The area by the paddock & the pit lane was choc a block with cars, students, friends of the students, spectators and staff, all milling about and completely oblivious to the golf cart & trailer trying to squeeze past them. Beep your horn, I hear you cry. These golf carts don’t have horns. So with co-pilots going ahead, making a way through the throng, we finally made it safely to the rescue lane that would allow us to by pass most of the pedestrian area. It still wasn’t plain sailing, though. Before reaching the stand by point we had to negotiate various tight corners and narrow areas, but once there the cart was turned off to preserve battery life and we continued to listen intently to the Race Control radio for our next rescue mission.
After the urban Concept cars came the Prototype car practice. We had to have the foam brick on the trailer for the Prototypes as they are far more delicate. They are smaller, narrower and lower to the ground – boy did many of them dislike the slope! And, boy, did our day get busy!
Apparently, there were many VIPs visiting today but I didn’t see any. It was one call after another, collecting cars, taking them to the drop zone and making our way back to the stand by point. We barely had time to take a breath and we were off again. Not only was it quite physical, having to manoeuvre the cars onto the trailer, often lifting them and pushing them, but mentally it was also challenging. As a driver I had to pay close attention to where I was going, how close to the curb I was, angles of corners and avoiding pedestrians and physical objects in the way. The last thing I wanted was to to crash the cart into a barrier , catch the trailer on something or to have one of the cars fall off the trailer.
My job today was another very humbling experience. These amazing Eco-marathon cars have taken up 12 months or more of hundreds of students’ lives and they are also very expensive. The students, in particular the driver, looked to us to handle their ‘baby’ with care and consideration and to get them back to the paddock in one piece. Their relief & gratitude when they finally unloaded their car and were able to begin repair work was evident in their thanks and their expressions.
It was a long day but an incredibly rewarding one.
I have lost count of the number of Urban Concept and Prototype cars I collected from the track & returned to the paddocks, let alone the team as a whole. Plus, I am now a wiz around the rescue lanes alongside the race track, having mastered a number of very tight bends and only wheel spinned once!
Tired? Yes. Looking forward to tomorrow? Oh yes!
Tomorrow will be the official opening ceremony and the start of the competitions. Tomorrow is when the rubber really hits the road for the competitors.
Day FOUR? Bring it on!