I was feeling a little tired this morning so first stop of the day was the Starbucks on the way to Olympic Park. The shot of caffeine helped me to feel better about the morning, in spite of the rain. Rain isn’t good on competition day. After two days of practice sessions today was the start of the real thing for those cars that had passed technical inspection. The Urban Concept cars can deal with some rain but the Prototype cars can’t race in it. They are so close to the ground and the driver is almost lying down so any spray from their wheels can obstruct their vision and make it too dangerous. I did a mental ‘sun dance’ on my way in.
The rain certainly doesn’t dampen the spirits of the competitors, though. Teams were already lining up with their cars in the pit lane when I arrived, an hour and a half before the first scheduled race. They are prepared to fine tune their cars anywhere, even under a plastic sheet in the rain. The technical inspectors were also getting ready for a busy day.
Today I was stationed on the trackside at Marshal Point 14 – the bottom of the dreaded slope. If the rain stayed away it looked like it might be a busy day. The Marshals and Safety On Track team at the positions along the slope decided to help each other out as needed and we interchanged positions through out the day. One factor was the fact that position 14 had a Marshal tent that gave some cover from the rain. On the slope itself you were out in the open with nothing protecting you from the rain and wind except your bright red overalls and your bright orange jacket. Oh, and today we also had bright red ponchos to help deal with the rain. By the way, the bright colours are essential. There are a number of times you might find yourself on the track itself during the race. If a car breaks down on the track and can’t continue it has to be pushed to the side into the rescue lane, then pushed up ramps or lifted onto the Rescue Car trailer. It is also not unusual for cars to lose bits as they go over bumps and it is essential to remove large debris (especially metal) to prevent damage to other cars. You need to be easily seen!
After a short delay the Urban Concept cars were out first. We were busier than I thought we’d be this morning. If a car came to a standstill on the slope there were a number of us who would display arrows to warn other cars that they needed to stay to the left or the right to avoid something. Other marshals would then go on track to check if the car could be restarted or if the race was over for the driver. They only have 30 seconds to restart. After that it is race over. After a while at the bottom of the slope I switched to being further up. This meant getting involved in pushing a stopped car to the rescue lane, then pushing it up the hill & over the brow so they could coast down to the pit lane. Another rescue involved a car whose one back wheel axle had completely broken. It took quite a few of us to find suitable hand holds on the car that meant we could lift it safely onto the rescue trailer without doing any further damage. The rain came and went but by the time the UC cars had finished it was looking as though the Prototypes might not get out onto track at all. There was quite a bit of rain and they needed a pretty dry track to be able to race safely.
The opening ceremony took place after the first race. I didn’t see anything of it all as, except for urgent toilet breaks, we needed to man our positions. I wasn’t too disappointed, though, as lunch soon arrived and I was starving! During lunch the Autonomous Car went out on track and we saw it lapping as it collected data so that it would soon be able to drive itself. The driver would’t have to touch the steering wheel, except in an emergency. I’m really not sure I like the sound of that. I like to be in control when behind the wheel of a car.
There had been more bits of rain, so the UC’s came out for their second race session. It continued to be fairly busy but we were all expecting to be far busier with the Prototypes. We were wrong. After a period of calm, the track had dried enough for it to be safe for the Prototypes’ first face. The teams and drivers had obviously learnt much from their practice sessions. They were far better at gunning their engine at the right spot on the slope so that they reached the top before being able to cut their engine & coast down the other side. It was a very successful day for some Prototypes – Microjoule-Cityjoule, a French team, broke a record when they achieved 2570.34km per litre on their Prototype CNG car. What a result for them!
I really enjoyed today. I continued to learn a great deal from the professional marshals and loved seeing the team supporters cheering their cars from the bridge on the slope. It was fascinating watching how the drivers chose different track lines and approaches. But I think most of all, I loved being a part of the hands on team who helped ensure that broken down cars and their drivers were safely escorted from the track, whilst also ensuring that the marshals and other drivers on track were kept safe while rescues were made. You have to be alert and on the look out all the time. Although the cars aren’t going that fast you need to spot potential danger as early as possible to be able to give the drivers as much warning of an obstruction & people on track up ahead. With the prototype cars you are standing up and down a lot as the warning arrows need to be very low in order for the driver to see them clearly.The combination of mental alertness needed, physical work rescuing cars and running up & down to be in the best positions combined with times that just entailed waiting around made for a tiring day.
Tiring but very rewarding. Although my knees are very sore tonight and I have a few bruises from hanging over the barrier to position the warning triangles as low as possible.
Blimey, is it the end of Friday already?! Where has this week gone? Two more days of incredible racing sessions to come and more parts of the race track to experience. I’m loving it!
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