It took me a minute or two longer to respond to the 6am alarm this morning but I was up and out of the door in plenty of time for the morning briefing to all the Shell Eco-marathon competitors. It was a beautiful morning but I would have had to have not gone to bed at all to be earlier than most of the competitors. Teams were already lined up ready for their technical inspection when I arrived. They are more dedicated than the Wimbledon supporters you see lined up waiting for tickets!
Today I was manning the area between the technical inspection bays and the start line. Those of us there needed to perform the final safety checks before the cars could go to the start line to race. The checks were that the driver had on their helmet with visor down, full finger gloves, fastened harness, footwear; that the horn worked and that the car displayed both a technical and a safety inspection sticker. If there was a tick for all these things we could release them down the side lane to the start point. Only two members of their team were allowed to accompany them and both had to be wearing a fluorescent yellow armband on their arm or ankle. If anything was missing they were not allowed to race. The most common item missing was the proper gloves; often the horn would fail at the last minute; and in their excitement the team members often forgot their armband or a gaggle of them would try and troop down to the start lane. There were at least 3 or 4 of us on point, though, and we made sure the rules were followed.
It was also an area where you needed to stay alert for other reasons. The Shell car would take to the track quite frequently and filter into the side lane, so managing the right of way was important to avoid any bumps. Then the media car would appear from nowhere, also wanting to filter in (an open jeep type vehicle where photographers could strap themselves in and hang from the back to take on the go pictures). Then there were members of the media wanting to take film and photos of the start area and the cars on track. People, cameras, tripods, bags – all needed to be watched to ensure no collisions with the competitors’ cars. All this was without members of the public on the other side of the track trying to hang over the track barrier to get a good view. A pair of eyes in the back of my head would have been extremely useful.
The excitement, or nervousness, of the drivers and the team members came to the forefront at this point in the race. They were almost at the start of their bid to win the challenge. All their hard work, all their dedication and focus over the last 12 months or more were about to be laid bare on the race track. Anything could happen.
Every car, Urban Concept or Prototype, must enter the technical inspection area to fuel up and complete a number of technical & safety checks. This process is incredibly important to ensure that each car races fairly and data is collected that can then be used in comparison with data collected when the car finishes. The tops of most of the cars were removed to allow the checks to take place, giving me an incredible view of the machinery underneath.
Some cars had outer shells which looked highly professional, but inside appeared to be held together with tin foil, sellotape and old cardboard boxes. Others had shells that looked pretty battered and flimsy but inside looked like a spaceship console. I lost count of the number of rolls of sellotape that I saw being used. Some cars could be picked up and manually turned to face the right way to the start lane. Others would seem to crumple at the slightest pressure. Regardless, to the teams and drivers the cars were their creations, the product of hard work, innovation, creativity and ingenuity.
I wished every car I sent to the start line good luck.
5 minutes from the end end of the race a voice would sound over the tannoy calling out how long the start lane would still be open for. As each minute left was called out the teams raced to get there to have another chance at the challenge. I’ve never seen students move so fast.
There were a few UK colleges & universities who had made it through to be able to race. I made sure to give these teams a particularly big cheer.
The prototypes were the last race of the day and five minutes before the scheduled end the heavens opened. Rain was bouncing off the tarmac and the race was quickly red flagged
and ended. The prototypes don’t like the rain, which can seriously damage their electrics and delicate mechanics, and they limped back to the paddocks to dry out. It stopped as quickly as it started and 5 minutes later you would’t have believed there had just been a considerable downpour. British weather….the non UK competitors are learning a lot about it!
What a day! For some teams it was a day of celebration. As their timings and distances flashed up on the finish screen you could hear their shouts and whoops of joy echoing across the paddock. For others it was a day of commiseration, as their car came to an early halt and was towed home by the rescue car. As Sebastian Vettel once said, “That’s racing…”
Tomorrow is the final day. The last race for the Prototypes and and new Drivers’ World Championship. The teams are going to push their cars to the limits so the Safety on Track team, including the professional Marshals from the Netherlands, will need to be on the ball at all times. On that note, I’m going to finish my horlicks and get to sleep.
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