Day FIVE – Get those motors running!

It took me a minute or two longer to respond to the 6am alarm this morning but I was up IMG_7430and 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 FullSizeRender 34.jpgfinger 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 FullSizeRender 35track. 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 FullSizeRender 31picked 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.


@shell_ecomar

#SEM2016

Follow me on Twitter @robbo391

 

Day FOUR – Rain doesn’t stop play here

I was feeling a little tired this morning so first stop of the day was the Starbucks on the IMG_7294way 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 FullSizeRender 21the 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,IMG_7307 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!

record_car copy

Microjoule-Cityjoule

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!


@shell_ecomar

#SEM2016

Follow me on Twitter @robbo391

 

Day THREE -Rescue Missions

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!IMG_7284

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 frIMG_7291om 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 easierIMG_7289 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!


@shell_ecomar

#SEM2016

Follow me on Twitter @robbo391

Day TWO -Getting on Track

Did I mention yesterday that my feet hurt? By the time the end of the day at the Olympic Park ended my feet were killing and on the way back to my room I was desperately trying to think of how I was going to manage five more days of standing. As I cut through the shopping centre an idea formed. I popped into Boots and made my way to the ‘Feet’ aisle where I found a selection of seemingly overpriced in-soles. However, desperate times call for desperate measures so I chose the Sport variety. Yes, it did seem like rather a lot of money for a bit of foam and gel, but oh my god, they have been worth every penny! Today was day two of being on my feet all day, but my feet have hardly complained…..my calf muscles have taken over that job.

IMG_7204After an early briefing on another beautiful morning we got ready for a morning of Rescue Car training (also known as ‘how a golf cart works when towing a trailer’). It took a while, though, to get everything and everyone in place ready to begin. Everyone took turns to make sure they knew the safety aspects to check, how to start the cart and then take it for a spin (not literally) along one of the rescue lanes alongside the track. There is one particular corner
onto one of the main rescue lanes that we will have to IMG_7203negotiate which is particularly tight, but we did pretty well trying out the different angles that the cart can take to get the trailer round it.  Some angles were more successful than others, however, as the pole on the corner can testify to, but it is still standing and the trailers are all intact so all in all it went pretty well.

Once everyone had taken a turn we waited for the go ahead to move out to our Marshall Posts on track, ready for the afternoon of practice. We had to wait for a celebrity to try out the track first, though. Today we were joined by Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen who took a couple of the Shell concept cars out for a spin. Given that Shell has posed tis challenge to students across the globe, the company thought it only fair that it also took the challenge. So there is an Urban Concept car and a Prototype car designed and built by Shell. In addition we also have the Project M Concept car and a driverless car. Once Kimi had tried out the track then it was the turn of the students.

Accompanying us at all the posts are professional marshals, volunteers from the Netherlands who marshal at a variety of motorsport events there. These 40 volunteers have a wealth of experience at motorsport events and have marshalled at the last 4 Shell Eco-Marathons held in Rotterdam.

At last we headed onto track where Elizabeth and I quickly found post 2 and the two professional marshals we would be working with today.

There have been a lot of amendments to the schedule and arrangements over the first two days, understandable given that this is a new track in a new location. So at our post we had to wait a while for the Marshal tent, flags and safety equipment to arrive. That didn’t stop us from ensuring that whenever the track was open for practice we prevented anyone from stepping onto the track for their own safety and the safety of the drivers.

Practice sessions were held for the Urban Concept cars and the Prototype cars, although

not all of them made use of the sessions today. many cars are still going through their technical assessments, but tomorrow will see a full day of practice and many more cars taking to the track.

It wasn’t long into the afternoon that we became very glad of the protective gear we had been issued with. The bright red boiler suit and the bright orange waterproof jacket went a long way to give us some protection from the rising wind and the rain. An ample packed lunch and a coffee run during the afternoon meant we were fuelled enough to deal with it and still keep our eyes peeled for people straying not the track. Fortunately we didn’t need to deal with any crashes or breakdowns in our area, although we did witness a rather spectacular 360 degree spin which the driver handled very well.

A delayed start to practice due to the rain meant a slightly delayed finish and a briefing ready for another early start tomorrow, when the team I am in (Delta Team) will be manning the rescue cars.

Today may have been another long day with a fair amount of waiting around, but seeing some of the cars take to the track and the reactions of the students when they saw their creations in action, made me feel very proud to be a small part in this incredible event.

Tomorrow will be much busier – there will be more people around the track and more cars on the track practicing. Good night all!

@shell_ecomar

#SEM2016

Follow me on Twitter @robbo391

Day One – Where’s the Track?

It was an early start this morning but the sun was shining as I made my way to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to register as a volunteer for the Shell Eco-marathon. I spotted a few people with Shell polo IMG_7124shirts on so tagged along behind them for a while. When they disappeared into ‘EAT’ for breakfast I was  on my own.

Map in hand, I followed the signs and eventually found the main entrance. I was told that it should take 15 mins from where most of us are staying to the Olympic Park….tomorrow I must remember to add on another 10 mins for little legs.

I soon discovered that entering the site through the main entrance means a significant detour to where the Compound is located. The compound consists of numerous marquees which house registration, safety briefing rooms, catering, security, communications and others. Having woken at the crack of dawn and given that this is where I can find tea & coffee, it is where I want to go first. I now know the short cut.

IMG_7137
On registering I was presented with my cap, tee-shirt and outside
jacket, all emblazoned with Safety Team on them. What about the pair of red overalls I was promised I would be given to wear?  They come later.

First job of the day, the safety induction briefing. Given that the whole area was still a construction site today and soon small, hand built cars would be hurtling around a track there was much to be aware of. Shell’s 12 Life Saving Rules featured prominently, so if someone does IMG_7128let me drive a golf cart there will be no texting or drinking coffee while driving and my seat belt will be firmly fastened. I was then proclaimed an official Shell Eco-marathon volunteer and christened with my purple Eco-marathon wrist band which allows me to access the track area. We were also given a ‘Buggy Briefing’ with all the specific safety aspects of driving one of the golf carts. Blimey….I might really be let lose on one!

The Safety Team

A few of us decided to make our way to the Start/Finish tent where the team were next meeting but finding the tent was more difficult than we imagined. It turned out that was IMG_7136because it was still in construction but once Bruno and Ron, out Team Leaders, rounded us all up we spent a good two hours in our team meeting. Our Shell volunteer team, together with a  group of professional track safety marshals, is responsible for  all aspects of safety on the racing track while it is open, for practice runs or the competitions. This includes things like ensuring no one wanders onto the track when they shouldn’t, rescuing cars that have broken down, signalling cars to slow down and stay on one side of the track to avoid an obstruction and even stopping all cars on the track if need be. We will need to be on our toes and alert at all times.

The Track

After lunch we walked the track to familiarise ourselves with the layout and all the safety IMG_7176marshal positions we will need to cover. We discovered where the golf carts were kept and were given our bright red boiler suits. Fred looked at everyone and proclaimed a boiler suit size. When it came to me & he said, “Medium” I confess I bust out laughing. To give him his due, I did get into it and could even do it up. However, the chances of me bending down whilst on track and it splitting, probably in full view of media cameras, were far too high for me to chance it. It was exchanged for a large.

 

IMG_7179The track has been constructed especially for this event, although at the time of our walk part of it was still being finished. 2240 m long with a general width of 7.5 m, it stretches around the London Aquatics Centre, over the river and has some very interesting bends. This year is also the first year that there has been a slope, something many competitors aren’t looking forward to. Neither are the safety marshals stationed along the slope….if anyone breaks down there, the chances are we’ll have to help push the car up hill to an exit point to remove it from the track.

The Competitors

During the day we were able to walk through the IMG_7165Paddock. This is a number of giant marquees which house cubicles where all the competitors can work on their cars. It also contains the Technical Inspection area, which every car must go through to ensure it meets the required technical specifications. There were teams from the UK and all over Europe, as well as further afield. I spotted teams from South Africa and Nigeria, Canada and USA, Indonesia and the Philippines. I even spotted a team from my old University in Aston, Birmingham.

It was an incredible experience to see so many students with the cars that they had designed and built from scratch. The Paddock is a relatively small space but it was simply oozing with young, enthusiastic, innovative minds creating solutions out of, well, to me the parts just looked like bits and pieces. I came away with the sense that if these young people could do this, then they are capable of designing and creating anything that this world needs. It was inspiring and humbling.

Ready for the Rain

The sun had shone all day, then at 5pm the British summer could contain itself no longer and the heavens opened. As I left for the day, people were still working to get all the site areas ready and students were still tweaking and adjusting their creations.

Rain is forecast for tomorrow so the Safety On Track Team will see if our outside jackets really are waterproof.

Tune in tomorrow for more Tweets from the Trackside @robbo391.

@shell_ecomar

#SEM2016