Thursday, 7 October 2010

Life ain't the pits in the pits... (PART 2)

Marshalling tales continued...


For the Renault World Series the next weekend, I was there for Saturday and Sunday. And I was put..... in the paddock again. Right. You'll remember the rigmarole I went through last time, I was determined to find it this time.

As I walked into the Paddock Bar to sign on, I stood to look at the 2 queues of marshals and decide which one I wanted to be in. A lady was watching me do so, and so she started talking to me to help me pick which queue to join. Her name was Sue, and it turned out that she was the lady in charge of the paddock. HOORAY! So she told me exactly where I should find everyone. And the answer is...... Brooklands. The assembly area is right in front of the Brooklands Suite. So Mr Sign On's instructions the week before of "well, you know where the paddock is" with vague waving in completely the opposite direction of Brooklands was pretty much as wrong as you can get.

So I went to the assembly area at Brooklands (if a race doesn't start out of the pitlane, the cars will come along to the assembly area and we'll put them in order before they head off to the grid). But it turned out it was a VERY quiet day in assembly that day. There was about a 5 hour gap of nothingness in the middle. We enjoyed a bit of sitting in the almost sunshine and watching the cars go by, chatting and getting to know everyone and having a good laugh. And I had a potter about to explore the 'Renault Village' thing they'd set up for the crowds to investigate. But then when I got back to assembly there were still hours to go before we had any cars turn up again.

But then we got word that the pits were very short on people, and so would some of us like to go and help on startline?

Hell yeah! I'd heard of startline, but wasn't exactly sure what it involved, and it sounded a bit terrifying, so I definitely wanted to have a go!  So a group of us headed over, and we had to hang numbers out over the pitwall so that the drivers know which grid to line up in, and then we had to be ready there with our yellow flags in case anyone stalled.  (And in my second race, someone stalled right in front of me so I had to wave my flag like crazy!!)  Watching the grid starts from the pitwall is just amazing too. Love it!

And then the Chief Pits guy came over. Did anyone have any experience with pitstops? Everyone else said no. I said "ermm.... weeelll..... I was doing pitstops at Le Mans last weekend......."  He looked at me. And he said "Right. Lou. I know you're only a trainee - but you're in!" He gave me a few sheets of paper and a pen, a brief breifing, and sent me off the pitwall towards the garages he'd assigned to me. I had 2 cars, had to watch the stops and check 'yes' or 'no' for a few things, and that was that. It was fun, and now that I had an idea of what I was doing, being pushed in the deep end was ace. I clearly did an OK job, as Chief Pits then asked if he could steal me for the rest of the day, to keep doing startline and pitstops. Absolutely. I'd rather do that than sit doing nothing (as there was still nothing going on at assembly till the last session).

I also spent some time with the guy that started/ended all the races. He was like the Charlie Whiting of the day, I guess. But that was cool, coz it meant I got to watch a race start from up in the starting gantry (which is right below what used to be the footbridge over the straight, so it's the best view in the house). So that was a bit special too.

At the end of the day, Chief Pits guy asked if they could steal me the next day too. I knew the assembly guys would tease me for ditching them, but as I knew it was going to be fairly dead there on Sunday again, and the pits were short on folks so they needed me, it wasn't a hard decision to make. (Plus, the assembly guys spent a lot of time in the pits helping out with startline anyway!). I went back to the assembly paddock for the final session, to see what they did for it, and to break the bad news that I was ditching them...!!

Oh, and that Saturday night was my first night camping at Silverstone. It was great fun. My friend Chris was marshalling on the bank all weekend too, and he has a tent, so we had a good camping session (reliving the heydays of Spa!). One of the best things was sneaking into the grandstand opposite the pits at about 10pm and watching how some of the teams were still working away. Another good thing was rolling out of bed about 10 mins before having to sign-on, rather than getting up at 5:30am in order to drive back to Silverstone!

On Sunday, there were quite a few trainees turned up at the pits - some on their very first day, they'd only turned up because a friend had told them how short on people we were. So Chief Pits guy put everyone in pairs for the pitstops because no one had done them before. Except for me, I got put by myself. Because apparently I'm now experienced at these things..!!!  Which is fun :)

Startline all went well on Sunday. But I had a bit of drama with one of my pitstops - my car was released alongside another car that was already going down the pitlane!  So I had to write an incident report, and then I was summoned to talk to the stewards!!!!!!!

It was rather exciting being summoned to the stewards. I went and sat up in Race Control for a bit, waiting for them, and someone made me a cup of tea, and Sue from the assembly paddock had been stolen to do the race control phones (talking to all the marshals who were reporting all the different incidents going out on track), so I got to have a chat with her. And then I spoke to a British steward and told him what I saw. He went off and told a French Renault steward what I saw. The French stewards then thought for a long time about whether they wanted to talk to me directly or not. In the end, they decided not. So I went back down to the pitlane, only to have Sue run after me about 15 seconds later, saying that actually they DID want to talk to me. 

So they were a bit sheepish when I went in, having kept me waiting and then sent me packing, only to ask me back again! There were three of them in the steward's inquiry - I think two French Renault ones, and then a British guy too. I just told them exactly what they saw, they said "OK, thank you!" and that was about it.

It was all very exciting though - influencing a steward's inquiry!!!! I don't get to do THAT every day!!!!

So, yeah, I'm absolutely loving it. I do want to go back and spend a bit more time on the bank as a track marshal.... but so far, the pits have been awesome.

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