Thursday, 7 October 2010

Life ain't the pits in the pits...

Hiya, I've been very slack with this all lately - I've been meaning to tell you about my marshalling adventures for ages. I've now done 2 days as a track marshal (at Bridge for the Silverstone Classic) and 3 days in the pits. Well, two and a half days in the pits, and half a day in assembly... I shall explain.

I'm just going to skim across the track marshalling days - it was fun, I loved it, but not many stories to tell. But the pits... ahhhh, the pits!


I only marshalled on the Sunday for this weekend. My friend Chris (from 'Team Belgium' when we went to Spa) was also there that day, doing his first day as a track marshal. We signed on, and - as expected - I was assigned to the paddock. I asked the sign-on guy where I should go to meet the rest of my paddock marshals. His response was, "well, you know where the paddock is, right?".  We were standing in the Paddock Bar at the time, which is (as the name might suggest) pretty much in the paddock, and so yes, I knew where the paddock was. He gestured vaguely towards the end of the paddock where Scrutineering is.  "Well, just go there, look out for the guy with the radio, he's the one in charge".

Right. Incredibly unhelpful, that.

So I pottered around the paddock, and I asked a few passing marshals if they knew where I should go. They didn't,   but they all tried to be helpful by suggesting places to go. One of them suggested I go to the office for the pits marshals, as they might be able to point me in the right direction. So I popped in, and they were mid-briefing (from a French Le Mans guy, and someone was then translating it) but one of the guys took me under his wing and was going to help me find the paddock marshals until he decided that actually it'd be much better if they stole me for the pits instead.

I'd been told that the paddock was going to be pretty quiet and so I might want to go out to a post around the track in the afternoon. So being stolen for the pits, where they were short of people and it was going to be busy, sounded like a good idea. So I allowed myself to be stolen. And had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

It was a 6 (ish) hour race, with lots of pitstops going on, so we were all assigned certain cars where we had to watch the pitstops and then talk to the fuel engineer and write down how much fuel they put in at each stop. Then we signed it and the engineer signed it, and the bit of paper went off to the LMS officials, in case there were any sort of disputes.

Everyone was in pairs, and I was teamed up with the lady that was Chief Pits. This pleased me, as I had NO idea what I was doing and I thought it was good that I was with the lady that knew EXACTLY what I was doing. But, to start with, not so much. 

Because she was Chief Pits, she had to make sure everyone else knew what they were doing too. So during the practice session and the Radical race before the LMS one started, she spent the entire time walking up and down the pitlane sorting things out and checking everyone else. Which is fine, because that's her job, and when she walked by me she'd smile and say something reassuring like "I haven't forgotten you!".... but, on the other hand, I felt like I'd absolutely just been lobbed into the deep end. I didn't have a clue what I was meant to do, or where I was meant to stand, or what I was meant to be looking out for. So I just tried to stand out of the way and look as if I knew what I was doing. But I couldn't help but think "What the hell am I doing here???" I wasn't a happy bunny. I felt totally out of my depth and lonely.

But before the LMS race started, Chief Pits lady turned up. Phew! She explained what we had to do during the pitstops, and reassured me it'd all be fine (as I was kind of doing my rabbit-in-the-headlights impersonation). 

We got to watch the start of the race from the pitwall... and WOW. That was properly incredible. The noise and the speed and the rush of air as they went by (rolling start) was just AMAZING. I had to actually hold onto my hat as it was about to blow off! It's worth marshalling just for experiences like that alone. (No one else gets to stand on the pitwall for the start of the races, just the marshals.)

I did the first few pitstops together with the Chief Pits lady (who was lovely). All went well and was very straightforward once you knew what you were doing. And the three engineer guys I had to talk to about the fuel level were all ace. There was Chris, Rich and Very Beautiful French Man (I don't know what his name was). We had four cars to watch, so Chief Pits lady and I split it so we had 2 cars each. 

But then during the race, she'd hear things over the radio that she had to go and investigate at the other end of the pits, and so she'd give me the books for her 2 cars and leave me on my own again. But by this time, I was perfectly happy on my own and thrived on having all 4 cars to watch. She'd come back after being away for 10 mins and I'd be like "yep, we had 3 pitstops in that time, but they all went fine!".

I don't know how many pitstops we had in total... 20.... 30...? There were lots, especially because Very Beautiful French Man's car was breaking more and more as the race went on, so it kept having to come in. But even when they had an issue with the fuel rig and the pit stop all went wrong and took forever and they couldn't get much fuel into it, the Very Beautiful French Man was still utterly lovely to me as I tiptoed up to him with my book to write down just how little fuel had managed to go in. I was a bit worried he'd be in a bad mood and snap at me, but instead he gave me a VERY French shrug and a grin and we did our bit of maths to figure out the fuel. (Maths!!! I didn't know I'd have to do MATHS!!! The terror.)

But anyway, yeah, it was great. I absolutely LOVED it all. It was brilliant being so close to the action (being very close to being run over by awesome Le Mans cars for 5 hours long) and feeling like you're actually contributing to it all by taking the official records and getting to talk to the engineers. And I got to potter along to the podium at the end and be part of the celebrations. And I adore just getting to swan around wherever I want at Silverstone. It feels like home.

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