Sunday, 4 September 2011

Flashback: GT1 at Silverstone (aka: the longest blog post in the world)

OK, so yesterday I was going to blog about GT1 at Silverstone (back in June!) but I got distracted. I'll try again now. I will attempt to focus.

Here's where I got to before I drifted off on a tangent....

I was marshalling on the Saturday and Sunday, but my story actually starts on the Thursday. Every month there's a talk put on at the pub in Silverstone for the marshals - I mentioned it before, when I went to see Martin Brundle talk. Well, the Thursday before the GT1 race they got David Brabham and Jamie Campbell-Walter from the Sumo Power team along to talk to us.
Sumo's PR guy Simon was also there to introduce the boys. In a room of racing fanatics, everyone obviously knew who David Brabham was, but Simon introduced him anyway. And I warmed to Brabs immediately, because when Simon said his name, he grinned and waved at us as if he was being introduced on a game show in the early 1990s. I'm a big fan of mildly ridiculous waving, so I officially liked him from that moment.

Brabs and Jamie both told a heap of stories. It was interesting how both of them got into motor racing pretty late in life (Jamie was in his 20s before he started, and Brabs was in his late teens because he'd been resisting following in his father's footsteps). They made us laugh lots and they obviously get along really well, lots of teasing each other and laughter. It was a really nice evening listening to them chat.

At the end of the talk, everyone swarmed forwards to talk to the drivers and get an autograph. I squeezed through the crowd and instead made my way over to the PR guy Simon. As everyone knows, I want to work in motorsport so it was good to have the chance to talk to someone who does the kind of thing I could actually do. We had a long chat about all sorts of things, which was really nice.

And then Brabs won me over with even more waving. Him and Jamie were making their way out so briefly interuppted my conversation with Simon so that they could let him know they were leaving. After saying their goodbyes to Simon, Brabs then beamed at me and cheerily waved goodbye to me. Ahhh waving, I cannot resist you. Since then I've been a definite fan of his. (Also, he's an Aussie... need I say more?!)

So, after such a lovely evening, I was really looking forward to getting to Silverstone at the weekend and seeing a bit more of the GT1 world up close.

One of the really exciting things about that weekend was that it was the first race to go out of the new pitlane at Silverstone. GT1's got all the big 'firsts' at Silverstone lately - last year they were the first ones to race on the new track layout too!

It really was the thing of dreams (for me, anyway). I turned up at Silverstone (security waving me through because I'm a marshal), parked up at the normal spot, pottered through Copse tunnel and along the paddock to sign on for the day. I love the feeling of belonging when I get there, and how I can basically go where I want to. I wasn't 100% sure if I'd be in the new pits, as the support paddock was based at the old pits so I didn't know if they'd need me there instead. But nope, I was needed in the new pits, so as I signed on I was handed an All Access pass so that I could get in there! Amazing. I practically skipped there.

The new pits are wonderful. I love the picnic area (as I've always thought of it) between the pitlane and the pitwall. I imagine it must be a bit of a pain for the teams, but I find it lovely. (And I love that Alex Wurz has actually had a picnic on it. He is brill.). And I love the building. The marshals' pit office isn't amazing though, just a massive concrete room with no windows (!). The Wing was still a bit of a building site in places, which was quite fun to see it being rough around the edges in the bits where the public didn't see.

Those of us who got there early immediately headed out onto the start/finish straight to take in the new location and take a few pictures. I really felt just so lucky to be there.
The picnic area.
The new startline.
Hanging out in the pitlane.

I already felt lucky, but it got even better. Each pitlane marshal was assigned a few garages to watch over - two GT1 garages (one team) and a GT3 garage. Out of pure fluke, I was assigned Sumo Power. I had to spend the whole of Saturday and Sunday stood on the picnic area opposite the Sumo garages, watching everything that they got up to.

If you'd said to me: "OK, Lou. You can go to Silverstone this weekend and you can stand absolutely ANYWHERE you want, in the entire circuit", I'd have said to you "I'd like to stand on the picnic area opposite the Sumo garages, please, watching everything that they get up to". I just couldn't have been happier there.

Well, OK, I could have been a teensy bit happier...

Now, (girliness alert) you may remember from previous blogs that I adore Ricardo Zonta. He was my first ever F1 crush back in 2000, and I have kept an eye on him ever since he left F1. Last year and this year he's done a bit of GT1. I was desperately hoping that he was going to be at Silverstone while I was marshalling... but unfortunately it was just wasn't to be.

You see, he'd also signed up for a Brazilian stock car series this year, thinking that he could get out of the races that clashed with the GT1. But his sponsors wouldn't let him out of the stock car races so he had to leave the GT1 championship. This happened about 2 races before Silverstone. Absolutely gutted.

To make matters worse, he'd driven for Sumo - 'my' team!! And because they didn't have a firm replacement for him yet, his name was still on the garage door. It had just been covered over with a bit of white, yet if you looked hard enough you could still faintly see his name underneath it. Mocking me. Saying, look what could have been, look who could have been here. Sigh.

On the plus side, I had a nice chat with Simon about Zonta. I've never actually known anything about Ricardo, so it was nice to talk to someone who knows him a bit and to have him say what a lovely guy he is. (Glad to know I haven't spent the past 11 years with a crush on an absolute jerk!)

It really did sting spending 2 days looking at the exact spot where he should have been standing though. Ouch.

My view of where Mr Zonta should have been.

It wasn't just the Zonta-shaped hole that stopped it being entirely perfect. The other thing was that it just did not work out for Sumo that weekend. Brabs had his worst weekend in a long time and crashed out of both races. It didn't go too well for the other car either. It was hard watching Brabs and Jamie be so disappointed/frustrated. I just wanted them to be happy! I felt like a bit of a bad luck charm. Sorry, Sumo!

I must have used all my good luck up on my Lambo team. One of the support races was a Lamborghini series, and they'd come along and set up camp in front of the garages for their races. The team in front of my garages won on both the Saturday and the Sunday. They were naturally overjoyed. When they won on the Saturday, the team manger and mechanics were on the pit wall bouncing around with glee as their guy crossed the line, hugging each other and jumping about. I was watching and smiling at them, because it's lovely to see one of your teams so happy. After he'd hugged all his engineers, the team manager looked across at me with a big cheeky grin on his face. He held his arms out wide, ran across the picnic area to me and gave me a massive hug and a kiss on the cheek. It caught me a bit by surprise, but made me laugh. It was nice to be included in the celebrations!

And so when they won on Sunday, I kept my eye on the team manager as he jumped and hugged and celebrated. And when he looked across at me, I was ready. He beamed at me and I beamed back and held my arms out. He laughed and ran over and gave me another big, big hug. I loved my happy Italian Lambo team!

But I have to say, even without any celebratory hugging, it was Sumo Power that won me over entirely. Everyone in that team was absolutely lovely. From Simon being supportive of my motorsport dreams, to Brabs and his waving, Jamie recognising me on the picnic area, the team principal complimenting my shoelaces, the team manager having a friendly chat, the sweet mechanic excitedly finding me some spare 'Go Sumo!' foam fingers to take home with me.... everyone was an absolute star. This is why I love being in the pitlane or the paddock, you might not see the racing but you get to see the people, meet the people, and become a part of it like that.

I'm not normally a team person. I'm a person person. So normally I support drivers rather than teams. But in this case, everyone in Sumo was so lovely that I'm a definite Sumo fan now. I love watching the races online (thank you !) and seeing my Sumo boys during the pitstops or if one of the cars gets on the podium. I really am so fond of the team now!

So if you see me tweeting 'Go Sumo!' any time, now you know why.

Like the foam hand says: Go Sumo!

That was my best weekend of marshalling so far. Le Mans Series 2010 was very close to being that good. And Silverstone Classic 2011 too. I'll try and blog about the Classic one day... but given recent form, you might have to wait a few months!

Next weekend is the Le Mans Series 2011. I am a bit terrified (because you get the responsibility of writing down the amount of fuel that goes in, and it's quite important!) but hugely looking forward to it all the same. I imagine I'll blog about it one day, so watch this space...

Thanks for reading! x

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