And one I just about feel recovered from! It was our second race weekend at the track, the paddock was full, the weather forecast was generally promising and I was so happy to be back there, feels like coming home in a way. Saturday morning is qualifying for the race on Saturday afternoon and normally goes without incident, except for the people who try to find themselves a spot somewhere close to the grid to sit in their race car so when it’s their groups turn on grid they come charging down to get that prime, first spot. It means that when they’re on track they have nothing but open track in front of them and they can get a good qualifying time, rather than being caught up in all the cars behind them. Unfortunately, our Group 6 racers have embraced this to such an extent that they all try and line up before Group 5 have even left the grid, they block the paddock completely at their end of the paddock, cars coming back in from the track can’t get back to their trailers, and we have to have all lanes clear through the paddock for the emergency vehicles. Group 6 blocked the paddock to such an extent that we had Group 5 cars trapped behind them who couldn’t get to the grid. The only way to get them out was to wait until Group 5 were released onto the track, move most of Group 6 onto the grid to free up enough space to get the trapped drivers through, by which time their qualifying session was compromised and they got less time on track than the rest of the group.
Group 6 got their comeuppance though as the heavens opened half way through their session and it was too dangerous for them to stay out! On a warm day the five groups before them lay down rubber from their slick race tyres which makes for a good, slidey, race surface. When it rains it turns into an ice rink, and Group 6 is full of Corvettes, Camaro’s, Mustangs, Firebirds etc, etc, “big bore” V8’s with tons of power…. on an ice rink! They all came in early!
This year we have ourselves a new Chief Steward, don’t know much about him, can’t really comment but I think we’ve definitely got a new regime! I heard him say to someone else later in the day that he wanted a meeting with all Group 6 drivers at break, so I broached the subject of them blocking the paddock at qualifying, and as they’ve been warned and talked to before, perhaps he could bring it up at his meeting with them. I was a little taken aback when he barked at me about the grid being in a stupid place within the paddock in the first place, like it was my fault! I left it at that, his first day on the job and all.
The rain we’d had was short and sharp and then the sun came back out, so we got to run the rest of the day in the dry and watch some really close and exciting racing. Second to last race (Group 6 again) there was a bit of a kerfuffle in turn 3 which left 2 cars with body damage, and high sided on the corner in a really bad position. Looks like the stewards little chat with them didn’t do much good after all!
Next up was the co-driver race, usually other drivers in someone elses car, usually goes without a hitch because there’s not many cars our there. Usually. 8 cars took the green flag, 8 cars went into turns 1 and 2, 8 cars went through the kink and 8 cars went into turn 3…. but only 7 came out. The 8th car was off to the side in the grass on its roof! Black flag all round, the 7 remaining cars came into pit lane where we took care of them, while the rescue vehicles, corner workers and the ambulance took care of the upended car and driver. The driver was fine, the car had a little roof damage as you might expect! The track was cleared and the 7 cars went out again and finished there race and we were done for the day.
Sunday I went back to the track on my own as A wanted to work on the front suspension on the Ginetta at home. It was cooler than the Saturday and when I got there I had to change out of my shorts into trousers for the morning, so much for the 77F the weather forecast had said!
When I arrived Grid Chief Becky told me our other Grid Goddess couldn’t make it (she’s getting married next week for Godsake!) so we were two. We can’t run the grid with two, it’s just simply not safe so the first 30 minutes were spent running around in blind panic looking for extra help until a friend (Pace Car driver not scheduled to “work” until after lunch) could come down from the campsite, we got him out of bed!!
We started off with emergency practice for any vehicles that had had a problem the day before, broke something, fixed something, and needed a few laps to make sure the car was ok again. Cars lined up on the grid and then our headsets started buzzing with directions from the new Chiefie. Grid talk to number 10 he didn’t come and ask me if he could go out, and number 2, and 44 and this car and that car. He had us running from car to car. How were they supposed to know for crying out loud?? The other guy hadn’t requested a personal check in, nothing was announced over the PA. Apparently we’ve all turned into mind readers. Oh and our help hadn’t arrived by the first race so we had to do it with just the two of us.
Second race, open wheel cars, “things with wings”. They got a bad start going into turn 1 and cars were off in all directions. Out went the flat tow and the wrecker truck while the course went full yellow, which means slow down no overtaking. The pace car also went back out and collected them up, when the call came in from turn 1 for the ambulance, one of the drivers was not getting out of his car at all, that necessitated a full black flag so they all came back into pit lane. The mess was cleared up, the drivers were ok, including the one in the ambulance and we got started again.
The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, we got more help, we joked, pulled peoples legs, worked efficiently and safely, watched some great racing and had ourselves a whole heap of fun. Then Group 6 was out again… big bore, the ground pounders, whatever you want to call them. 27 cars were on grid and when they all started up at the 3 minutes signal you could feel your ribs vibrate. The first two cars out there (Corvettes) were both under the track record for their group, behind them were another 6 Corvettes, it was shaping up to be a heck of a show! Out they went, the Vette in fourth had himself a little off track excursion trying too hard to keep up with the record breakers, he was now dead last and grid was cheering him on as he reeled in car after car again. Then it happened, a Camaro went around in turn 1, with no where to go the car right behind him smashed right into him, another car went off into the gravel to avoid being part of it. We went full course yellow again and then they called for the ambulance again so we went full black, in came all the cars. Car number 14 waved me over… the two cars in front of him had overtaken him under a double yellow (slow down, NO overtaking or racing) between turn 6 and 7, was he certain? Yes he was, the car behind him saw it too. I checked with the car behind, yes, he agreed number 5 and 29 overtook when they shouldn’t have. I talked to number 5 who insisted turn 6 was not holding a double yellow, he was in the right overtaking. I talked to number 29 who also said turn 6 had not gone double yellow, everyone was still racing at that point. I told 5 and 29 that as well as the accuser, there was a witness who backed up the accuser. They both still insisted turn 6 was not at double yellow. At that point a Steward appeared in pit lane to talk to 14, which meant one of two things, either the Stewards themselves had seen the incident concerned or a corner station had called it in as I had not made the call to the Stewards myself. He talked to the accuser and the witness, but NOT to the two accused drivers which I though was off, so I collared him and made sure he knew their side of the incident. To me there was reasonable doubt that they had not done anything wrong, the Stewards didn’t see it like that and disqualified them. They were both more than a little pissed. Number 29 was leading his group and would have had a class win and number 5 was the Vette that had screwed up in 4th place by going off earlier, he’d worked his way back up to 7th overall and 6th in class and he wasn’t done yet. It was only after the race was finally finished that they were called up to the tower to talk with the powers that be, but before that, I talked to both of them because I wanted them to know that it wasn’t me who called the Steward down to pit lane, and that I made sure that the Steward was aware of the contention with what flag turn 6 was holding at the time of the incident. The outcome? The two drivers were exonerated and received an apology, the Stewards were wrong. The bad bit? They couldn’t have either their places back or their points, they were still effectively disqualified even though it had been proven that they had done nothing wrong! An absolutely appalling decision in my opinion, considering numbers 5 and 29 are decent blokes and good, clean racers with clean records.
Makes me wonder what our new Chief Steward has up his sleeve for next race weekend.