As a Startline marshal, the first thing I do when I get up in the morning is to check the weather forecast. Far from it being merely the pre-occupation of most marshals in terms of deciding how many layers of clothes they might need to put on underneath the overalls, for the Startline marshal, there is an additional significance, which I will come back to later.
Last weekend’s meeting was the ever popular and well subscribed 750 Club race meeting at Oulton Park. The timetable consisted of morning sessions of practice/qualifying and a total of 13 races, involving a wide variety of tin tops, such as Mazda MX5s, Clios, etc.
The Startline Team at Oulton Park is unique, in that the team only undertake Startline duties, rather than combining Startline responsibilities with Pits work, which is the practice at every other circuit I have visited. Accordingly, Startline duties at Oulton consist of flurries of frantic activity, and then relative relaxation, rather than coming straight off a grid and into a garage!
The key responsibilities therefore are initially flagging the cars from the race track into parc ferme at the end of each session, ensuring they don’t escape down the pit lane. If they do they’re intercepted and pushed backwards up the pit lane in a “push of shame”. We also help the scrutineers, where applicable, by stacking the cars in parc ferme, and on occasions, locating and informing a driver upon the end of their session that they have been invited to Race Control/the Medical Centre, invariably met with a crestfallen expression, shortly followed by puzzlement or palpable guilt. These tasks are usually the morning’s activities before the primary part of the job of gridding the cars begins.
The aim of the Startline marshal is to ensure that the car on the grid sheet (the list Race Control provides us with which tells everyone where they are placed on the grid based on their qualifying performance) is placed in the correct respective grid position for race start. It sounds simple, and it usually is! Especially, if Assembly arrange the cars in the correct order. So, unless there is a problem on the formation or green flag lap, the cars arrive at the grid in the correct order, and arranging them in their positions is straightforward.
There are 3 types of grid for race start. Most common in regional meetings is what we term the 2 x 2 formation. This is where cars start beside each other, two per row, and the grid slots are staggered on alternate rows, so the car in P5 is looking at the rear of the car in P1, rather than P3, who will be ahead and to the left or right, depending on the grid layout.
In order to grid a 2 x 2 grid, we tend to employ either a marshal on each half, so one runs up the left stagger, and one up the right, (ideally, with another splitting them as they arrive to ensure they go to the right side), or if we have more bodies, allocate a marshal a row each, so 4 marshals “leapfrog” up, which is fast and efficient.
For Touring Cars and single seater series, the start will be a 1 x 1 grid, utilising only the grid slots on the right and left hand sides on alternate rows, P1, then P4, P5 then P8 and so on.
Lastly, some race series have rolling starts, where we will line the cars up directly opposite each other on the same row on the outer edges for race start behind the safety car. In each case, a startline marshal will wave a green flag at the back of the grid, to signal to the Pit Wall that the grid is complete and racing can commence.
With the exception of the rolling start grid (for obvious reasons) and the “grid and go” starts, where the cars use the formation lap as the green flag lap and immediately go into race start, a Startline marshal will stand at the front of the grid with a yellow flag raised aloft as the drivers position themselves for race start. This is the only occasion when a marshal is expected to be standing on a live track. As such, it’s rather exciting!
As I mentioned earlier, you need to be alert to the weather, if it was dry in the morning and it has subsequently rained, Race Control might deem two green flag laps are required, in which case, you have to remember not to saunter out with the flag after the first one!
If you are not standing at the front, once the cars are gridded, then we always take up our positions beside the barrier alongside the grid and watch for cars stalling on the grid at the start, to warn drivers behind. If we see a car stall, or one which is slow to go, then we wave our yellow flags, in the hope that the drivers behind will be alerted to the fact that there is a hazard and, hopefully, miss the stationary car.
Saturday’s race meeting was certainly action packed, with large grids requiring lots of running. Two red flags, required an entire re-grid on two occasions. As you are constantly on the “go”, days on Startline tend to fly, and although energetic, it is rewarding and, most importantly fun, with or without the assistance of Ewean!
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Written By – Janette Williams