I have high praise to the Lone Star Le Mans flag chief Brent McNaul for the way he has been organizing the marshals for the upcoming event at the Circuit of the Americas. I want to recognize his efforts in this post because often I blog about people doing things wrong and how much I don’t agree with their approach, and it’s too easy to be critical. In this situation the man deserves high accolades long before the event has even started because he’s been doing everything right. And I really appreciate it!
For those of you reading this you may remember the post I made a while back about the perfect registration page set up for Lone Star Le Mans on MotorsportReg.com It was detailed, thorough, and intuitive. It communicated well what’s involved with the event and encouraged you to be a part of something big, a PRO event, something to be proud of. That attention to detail has continued in the months that followed leading up to this weekend. Brent has been communicating constantly with frequent e-mail blasts keeping the registered marshals abrest of important details pertaining to the race weekend, flag rules, new procedures, etc.
What I liked most about Brent’s e-mail communications:
Acknowledgement that the days would be long, as they tend to be on such a race weekend where cars are on track from dawn to dusk, and beyond. In early July Brent sent out info about working in shifts to break up the work load. Personally I can’t get enough of endurance events so I volunteered to work both shifts.
Marshal evacuation plan. Who thinks about that right? We had a simulated evacuation a year or two ago at COTA. We were loaded onto the “train” shuttle and taken to the safety of an underpass to wait out a storm. Nobody knew really what was going on, it seemed as the shuttle drivers were following instructions from whomever came on their hand held radios. Now we have a detailed plan of action direct from COTA management.
Detailed schedule of the event and the confirmed race entries were provided for those of us interested in the participants of the event in late August.
Specific flagging rules were provided as the IMSA rules differ from the FIA rules used during WEC. Specific instructions were provided about the use of boards including NEXT SLOW, SLOW zone, and FCY – Full Course Yellow. While the boards appeared at last year’s event they were not used. The information provided in Brent’s e-mail prepares us as marshals to know what to expect if Race Control calls for a specific board or a series of boards like the progression of NEXT SLOW to SLOW zone, and FCY.
Captain prep e-mail was sent out to those of us expected to carry out the captain roles during the event. I was fortunate enough to be selected and am looking forward to fulfilling my duties. I am especially looking forward to incidents happening in my sector so that I could put my training to good use with execution and learn from my response for future incidents.
Information about registration, morning sign-on and even early registration times and locations was sent out. This is especially useful since I will be without a personal vehicle being a pedestrian sucks, but allows me to rely on friends to go and register early so that the morning of the event I could go straight to the morning meeting.
Station assignments. This one was my favorite especially since last year I left COTA with a sour taste after getting stuck in the same part of the track for several consecutive events. Well, not anymore. I am thrilled with my station assignments thanks to Brent because I will be working some new portions of the track that I haven’t done yet and I am very much looking forward to this experience!
So major props to Brent McNaul for his efforts to keep the Lone Star Le Mans a well oiled machine of an event that I’m sure it will be. The work he’s doing is greatly appreciated not just by me but everyone else, and that’s important. Furthermore I wish more people would learn from Brent to put this amount of effort into their events that they flag chief. He is certainly setting a good example, and I thank him for it!
The Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen this weekend was a wonderful event through and through. Absolutely everything went perfectly, I was super pleased. We even had one incident at the start of the feature race, however my response to that incident made me question how I handled it. So here’s some food for thought.
I even posted the scenario for discussion on the Flag Marshals of the World facebook group and the answers were exactly as I anticipated them to be… torn right down the middle it’s either one thing or the other: Green or Yellow flag.
What would you do when a car crashes right at your flag point?
It is stopped with part of the car on racing line… do you wave the Yellow or do you wave the Green flag?
I waved Yellow knowing that I’m shutting down the long straight between Station 12 and Station 13 for racing. Station 11 backed us up with another waving Yellow at our request because the drivers were coming around a hairpin turn and going uphill into a blind spot. The incident was over in less than a minute. Race Control advised us that next time we should wave Green. And after that we heard one of the cars get penalized for passing under our Yellow flag. We did not see the pass happen because it must have happened closer to Station 13 and we did not actually have a direct line of sight to the next station.
The video of the incident would make an excellent training piece if any of the marshal schools decided to use it. I’m certainly saving it for my own reference in the future. The YouTube clip from TUSC and screen shots from the video are attached below:
Fast forward to minute marker: 14 and 15 minutes into the broadcast. Screen Shot images are from Fox broadcast and used for educational/non-for-profit purposes.
Corvette GTLM in traffic among GTD class cars sliding sideways
Corvette GTLM started losing it on the straight from 11 to 12
Corvette GTLM hits the ARMCO with the left front and bounces off
Corvette GTLM hits the ARMCO with the left rear sliding to a stop
Corvette GTLM finally comes to rest facing wrong way, counter race
Corvette GTLM proceeds to cross track trying to turn around
Corvette GTLM unable to complete the U-turn has to back up a little
Oliver Gavin (Le Mans 24h champion) comes up the hill in the toe of the boot (hairpin) at Watkins Glen and loses it in the straight… 6 minutes and 57 seconds into the 6 hour race, causing him to spin and hit the ARMCO. He is facing counter race on driver’s right. He waits for the pack to pass and proceeds across the track driver’s left where he is unable to complete the turn and leaves the back of his car on the racing line. He waits again for the leaders of the Prototype class to go by, backs up and continues on. No big deal, minor incident with minimal damage to the car.
Seeing him lose it, when the car was sideways, I put out a waved Green flag. My communicator Robbie called Race Control to tell Station 11 to go waving Yellow. The car slid past our station and I changed my flag to waving Yellow. I saw him attempt to turn around so I continued waving while he was inching forward with at least part of the car still on track. Once he stopped under our feet I was contemplating to start waving Green again to allow the rest of the field to resume racing, but I didn’t. I continued waving Yellow flag until Oliver backed up enough so he could straighten the car out, and drove off. I switched to waving the White flag as he continued well off pace, and other cars had to pass him on the right. He was back up to speed at the next station, and the incident was over.
Why did I contemplate waving the Green flag as he was clearly at our station? (something Race Control suggested after watching the video)
Because procedurally speaking, any incident before the station requires a waved Green flag, any incident after the station requires a waved Yellow flag but any incident at station requires discretion. I obviously thought that having part of the car exposed on racing line could result into flying debris in the form of small or big chunks of carbon fiber or worse, hot fluids resulting from a crash. The drivers are not supposed to accelerate until they see a Green flag. But being that the car was right under the waved point (station), and the track condition was wet and getting wetter, it seemed like a dangerous option. Most cars started the race on slicks and it wouldn’t be uncommon to see cars go slight sideways as they hit the accelerator (had they seen the Green flag at our station).
I like the responses I got in the discussion on facebook because plenty of people feel the same way I felt. However, there were just as many people that suggested Green flag was the correct choice, and obviously based on the video Race Control agreed. I was faced with a very similar situation a few years ago at Laguna Seca in California. During the MX-5 Cup race I had a car pull off track and stop right at my station leaving part of the car right at the apex of the turn… the very famous turn: the Corkscrew. Since the car was nose-first facing the piece of concrete slab I was standing on, and the driver got out and quickly got behind my station, I did not show any flag. The flag point behind me went Yellow, and the next flag point down the hill went Green. I was concerned showing the Green flag because if anyone lost control and hit the car in the apex of the turn, the car would hit me directly. If I waved Yellow, then the cars wouldn’t be able to race all the way until the next point, which was relatively close, but still shut down a part of the track. And so I have been debating this situation ever since. The only difference between the Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen incidents is that I was working alone at Laguna… luckily at Watkins Glen I asked Robbie for his opinion and he agreed with me to continue displaying the waved Yellow.
There was a joke with the SCCA… when flagging an incident that happens at your station, take a step away from the incident and now you don’t have to show the flag any more, it’s the flag point prior to your’s concern. Since the SCCA does not use the Green flag past an incident, and the drivers know to resume racing once they clear an incident, this isn’t much of an issue but with IMSA using modified FIA rules where Green flag is required, I didn’t think it would be appropriate to take a step away from the incident to wave my Green. Perhaps I should have. Perhaps I chickened out at the prospect of having a relatively minor incident escalate into a major incident.
I don’t know.
I would like to learn from this…. but honestly, if I’m faced with the exact same set of circumstances I would probably wave Yellow again.
Andy Blackmore has released several versions of the spotter guide for the Six hours at the Glen, one of the four stops on the North American Endurance Championship tour of the Tudor United SportsCar Series.
A few thoughts about my last event marshalling the big American race: 12 hours of Sebring.
To start, I had missed the last two Sebrings because the event falls on the same weekend as the Australian F1 Grand Prix, and I chose to do those instead. I heard amazing things about this race, so 2014 was the year I committed to doing Sebring finally. Did it live up to the hype? Not particularly. I mean, the event was significantly better in comparison to my experience at Daytona a few months earlier, that’s for sure. But it was not exactly the best event I have ever done in my life. It certainly wasn’t AGP. I will list the things I liked and disliked about my experience at Sebring.
First the things I liked. I was placed on a very good crew of local Central Florida SCCA marshals at turn 15, which proved to be quite active and very exciting for blue flagging. It was perfect. The atmosphere was very relaxed, everyone was professional and it was a joy, simple pleasure to work with everyone. We did have a mishap during a race when just as we changed shift there was an incident that could have been flagged better, and it was as much my fault as the next guy’s, but these things happen. We could have handled it better, and yet it could have been worse too. My favorite part about the team was how accommodating they were about keepsakes in the form of photos. We were given opportunity to take a few shots on our off sessions which was greatly appreciated. I had the pleasure of working with the official CFR photog who took some shots of me in actions that I’ll include below:
The things I didn’t particularly like were not unique to Sebring, in fact AGP suffers from them also. But there’s no reason we as volunteer marshals should be treated like shit repeatedly and then expect to return year after year and give 100% just to continue to be treated like shit. There’s something wrong with that approach/expectation form the organizers. So my biggest gripe is with the unnecessarily early starts when the morning meetings could have been held a bit closer to the start of activities. The days were tremendously long, which happens anywhere the schedule is full of support events, but with so few people participating it’s quite hard on the body to be up on your feet for fourteen hours a day. I realize marshalling is not rocket science, anybody could do it, but just standing idle waiting for something to happen takes a toll over a long period of time. I feel our marshalling organization should do a better job of recruiting more volunteers. Offer some incentive to join. Make it fun! At the very least reduce the amount of hostility there is from those highly experienced marshals to the newbies. We all do this for fun! Lets not forget.
The other gripe was with the series and their procedures towards our response to crashed vehicles. The unnecessarily long safety car periods which resulted in the spectators yelling their displeasure in our general direction on post as we were displaying the double yellow flags. And the artificial un-balance of performance for cars. I’m really not happy to see the P2 Le Mans Prototypes struggling to keep up with Daytona Prototypes.
Overall it was a good experience. I got to couchsurf with several hosts on this trip including in places like St. Petersburg and Okechobee. It’s a shame that the St. Pete Grand Prix wasn’t a week after Sebring or I would have surely stayed to marshal there as well.
Motorsport Marshal, Miata Driver, Hot Wheels Collector