Every circuit I visit provides an opportunity to learn something new, something unique. The Algarve Circuit where I worked the Maxi 32h event this weekend was no exception. In Portugal they use elevated marshal stations around the Portimão Circuit full of blind corners and significant elevation changes.
For Friday’s practice I got to work Post 06 at the exit of Turn 2 while on Saturday and Sunday I was at Post 11 in the middle of Turn 8. From Post 11 I could look directly down at Post 05 directly behind us as we were significantly higher, and Posts 12 and 13 could look straight down at us as they were ahead of us. If that creates the visual of a side of a mountain you’d be correct in thinking that, basically the circuit goes up and down a pretty steep hill. But the physical stations were no different than stations used at COTA in Texas. There were however Posts 21 and 22 that were on stilts. I kid you not, they were significantly elevated off the ground like so:
To get in or out you use a step ladder, but otherwise the set up is no different than stations closer to the ground. The difference of course is the visibility advantage this creates:
Looking out at the part of the course you cover as a marshal you can have an unobstructed view way downstream as well as upstream with no blind spots. And I thought that was a fantastic advantage. Of course sharing this photo on the Flag Marshals of the World facebook group I was quickly reminded how dangerous such a set up can be because there are very limited escape opportunities. Of course, track designers tend to air on the side of caution when it comes to station positioning, etc. But considering that the Algarve Circuit hosts major FIA events like Formula One testing, WEC testing, BEC racing, SBK Superbikes and the Maxi 32h race I worked; surely the safety aspect of the design was taken into the consideration. Additionally, being a modern FIA track it features a ridiculous amount of paved run off and gravel traps followed by deep tire walls, armco and safety fencing. Granted the station is directly above the catch fence but the likelihood of debris flying that high, that far off the racing line is unlikely… I would imagine. Of course no place is completely safe at a race track, but the benefit of having good visibility so you can see stuff crashing into you instead of being surprised when it actually happens and you weren’t able to see it coming has it’s advantages.
In all honesty I wish Circuit of the Americas would implement a similar idea for some of it’s stations. For example I worked Turn 12 last year and Turn 11C this year and in both cases I couldn’t see anything coming at me until the cars were right on top of me. Sure I was behind a safety barrier and a catch fence, etc. But if something were to come at me at a high rate of speed I wouldn’t know about it until the car crashed into me. And I’m not sure if that’s an entirely “safe” scenario.
Part of the criticism about the high elevation of the station is that flags were no longer at driver’s eye level. But again I think is a non-issue as the drivers coming up hill see the top of the station first where the flags are, and only have to look up at the station when they are directly in front of it which means at that point they are no longer looking at the station but further down the track at the next turn. I am all for early warning rather than a “safer” spot that is right on top of the incident or too far along that the driver can’t reasonably take appropriate action because there isn’t enough time to react.
So props to the Algarve Circuit with their implementation of a good idea. And I hope other tracks would consider using a similar concept when it is “safe” and makes logical sense to do.