I am seriously considering registering as a marshal to volunteer this year’s St. Petersburg Grand Prix followed immediately by the Sebring 12 hour in Florida. Best events to marshal are those that you can do back-to-back and it doesn’t get better than this schedule in March including a street race in a beautiful Gulf Coast Florida town overlooking Tampa Bay as well as one of the most iconic endurance races in the US that is Sebring 12 hours of IMSA racing.
The last time I marshaled in Florida I had less than great time, especially the time before the last time. This involved getting kicked out of my station during the Daytona 24 hours in January of 2013. But I’m over it now and if they let me come back – that is the CFR – Central Florida Region SCCA club that staffs both of these pro-races including IndyCar at St. Pete and IMSA at Sebring, I’d be happy to return.
I would love to actually drive down for this event and do a little bit of recon work to see if I could make the move to Florida in 2016. I realize waiting and hoping for something to happen will actually never make anything happen, so this would be a good opportunity to take the first step towards this move.
Just two weeks after an excellent time at Lone Star Le Mans I headed down for my third Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
It was a good experience, things were up and down, but overall I had an incredible time…. all things considered it was a nice way to end my year of Motorsport marshaling in the United States. I have of course still a few trips left including one International event in December one in January and one in February, but I’ll talk about that later.
To start the debrief I have to mention that I was not impressed with my luck this year when it came to booking flights and other travel related expenses. I had pretty much screwed myself with the trip to Austin booking expensive flights through remote connecting cities when a cheaper option popped up just days later on direct flights. Well, the same situation repeated itself with Atlanta. I booked a flight from Philadelphia which I thought was cheap, and 25 hours later it went down in price. Had it happened 24 hours later I could have cancelled and rebooked but that wasn’t my luck. Philadelphia played host to Pope Francis visit the weekend leading up to my flight on Monday, so getting to Philly wasn’t cheap either, and I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t make my flight if the blocked off zones of the city weren’t opened up in time. But I made it. Upon arrival into Atlanta I had overpaid for the rental car too. Unlike the previous two years the prices were thru the roof, and the option I chose was the more expensive one because instead of tenting it in the campground I decided to use the SUV I rented. At least I lucked out with a large enough vehicle (this wasn’t of course without a fight, Thrifty refused to give me a larger car so I went with Advantage and even they tried to squeeze me into a Mitsubishi Outlander which is small, but eventually I got into a Toyota Rav4 which was just right).
Leaving the airport I headed south, not north where the track is located. I had ordered a sleeping bag from Sears to be available for pick up upon my arrival so I didn’t have to drag it with me thru NJ into Philly and then down to Georgia on my flight. It was meant to arrive the Southlake Mall about 9 miles from the airport by the time my flight got in, of course that wasn’t the case, the bag arrived a few days after my arrival so I ended up canceling the order. Instead I took advantage of the opportunity to search some local places to eat and stumbled upon Sonny’s BBQ just about a mile away from the mall. Little did I know it was the same Sonny’s that have a booth set up in the vendor village at Road Atlanta every year. I made friends with a great lady that took my order named Leslie and made sure to visit her during the race where she surprised me with a complementary sammich! It was the most amazing food I’ve had all week… thank you Leslie!
Big thanks to the crew at Turn 7 for inviting me to sample some of their spectator’s BBQ from the Appalachian mountains of Georgia. What an excellent tasting pulled pork they let me have a taste.
The organizers of marshals for Petit Le Mans: Atlanta Region SCCA, fulfilled my request to work “Alpha” at the pit exit area of the main straight, just after the Starter stand and before Turn 1. That was awesome. But for some reason the corner captain at Turn 1 didn’t want to acknowledge that my station was a legitimate station. I got a sense that she was sort of belittling it’s role and by extension my role being there, when it came to flagging. I didn’t appreciate that at all. Not sure what sort of threat she felt from my flagging as it would relate to her station, but I certainly didn’t look at it that way. I treated Alpha as an independent station and flagged my heart out because it’s an incredible Blue flag spot. Of course for every incident at Turn 1 we mirrored their flags which are a bit hard to see with the way the station is situated. I even caught myself displaying a Yellow flag before Turn 1 flaggers had a chance to put their’s out because I saw the incident happening before they did. That was cool.
My reputation preceded me when it came to working with the chief of Start. The only thing he wanted to advise me of when we met is not to take any pictures. Which I didn’t. I did find it pretty ironic that others on the Start stand had no problem tacking pictures and sharing them on facebook. So my reputation seems to be a bit unfounded, I certainly don’t do things that nobody else does. But whatever. Here are some pictures that I did take:
The racing was pretty interesting, especially where I was stationed. Though it seems most incidents seem to have been repeatedly happening in the Turn 5 region, we had some great spins and even hits along the front straight and down at Turn 1. I got to witness several PC cars bin it. I also saw the Ligier P2 smash at night time in the rain. I later got to sign the nose cone of that P2 which had my name, the message: “Go for the Win!” and “#MarshalCam” clearly visible on race day. That was pretty neat.
Though it rained on race day, I was pretty comfortable because the flag chief set up a canopy over our station which did a great job keeping is fairly dry. I also used the new wet weather gear I recently bought which kept me exceptionally dry even when I was walking around in the rain, and more importantly it was breathing enough that I wasn’t drenched from sweating inside of it. I did somehow manage to put a hole through one of the pant legs, which makes me pretty mad at myself. I always tend to damage my gear when marshaling.
Others, including the media were complaining about the treacherous conditions during the event. But I thought they were fairly predictable. We did have the hurricane Joaquin moving up the coast in the Atlantic, and while it rained in Georgia for a week leading up to the event, I can’t help but wonder if the hurricane had any contribution especially as the event progressed to race day. What was happening on race day wasn’t really racing. Most cars were taking it slow, especially those in the PC field. The Daytona Prototypes tried hard, but like the Trans Am races I attended in the wet at Lime Rock where T1 cars were blown away by quicker (in the rain) T2, the same phenomenon happened at Road Atlanta. DP’s, P2’s, and PC’s were slow. GTLM were absolutely quick, yet GTD cars were not. So I wonder if the Michelin tire had anything to do with the quickness compared to Continental Tires on everything else.
We were told in the morning briefing that the race has to last only five hours and a second to be called as a full race. But just after five hours came about, the race director called for Red Flag and we were advised to seek shelter. Luckily I had parked the Toyota SUV on pit lane across from my station, so I quickly turned on the heat on full blast, took off my damp shoes and let the sox dry out. It was so cool. I found the radio station that had IMSA broadcast and listened to the speculation of what’s going to happen next, just like everybody else. A very short time later we were back on station, preparing to go Green. But after the restart we seemed to have Full Course Yellow about every five laps or so when someone would go hydroplaning into the tire barriers or a concrete wall. A few incidents happened at Turn 1, many more happened around Turn 5 area and finally at 7pm the race director called it a race and Checkered Flag was shown. It wasn’t without controversy, I’m sure. Even I thought to myself that they must have had to re-position cars for the finish to their liking, because at 5pm the order clearly wasn’t favorable. But who knows what really happened. I would imagine this historic race with it’s shortened schedule and a GTLM car taking overall win was completely manufactured, and most fans could see right thru it. I don’t think IMSA did itself any favors with doing something so blatant. We all know it isn’t right for competitors to cheat, I don’t think the series as a whole should resort to cheating either.
So that was that. The last race of the IMSA season. And my last American race down at an amazing track that is Road Atlanta. I had a good time. I had tasted some great food, which is always a plus. But I don’t know if I have a burning desire to come back next year. Throughout the event I couldn’t help but think how much Motorsport advertising actually works, because every time I saw the Spirit of Daytona car with it’s Visit Florida livery I just pictured myself in Miami… that trip is next, and a little time swimming in the ocean and relaxing on the beach is just what I need after this!
This is post 3 in a series of about 5 posts from the 2015 IMSA 6hr endurance race at Watkins Glen International Upstate New York.
What a difference another set of tires makes! Last time I did this trip to go to Watkins Glen for the NASCAR track services training I scuffed the hell out of my 17’s with the low profile tires. Since then I’ve been shopping around to get a set of 16’s with a bigger sidewall for a smoother ride as well as a 17″ RX-8 spare donut in case a tire blows out in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania or New York. My shopping results were fruitful because I enjoyed a much more comfortable ride on the OEM 16’s I bought and luckily there wasn’t any blowouts. Very happy! Read about my last road trip to WGI here.
The trip up was just as uneventful as the way back, the difference being weather. It was nice and sunny on Wednesday when I left home. No particular rush to get to the track except I had to be at the registrar office by 4pm. To my surprise I had arrived there way earlier than expected even though there were several traffic spots on the interstate. I took the scenic route through Pennsylvania going along i80 to i380 to i81 in Scranton and then i86/rt 17 in Binghampton all the way to Horseheads/Elmira where I got off the highway and took the local way up to the track.
At the registration building I bumped into a familiar site, a TPC Porsche Cayman Spyder with Bikini Top I’ve definitely seen before. And a predictable photo shoot followed:
What happened at Watkins Glen I’ll cover in another series of posts.
On the way home, the drive was pretty relaxing (after the 6hr enduro). I got to use my newly installed intermittent windshield wiper switch quite extensively because the weather kept on changing along the way, and I hit plenty of rain of various severity. Got to see some nice cars leaving the track, like this Porsche 911 GT3 with Georgia manufacturer plates:
And of course there was an obligatory stop at Sheetz just outside of Scranton, PA… it’s like a tradition for me now to stop there whenever I’m in Pennsylvania. Picked up a 3 pack of burger sliders, and some chicken nuggets for dinner, and continued on my way stuffing my face while driving.
It was a really awesome road trip, and I’m looking forward to the next one in August for NASCAR at Watkins Glen.
18.79 gallons used, 607 total miles done = 32 MPG mostly highway but plenty of slow driving from campground to the track in 1st and 2nd gear (making it mixed city/highway driving). Total spent on fuel $56.27 making an average price per gallon just under $3… with the cheapest gas in NJ at $2.859 and the priciest gas in NY $3.179 for 93 octane premium fuel.
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.
Petit Le Mans seems like a distant memory right now, and yet it’s still fresh on my mind because: #MarshalCam! I am still uploading the videos shot at Road Atlanta during that amazing weekend, and I wanted to share them with you, the reader for some excellent examples of what this little project is all about.
First up, Mr. Jim from Texas. One of the assistant flag chiefs of the WEC race at Circuit of the Americas a few weeks earlier. We were meant to shoot a COTA edition #MarshalCam interview but the days were so ridiculously long, there wasn’t a good moment to make it happen. But Jim came through big time since we worked Turn 5 together on the first day:
Our corner captain that day was Willy from Michigan. Someone I admire greatly. Because, of all the people I’ve watched and learned from volunteering in the US with the SCCA, Willy has been the most professional. Ironically this was the first time we’ve worked together even though I’ve seen/heard Willy do his magic at the Detroit GP on Belle Isle, Long Beach GP in California and of course the US GP at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas. I’ve said this before and I’m sure many will take offense but a lot of volunteers beat themselves on the chest to tell you how great they are, Willy on the other hand shows exactly what professional marshaling is all about, by example:
For the rest of Petit weekend I got magically swapped to Turn 1 again, to work with Nancy from Gerogia. I had the pleasure of working with her last year on race day only, and was thrilled to return. Nancy is a very colorful person and runs a tight ship. She wants things done her way and she will tell you exactly how to do it. That’s what I love about working with her, there’s no dancing around, no whispers and taking behind your back. You do something wrong, she tells you. And hopefully you correct yourself:
Jason from Tennessee joined our team on race day. And even though it was the first time we worked together we got along really well, which I definitely appreciate. I’m really glad he agreed to do the interview because it was concise, meaningful and direct to the point. If anything, I’m a little envious of Jason’s story of bonding with his father as my dad sees my hobby as a complete waste of time:
Please stay tuned for more outstanding videos featuring marshals from around the world. And if you wish to send in your interview (do a selfie!) I’m happy to send you #MarshalCam patches for your efforts!
PS. there are some Waffle House edition videos coming soon >.<