Motor racing : The definitive (?!?) guide for a hanger-on
Abi Stander, our resident paddock expert, has supplemeted her sunscreen advice for those thinking of helping. Whilst written in a light hearted manner it covers a day or twoat the races for a helper pretty accurately.
So, motor racing. An expensive hobby, for everyone involved, including those who just like spectating. I mean, £13 per person per day, on the gate admission price?!? So, in these hard economic times, how can you reduce the cost? Well, the way I found was most cost effective was to become a driver’s hanger-on. They do expect some return for the use of an “access all areas” season pass, so what might you expect?
You need to get started on this as soon as you arrive. First, find what you hope is a suitable pitch within the area allocated by the organisers to the Mono club. At Cadwell, you’ll be lucky to not be on mud given the miniscule amount of tarmac available in the paddock. At Brands Hatch, you’ll be looking to position yourself in such a way the race car doesn’t roll down the hill if you’re on it. And then there is the issue of not looking like some sort of travelling outfit.* I myself prefer to think we look more like the antidote to Eco-Warrior Swampy’s set-up some years ago on the A30. Anyhow, positioning is actually quite important. The driver likes to be as close to the assembly area as possible, but your goal as a hanger-on is to be as close to Scrutineering as possible. I’ll share that secret with you later.
Most drivers seem quite capable of getting themselves to Signing-on at the allotted time – it’s like watching a herd of sheep when the food trough is about to be filled – they don’t want to miss out on what might come later. I have though learned that is always a good idea to be aware of where your driver is and when signing on is, just in case they forget. They’re absent minded, particularly when they get in a pack in the middle of the paddock talking about their exploits. Signing on involves the driver going to Race Control or somewhere like that and taking their race licence and quite literally signing on to race. At signing on, the driver is issued with a slip of paper which is needed at Scrutineering. It’s best to make sure the driver has headed off to sign on before you start pushing the car to the Scrutineering bay, otherwise you get in peoples way when the scruitineer won’t check the car until they have the slip of paper. It may be the car will be fitted with a video camera. If the car is running with a camera, the driver will take a video form with them to signing on and they will bring a paper docket (or even the form itself) back with them for Scrutineering.
This is where the car is safety checked before it’s allowed out on the circuit. It’s often held in a covered bay somewhere, normally at the furthest point away from where we get allocated paddock space and often uphill. We take tools necessary to get nose cone, engine cover and such-like off so the scruitineer can check things like any play in wishbones etc. They will also want to check the driver’s helmet and race suit so make sure these are in or with the car before heading to Scrutineering. Tools are required and probably vary between types of car but often include a mirror on a stick (so they can see the fire extinguisher details); the allen keys to remove the nose cone, a Dzus tool and a small flat head screwdriver. If the driver is busy (read recounting his on-track exploits with other drivers again), we may be asked to turn on the main power, turn on the rain light and then turn everything off using the master switch. The scruitineer will alert us if anything is wrong and needs correcting and they will need to see the car again if this is the case. However, if all is well, they’ll scuttle off and then scuttle back with the sticker or ticket that needs sticking in the cockpit of the car. It is important to take note who is given this ticket as it is easy to forget to put the ticket in the car after Scrutineering. I did spot one team with just this problem at Silverstone on one occasion once the cars were in the assembly area and having to run half way round Silverstone to get it to the car!
At Scrutineering they will also need the video form handing to them and the ticket they return should then have video written on it. Check with them if they’ve not written video on the ticket and the car has a camera.
Curiously, something odd happens around the Scrutineering bay. On the way there, you find you are pushing the car up-hill. On the way back, you find that you are pushing the car up-hill. This is a somewhat magical and mystical event that cannot be explained by anything other than pixies rearranging the topography of the circuit when you are otherwise occupied!
Sometimes happens as we leave Scrutineering in which case the slave battery is needed. Sometimes happens on the way to the assembly area. Some circuits have quite strict noise testers and we have had to repack the exhaust with stuffing prior to being allowed out. It’s best the car has been run for a few minutes before noise testing. It is also best to not antagonise the noise tester – some have in the past and have lived to regret it!
Push the car back to the paddock and place under the awning, or if a less well-endowed team, under the gradually darkening sky, nose facing forward (tip – always leave the car in such a position the driver can make a quick get away without reversing etc, just in case we’re late leaving for the assembly area. This counts for pre-race too). Jack the car up and take the wheels off. Stack the wheels in a corner and wait to see what the weather is doing. Now is a good time to check that the driver is happy with the brakes and clutch and that they don’t need bleeding. Also use this time to tape up Dzus fastenings and suchlike. The driver will also go off to change at this point. Check the Scrutineering label has been taped or stuck in the cockpit.
During all this time, or possibly before Scrutineering, it may be the driver will be needed elsewhere. There are 2 types of briefing they may need to attend. The first (and the one they really get into trouble for missing) is the New Driver Briefing. This is for drivers who have never raced at the circuit before. The other briefing is one that MSVR have for all the club drivers. I’m not convinced anyone would really notice if a driver was missing from these, but it can be quite interesting to go and listen to this one – the Clerk of the Course or one of their senior reps will tell drivers what they need to know about things like green flag laps (I’ll come to them) and such like.
It may be the other classes of Mono will run their practice session or maybe there’ll be something going round the circuit that you’ll want to look at. There ought to be time for this but the car will need you again about 30 minutes before the practice session is due to start.
Tyre pressures are then set and can vary depending on things like driver preference, weather, temperature of the circuit (we’re not F1 so that will be a warm or cold, not precise temperature) so it’s best to check with the driver what they want. They may not know themselves. Set the tyre pressures. Then we wait until our session is called to the assembly area. For each session this usually happens either when the previous session’s cars are released from Assembly or 20 minutes before our session starts, whichever is later. Then the car can be lowered off the jacks. The driver is then sat in the car, sometimes belted up but sometimes not. We then start the car up (we rarely push it to the assembly area) and the driver will take it to the assembly area – this may be via noise testing (see aforementioned heading).
Sometimes, when the weather is iffy, those teams that have people also take the other set of tyres to the assembly area. How this is done depends on the amount of money involved – some have trolley’s, others make several trips with a wheel on each arm, and some even have quad bikes with trailers! On a normal day, all you’ll need to be doing is strapping in the driver and tightening the belts and plugging in the slave battery so the car can be started, unplugging it once it’s running. The cars will then be released from the assembly area and you can make your way to the pit wall to watch the session.
Pit wall procedure – Practice
Ah, the pit wall. I can now recognise circuits just from looking at a photo of a pit wall or lane, which is really sad. Anyway, I digress. Some teams have a small TV that they attempt to plug in at the pit wall to get live timing screens. Whether it works or not is affected by a number of factors – at Anglesey, there has been no point even trying to plug a TV in as they’ve not set anything like that up yet. I am hopeful for this year as they have spent the winter dreaming of building a new pit lane complex. Whether it has actually become a reality or not will have to be seen. Cadwell and Mallory are other circuits that are best not bothering with – they never turn the facilities on. Places like Snetterton, Silverstone and the like do switch them on and it apparently makes the pit signalling job so much easier when they do. Anyway, the TV is multi-purpose. At some circuits, they stream things like Saturday Kitchen and F1 to the sockets – it does give you something interesting to watch when your driver goes and finds a gravel trap or runs out of talent. However, the drivers seem to want to know how they’re doing and frankly using a stop watch in the pouring rain with a gale howling through the pit lane and keeping the pit board up to date is nigh on impossible. The TV helps. If you are a team with a TV, expect a lot of company from other hanger-on’s. If you’re not a team with a TV, check to see if Tony Cotton is racing and if not, if he has his mobile phone with him – he has entered the 21st Century and knows how to use his mobile to get live timing streamed off the interweb! Praise the Lord for his 3G connections!
Be ready for the driver to come in if he wants wing adjustment (take some tools to be able to do this) and wait until the session finishes. When the session is done, we pack up the pit wall equipment and the cars will come through the pit lane to Parc Ferme. Sometimes the cars are held at Parc Ferme, other times they’ll be allowed to drive straight through and there’s no way of knowing what will happen until it happens. If the cars get held, we need to go to Parc Ferme as there may well be pushing to do back to the paddock. However, Parc Ferme is itself curious. Some circuits are quite rigorous about the rules in Parc Ferme, most aren’t and you can walk up to the car, touch it, push it etc without issue. However, there are a few circuits where you’re not even allowed into Parc Ferme and if you don’t know, you may get shouted at. It’s a case of trial and error and is sometimes even down to who is on the gate. However, once the track personnel are happy, and once the club eligibility scruitineer is happy, we’re free to go.
So, now we’re back in the paddock, having pushed the car back from
Parc Ferme and being completely knackered. The good news is that once
the car is back under the awning and has been jacked up, there isn’t
a lot to do for 30 minutes – everything is too hot to touch anyway.
Taking the engine cover off may help the cooling process and certainly
the tape unsticks from the car better when warm, so I tend to do this
and then go and grab a cup of tea from the hospitality awning. There is
often good cake at the hospitality awning and it is best to be there early
to get the really nice stuff.
Anyway, if all has gone well and once the fuel and battery are in, the car can have its Dzus fasteners taped up again. And then the previous sessions routine of waiting until about 30 minutes before we’re due out to do tyre pressures etc takes effect.
Pit wall Procedure – Race
Ah, the pit wall, a place where you’re never quite sure if you’re doing the right thing until you are shouted at or not. You will never be allowed on the pit wall for the start of the race – too high a risk of a start line collision (normally increased by a certain Mr Cliffe stalling when he’s secured Pole Position (you just can’t get the drivers)).
Anyway, when the cars leave the assembly area, this is the time that if you’re in the pit lane, you should keep on the garage side of any lane marking. The cars then line up on the grid and will be set off on a green flag lap – there may be 2 if the track conditions are different over the 2 sessions, for example a dry practice and wet race. The cars will then line up on the grid for the race start and once the safety car has gone past the start line at the race start, then its okay to go on the pit wall.
Packing up the pit wall equipment after the race is also the same as for practice, as are the aforementioned details on Parc Ferme.
Post race (Day 1 of double header)
Return the car to the Paddock, jack it up and put axle stands underneath, removing the jacks once this is done. Wheels may or may not come off at this point. Engine cover and side pod are removed so the battery can be charged and refuelling can happen any time from now until before Practice the following day. Then we’re into the Pre-Practice of day 1 routine, except there may also be a fluids and nuts-and-bolts check. Water and oil is checked, that sort of thing. Then the second day runs as for the first until it’s time to go home.
Post race (last day)
We pack up and go home. For some, this is as easy as driving the car onto a trailer, tying it down and heading out. For others, they can be there hours packing up their awnings. This is also another danger time for drivers to get in pack and regale each other with their stories of the racing over the weekend.
There’ll also be a prize giving at some point. On a double header weekend, there is normally one on the Saturday after the last race and on the Sunday these are normally held after each race. The prize giving is usually announced by Simon Davey, club coordinator, hooting the horn of his van and shouting “let’s be having you” in a somewhat Delia Smith style (for the football followers amongst you). He is ably assisted by Sarah Harvey-Fern. Sarah also organises entertainment on some Saturday Evening’s of double headers, so it’s best to be on her right side if you don’t know the layout of a monopoly board very well! I wouldn’t say she is easy to bribe but she does like biscuits and chocolate.
So, your driver will expect you to busy for him or her throughout the
weekend to earn your right to one of their season passes.
*The reference to travelling outfit is in a politically correct and non-discriminatory sense and nobody's set up does look like that in Mono anyway not that there is any fault in cultural diversity though it is at all times important to maintain a high quality presentation - asst ed.
If any of the pictures/captions have caused offence please email us here and please accept the profound and sincere apologies of asst ed.
The Aviva TV ad with a tent on a runway has proven accurate for some camping at Croft
Drivers returning from signing on
"particularly when they get in a pack in the middle of the paddock talking about their exploits"
"Tools are required and probably vary between types of car "
"Check with them if they’ve not written video on the ticket and the car has a camera."
"Praise the Lord for the 3G phone" ("Praise the Lord" was the catch phrase of Matt Lucas's coffee lady in the BBC "Come Fly With Me" series.)
"Of course, things may have gone wrong during the session and repairs may be needed to the car."(Hamilton, uninjured, Bahrain practice 2008)
"Jack the car up and take the wheels off.". 747 left overnight at Liverpool airport
"Some circuits are quite rigorous about the rules in Parc Ferme"
"There is often good cake at the hospitality awning and it is best to be there early to get the really nice stuff."
"shouting “let’s be having you” in a somewhat Delia Smith style"