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GP Week : Issue 179
>>> FEATURE Standing downwind from a powder fire extinguisher at full blast in the Oulton Park pitlane, I’m not quite sure whether this is one of those glass hammer or long weight moments. I’ve been spending the day observing marshals in their natural habitat, and I have a feeling they might be taking the piss. “Breathe enough of that in and you’ll spend the night on the toilet,” one of the pitlane marshals warns me, a massive grin on his face. With the small fire extinguished easily, the focus has moved on to cleaning up the mess the powder has left behind and reopening the pitlane. Josh Pickett, chief pitlane marshal and an old hand at this, is busy brushing up the powder with its alleged laxative properties. I decide not to risk it, and move away from the clouds of dust just in case. My day spent learning how to marshal got off to a very early start, with a 4am wake-up call necessary to make it to Oulton Park in time for the 8am sign- on. Bacon sandwiches and strong coffee were the order of the day upon arrival, and it was good to see that some things remain sacrosanct in motorsport, from the club to the international level. I was volunteering for the MG Car Club summer race meeting, courtesy of Paul Sutcliffe, national membership secretary of the British Motorsport Marshals Club (BMMC). The day had been arranged to give me the full spectrum of the marshalling experience, from a morning spent trackside, doing flagging, to an afternoon that culminated in gridding the cars, a surreal experience that involved running down a live grid with cars coming towards us, pointing each machine at its relevant grid slot while checking them all off on a list. The rest of the day was just as varied, from watching as the trained marshals dealt swiftly with an unplanned pitlane fire to directing cars and drivers to scrutineering or the stewards, as relevant. Over the course of 11 races I was able to observe the full gamut of a marshal’s duties, although as an untrained novice I was fit for little more than waving flags to mark the end of a session. But for those who come along for a day’s taster training – something the BMMC offers for the curious – the opportunity exists to get fully involved. And for the passionate motorsport fan, there is no better way to get involved in the sport than to volunteer as a marshal. It is hard work, but offers a level of access like no other, with the ability to watch racing from close quarters or spend an afternoon in the pitlane. While some might be attracted by the prospect of marshalling for an international event, such as a Formula One Grand Prix, thousands of opportunities exist at club level events around the world. Grass roots motorsport is a smaller community, and affords volunteers with the opportunity to work their way through the ranks, gaining the skills needed to run races at a local level. The marshals I worked with at Oulton Park had years of experience – decades, in some cases – under their belts. Many of the younger marshals had learned the ropes courtesy of a parent who also volunteered, and there were generations of the same family in matching fireproof overalls. Other countries with a rich motorsport heritage can also boast of marshalling as a hereditary passion. Jeff Benham, a long-time volunteer across a range of Australian motorsport events, including the Formula One Australian Grand Prix, started out following his father’s footsteps into the world of motorsport. “I have always loved the sport,” he explains, “even when I was a kid. Other boys liked football, etc., whereas my passion was always racing. Growing up, my dad was always involved in motorsport as a volunteer. Before he had kids he raced and crewed for various teams. When I was old enough I wanted to go and get involved. As the minimum age is 16 I had to wait until the mid/ late ‘90s to officially be registered as a working volunteer.” A more recent convert is Fan Peiyi, a volunteer marshal at the Singapore Grand Prix. “I have been watching F1 since 2007 and ever since the event came to Singapore in 2008, I have been a spectator and a keen fan heading to multiple drivers’ events,” Fan explains. “In 2010, I met a friend who told me that she was volunteering for the race and honestly, I did not know someone could do that! I immediately signed myself up for 2011. I really do think that volunteering completes my experience Spa 2012: marshalls tend to Fernando Alonso after the first-corner shunt 37 GPWEEK.com // 37 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: