Our latest Q&A is with Andrew Howarth, a regular marshal at Donington Park and Croft, to find out more about the Orange Army.
How many years have you been marshalling for?
2019 will be my 28th year of marshalling. I started marshalling at Oulton Park when I was 18 years old.
You have marshalling roles at Donington Park and Croft. What is your role at a typical meeting:
As a member of the Donington ES Team my role is usually Incident Officer. This role means I am in charge of a team of marshals at whatever post I have been allocated. The Post Chief has overall control of the post.
It involves finding out what experience my team has and placing marshals with less experience with more experienced marshals. Doing this helps to ensure newer marshals learn how to do things during the day. From dealing with incidents to dressing oil on the track and keeping the track clean.
I give a briefing at the start of the day setting out what I want the team to do, where I want fire extinguishers to be placed, where I want marshals to stand (or not stand). I’m also responsible for their well-being and safety.
The role at Donington also includes “Snatching.” This is removing stricken cars from wherever they are- gravel traps, tyre walls, on the grass, on the track, etc with the help of the tele-handlers. Every single snatch is different as you are never quite sure until you get to the car of how you are going to move it. Sometimes it is as straight forward as attaching a hook to a towing strap and towing the car to a safe place. A common problem is that the straps are not always secured to the cars properly so as soon as any strain is applied to it it pulls off (sometimes taking the bumper with it). Other times the car needs lifting and then it’s trying to find structural parts of cars to lift from whilst also trying to balance it and not cause further damage to what can be extremely valuable cars.
I am also part of the Rescue crew at Donington and also for Darlington and District Motor Club who can usually be found at Croft Circuit (or on a rally stage or at a sprint). For both of these units a good day is when you go home having done nothing at all. When a unit is scrambled we can be faced with anything. Most of the time it’s precautionary and everyone is ok. Other times it’s not ok and it’s a case of doing what we’ve been trained to do. Luckily motorsport is a lot safer than it used to be but the danger is still there and sometimes bad things do happen.
Part 1 – Donington
I’m not sure of the exact numbers required to run a meeting (that’s a question for the folks in race control). The simple answer is we need as many marshals as possible (except for the big meetings where there is always more than enough). There have been a few club meetings where there has been myself and a flag marshal on a post. Not ideal but you just have to make it work.
Q2. Looking at each marshal post, does each marshal have a set role to play or is it more of an all together approach with the odd role, such as dealing with fire, for a set individual? Discuss.
Each marshals post should have a Post Chief (the person in charge who radios in track limits, contact, whether they want a safety car or race stop to deal with an incident, whether medical or fire help is needed), one or two flag marshals and a mix of experienced and hopefully trainee marshals. The marshals decide who is taking which fire extinguisher(Powder or Foam) and who is going to turn the electrics off on a car and who is going to take care of the driver.
Q3. Not every marshal post has a phone. What added responsibility is there for connected marshal posts and are the phone roles only given to the more experienced marshals?
A lot of clubs use radios as phones sometimes become a victim of bad weather. Using radios also makes the Post Chief more mobile rather than having to stand by the phone. All posts have a phone or radio. These are direct links to race control and are used by the Post Chiefs. The Snatch marshals also have radios with headsets (so we can hear what is being said whilst keeping your hands free). These are also a direct link to race control, but are on a separate frequency to the Post Chiefs radios. The snatch marshals radio in to say whether they can physically move a car or if they need a tele-handler. They can also call for a Rescue Unit as it is quicker than signalling back to the Post Chief (although signalling to the PC is also done so they know what is going on)
Q4. Donington is now run by MSV. Have you noticed a difference from a marshals perspective?
MSV have made a big difference in the short time they have been in charge. They have given us a better place to sign on in the morning and they are improving the areas around the track where the marshals work. New toilet blocks which are important for everybody but especially the marshals who are out there all day and nature always calls.
Q5: Different clubs run meetings at Donington Park. What (if any) differences does it make to your role which club is running the meeting and are some better than others?
Different clubs running meetings makes no difference to marshals roles. It’s the same for every meeting. Some clubs are better than others. Some feed you and give you free things like pens, caps, badges. Others give you absolutely nothing.
Q6. Donington has run many an international meeting over the years. Does your role change compared to a UK meeting?
For International meetings the marshalling roles are pretty much the same. The main differences are the rules for flags are slightly different as are rules for track limits and sometimes regarding whether or not a car can rejoin a race after being removed from a gravel trap.
Q7. How has the role of the marshal changed since you started at Donington?
The role has changed a bit since I first started. It used to be Course and Fire Marshals. Course roles were looking after the track and Fire was in charge of putting fires out. It has over the years merged into the same role which makes a lot more sense.
Part 2 – Croft
Q2. Croft also has a rallycross track which will require less marshals but does it bring a different way of working and is it easier or harder day for you? Discuss.
Rallycross is usually easier to marshal as there is not as many cars on track at the same time. From a Rescue Unit point of view at a race meeting the units change position during the day whereas with Rallycross the unit is stationed in the pitlane all day.
Q3. Being part of the rescue unit, what tools do you have to rescue the broken or crash damaged vehicles and what is the main challenge?
Rescue Units carry Hydraulic cutting and spreading tools for gaining access to the driver. There is also battery saws, hacksaws, crowbars, tool kits, sledge hammer, knives, jack, chocks, ropes, etc. The main challenge is to safely get the driver out without making any injuries worse.
Q4. In terms of recovery, I understand Croft has a license to do a live snatch at Clervaux. What are the rules on its use and do you need to prove it is necessary to get a license?
Live snatches are carried out under double waved yellows although a lot are now being carried out behind the Safety Car these days for extra safety.
Part 3 – Scenarios
Q1. A crash happens in front of your post and all other cars have cleared the scene. How long do you have to clear the scene before a safety car is called (ie how close can you allow the cars to get to returning) and who makes that call?
If the crash happens towards the start of the race when the field is together we would try to clear the scene between the last car passing and the lead car returning under double waved yellows. Race control will give you the number of the last car and then let you know when the lead car is about one corner away. If the field is spread out than a safety car is the best option. It gets all the cars on the same piece of track and if the safety car goes slow enough we should be able to clear within one or two laps. The decision on the safety car is made between the Post Chief and Race Control.
Q2. Debris is on track near your post. Who makes the call whether to pick it up and is someone nominated to run out if required?
The Incident Officer makes the call on picking up debris. I follow the rule of if I don’t feel it’s safe to go and pick up the debris then I won’t send anyone else out for it. I tend to ask one of the fitter members of the team to do this or go myself. I also ask race control to find me a gap in the traffic to go out in. If this is not possible and the debris is a danger then it’s safety car time.
Q3. You see an incident in front of you in which a driver has been pushed off track but everyone continues. Is this reported and what is the process?
The Post Chief will phone or radio in to race control the incident. He will then write a written report explaining what took place using facts and not opinions. It can be counter signed by any other member of the team that saw the incident. The report will then be collected and taken to the Stewards/Clerks who will then decide on any punishments.
Q4. The safety car is out to clear an incident up and one of the cars is smoking, possibly on fire. Is everyone trained to deal with fire and what is the protocol to deal with fire?
Every marshal on post is trained to deal with fires. The protocol for fire fighting is to approach in pairs. One with the powder extinguisher and one with the foam extinguisher. The one with the powder leads as their extinguisher will smother the flames and the foam will then cool the area of the fire and seal in the fuel or oil that had ignited thus removing one of the elements that causes fires.
Q5. If a car is suspected of having a potential mechanical issue, does each marshal post pay attention to the car as it passes their post and pass judgement to race control if they have a phone? What is the procedure?
If a car is suspected of having a mechanical issue it will be reported to race control by individual posts. Race control will then ask the scrutineers to observe the car and they will make the call as to whether they want the car to pit or whether they are happy for the car to continue.
Q6. A car has deposited oil on a section of the track. What do you put down to cover it and what condition does the track need to be in before the green light is given for racing to resume?
If there is oil down on the track and it is dry then cement powder is usually used to absorb the oil. It is brushed in which is usually enough to allow the cars to continue. If the slick is too bad then the race will be stopped and circuit maintenance will be called and they will jet wash the track with special detergent.
Q7. A crash happens and one of the drivers needs medical attention. Are there rules on who can and cannot do anything and what medical cover in terms of ambulances/paramedics is available?
If a driver needs medical attention then marshals on scene should do basic first aid (if they can). A Rescue Unit or Medical car will be available anywhere on circuit within 90 seconds. On a Unit arriving they will gather information regarding the incident and take over the scene. The Doctor on board is in charge of the casualty and the crew will then act according to what the Doctor requires. The usual cover for a circuit is two Rescue Units and a Medical Car. There are also ambulances who can deal with casualties on and off track. There are also Fire Tenders available.
Q8. You are recovering a car at Croft. Do time pressures come into how a car is recovered and are there ramifications if you damaged the car further in any way?
With any circuit there is always pressure to recover a car as quick as possible. Nobody sets out to do any damage to a car but sometimes it happens. There are not normally any ramifications other than having an angry driver shouting at you.
Q9. A car breaks down near you. Who decides if this a local yellow or a safety car requirement?
If a car breaks down near me it will be a single waved yellow until the marshals go out, when it becomes a double waved yellow. We will do everything we can to push it out of the way. If it doesn’t move then we need mechanical assistance to move it. This will lead to a Safety Car so it can be done safely.
Q10. The car that breaks down or crashes near you has a paraplegic driver at the helm. How does this affect the response?
If the driver of a car has a disability it will usually be marked on the car near the cars number with a “D.” We will go out as usual and then assist the driver however we can. If they need help getting out then that is what they will get. If they have had a big accident then a Rescue Unit will probably be scrambled as it would with any big accident.
Part 4 – World view
Q1. F1 is keen on flashing yellow boards rather than a marshal waving a flag. Is this the way forward? Discuss.
I think it is the way forward as they are brighter than flags and if it is a long period of flag waving it can get very tiring on the arms. It also better for the drivers that don’t see flags.
Q2. F1 also brought us the virtual safety car. Should this be more universally enforced and do drivers truly slow down under yellow?
VSC sometimes works although I personally prefer full safety cars. Drivers sometimes think they have slowed down, but try standing near a track when a car goes past at 130mph-but it’s ok because they have slowed down from the usual 150mph. It’s still way to fast and it is scary.
Q3. Track limits are a hot topic. What is the answer here? Do we need to return to gravel traps, add tyres on corners, raise kerbs, use the MSV camera system and/or have we just gone overboard?
Track limits is a hot topic. If drivers weren’t gaining an advantage from cutting corners they wouldn’t do. I like the MSV system and think it should be used more. The fact that there is photographic evidence takes away the argument of whether it was track limits or not. For me the white line is the end of the track so race between it.
Q4. The British marshal will often go on track whereas in America they will throw a full course yellow for the slightest thing for a marshal to go out on a truck. I understand the need on ovals but do you think they are too cautious? Discuss.
I don’t think it’s a case of them being too cautious, it’s just the system that they use and it works for them. Sometimes I think the incident could have been cleared quicker if they let marshals go out to cars but they are obviously happy with how it works.
Q5. When you watch motorsport around the world, in terms of marshalling, what has stood out as being an excellent idea or reaction to an event and what has left you dumbstruck?
I do see things that has made me wonder why the marshals have dealt with things the way they have but I don’t wish to bad mouth them as it is very easy to do that whilst sat on a sofa. Doing it for real is different and I wish spectators,etc would think about that. Marshals are under pressure and incidents are fluid so you are trying to think what to do whilst trying to do it and trying to keep yourself safe.
Part 5 – new recruit
If anybody is reading this potentially thinking of becoming a marshal, why should they volunteer and where should their first line of inquiry be?
If anyone is thinking of becoming a marshal then give it a go. Most circuits now hold taster days which is the ideal way to sample marshalling. As a marshal you will have the best view of any race. Closer to the action and no catch fence blocking your view. You will make new friends and become a member of a big team- the Orange Army. It does become addictive, hence why I have been doing it for so long. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be for everyone. But please give it a try. It can change your life. You can start your journey by contacting the British Motorsport Marshal’s Club. Their website is marshals.co.uk and that has all the information required to get started.
Thank you to Andrew for his insight on life in the Orange Army. Without marshals there would be no racing and they do an excellent job in all weather.