**First of all, I must point out that I didn’t break any rules nor drink any champagne this weekend. That’s just the racing drivers… but it made me sound cool and ‘edgy’ and above all, it made you click didn’t it?
Now, to business; when OneRepublic started singing in my bedroom at 5.30am on Saturday morning, I thought to myself; ‘There is no way I can do this two days in a row.’ I mean really? Why am I getting up two hours earlier than I do for my actual job… just to totter around in a pair of orange overalls?
Once I had had a cup of coffee and made it to the track, I remembered exactly why I endure getting out of my nice, comfy, warm bed at such an ungodly hour… cars, engines, race tracks and, erm, Italian men… no, sorry, scrap that last one.
Last weekend Donington Park played host to the inaugural UK International Supercars event which, when they say ‘international’ almost suggests that there is a whole array of competing countries, when in fact it was pretty much an Italian pit lane, with former Formula One and BTCC driver Johnny Herbert thrown in for good measure.
Allocated to Pits & Startline, I was lucky enough to have another go at ‘gridding up’ which is now my favourite marshalling job ever! Obviously I forgot to bring a clipboard, pen, stopwatch or whistle with me so I trotted up to the officials office and managed to blag myself a folding clipboard from the Donington Park track manager Bob Adams.
The only problem was, I didn’t realise I was chatting to (and begging from) a Donington Park bigwig as I rambled on about how I needed a new job and that I think Donington / BARC / Sebastian Vettel should employ me. Probably not the best way to go about seeking employment, but there you go…. that’s Ruth Harrison’s jobseekers approach for you.
Once I had finished chatting to Bob and watching things on the telly, I pottered back into the pits to do some actual work. Gridding up was brilliant as usual, although I was terrified when I found out I had a whole row of cars to look after – rather than just one car as with the BTCC at Oulton Park – I did it brilliantly if I do say so myself, and popped everyone in their right places at top speed. I even had another go at the Pole Plag for the British Scooter Championship –yes, actual grown men racing around on Lambrettas – which was rather exciting and led me to be dubbed ‘red’ after taking brilliant control of the gigantic red flag. I’m a natural at it now you know…
Wearing nothing but an orange jumpsuit for protection whilst you stand on the start line with a flag above your head might sound easy enough, but when you have a field of motorised wonders hurtling towards you, you have to grit your teeth and hope their brakes work… or, as the case may be, hope they don’t confuse their green flag lap with the start of the race and carry on, baffled as to why there’s a woman stood in the middle of the track.
Elsewhere, we had a great time watching the 90 minute Speed Euroseries race. *groan*. I’m not usually a fan on endurance racing but this time was quite a turn up for the books. After I moved further up pit lane following being hit in the shins numerous times by an over-enthusiastic, skinny-jeans wearing Wolf Racing bloke who seemed to have all spatial awareness cut off by the massive headphones clamped around his head, I got chatting to Nigel Greensall and his team and ended up having the best 90 minutes of endurance ever.
Regardless of the fact that I had to concentrate for 15 minutes when the pit stop window opened to make sure all teams swapped drivers, didn’t undo their belts whilst the car was still moving etc, etc, I had a great time trying to get my head around why some people bothered to carry on racing when they were 6 laps down, how compulsory pit stops can alter a team’s position on the podium and ultimately, how one driver can storm out a hefty lead over their rivals, only to have it shattered once someone else got behind the wheel.
Whilst a lot of marshals complain that endurance racing means no drinking tea, sitting down, going to the loo or eating of pork pies for longer than they would like, if you’re in pit lane, it can become quite interesting; especially if your ‘teacher’ is a former personal trainer, I find that always makes me far more willing to learn.
Now, to move on to the stars of the weekend, who have rather egotistically named themselves ‘The Superstars’, my oh my, what an experience… first of all the teams and drives seemed quite happy to smoke in pit lane, in the pit garages, in the toilets, in the cars, and most shockingly of all, whilst working on the cars AND filling them up with petrol.
It reminded me of that childhood game where you have little moles coming up out of a plastic tray and you have to whack them with a plastic hammer. Kind of like Whack Attack but with animals. Each time you told one person not to smoke, someone else would spark up! This wasn’t just on the Saturday either, oh no, you would have thought they would have got the message after the 10th time I told them not to smoke… but no, it carried on right up until they left the circuit on Sunday night. I mean really, smoke if you like mate, but don’t blow up your car and my face while you’re at it. I might have probans on, but my head had no fireproofing on AT ALL – not even Piz Buin Factor 25 – and I was not up for being burnt to a crisp.
Not only that, but they decided to have a photo call for all the photographers, in the pit lane, whilst the Pick Up Truck racing was on. Meaning that if any truck driver wanted to come into the pits and have a mechanic tweak his car, or if the firemen needed to race out to an inferno, they couldn’t; because we had Maseratis, Chevrolets, Mercedes and BMW’s sticking out here, there and everywhere. Why we didn’t do the photo call at lunch was beyond me, oh no wait, that’s right, it was because they decided to host the first ever Pit Lane Walkabout Autograph session with no drivers. It also took them quite a while to realise that opening the front of the garages tends to help when the public are in the pit lane. Isn’t that right Peter Hodges?
Not only that, but it was as though they’d been locked up in a motor racing prison for 10 years, and then released into the wild at Donington Park, deeming it appropriate to wolf-whistle as I sauntered past. Granted, it can do wonders for a woman’s confidence after she put 4lbs following a weekend of cider, pot noodles and debauchery, but it got a bit wearing after the first day. Luckily there were a batch of lycra-clad stick insects on hand to lap up their attentions on Sunday, and I could focus on making friends with Fabrizio Armetta’s fashion-forward team member, Alessandro Santuz!
You know me, I can talk to anyone, so it wasn’t long before I was convincing the grandfather of Luigi Ferrara that they needed an English-speaking PR girl, sadly for me he didn’t really understand English and just kept saying; ‘Bella, bella’ before having me take off my sunglasses and asking me to kiss random members of the team and the car for ‘good luck.’ Something seemed to work though, as they finished in second place following my presence in their garage. I think it might have been my telling them that I like champagne.
It wasn’t all fun and games, as I did have a bit of a ‘to do’ with a Caterham driver on Saturday morning after he thought my colleague had gridded him in the wrong place. Even though he was actually in the correct slot, he was too busy worrying about where everyone else was on the grid, and proceeded to shake his fist at me on his way back into the pits after his race, then shout ‘AMATUERS’ at the team on his way up to Race Control to complain. Very mature. He probably had a string vest underneath his Sparco overalls.
I have rambled on quite a lot here, but I think that was because it was one of the most enjoyable weekends of marshalling I have had as yet. The atmosphere at Donington is friendly, helpful and doesn’t suffer from any of the power-troopers that riddle many other places. Regardless of the fact I wasn’t overly fond of the circuit on my last visit, I’m now waiting for the BMMC to tell me when I can go down again!
Photos courtesy of Nick Deeley from Surreal Illusions Photography: www.surrealillusions.co.uk“