Last weekend was the first round of the MSA British Rally Championship, the Sunseeker Rally. Like the vast majority of motorsport fans I normally just watch this on TV but when I was given the opportunity to marshal on one of the stages I thought, “why not? It’s time that I gave something back to this sport of ours”.
I have to admit that although I do watch rallying from time to time I am more of a circuit racing fanatic and my involvement in the sport is working with a team, in the pit lane, the paddock and the pit wall. Never as a marshal. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I pushed aside my fireproof racing shoes and reached over to put on a pair of sturdy walking boots for a day of motorsport.
This was the opening round of a six round championship, that sees 4 gravel rounds and 2 asphalt. This was one of the gravel rounds through the forests of Hampshire and Dorset and each stage is run by a local motor club, everyone working there was a volunteer. The stage that I would be working on was being run by the Central Sussex Motor Club. Sign on time was 10am, being unsure of where to go and unsure of the signing on process I thought I would get there early. It turned out to be a very easy process, just because it was organised by volunteers didn’t mean that it wasn’t professional.
Once I was signed on and given my offical accreditation (a high-viz jacket and badge saying ‘Marshal’) I had plenty of time to meet and greet my fellow marshals. Like anyone in a new situation I was slightly shy but was soon given a cup of tea and made to feel very welcome by the others.
People were briefed as they signed on and then sent to their various positions for the day. My position was to be right on the start line, my job was to give the co-driver his start time and fill out his start line paperwork. Fearful of getting it wrong I was a little unsure about this but everything was very patently and expertly explained to me and all my questions were answered without making me feel stupid!
Once everyone had signed on it was time to get the start-line ready. The timing men came a went leaving behind the official clocks, start lights and timing beam for the start-line. The official cars stopped to make sure that everyone was in place, the jump-start system was checked and that all the safety equipment was in place. It was then that the serious work of getting the log burner working and the kettle boiling started!
Before long the first competitors started to arrive. The rally was to have 4 different classes competing, Historic, Challenge, National and International.
The historics were the first to set off. A beautiful Audi Quattro was the first of the safety cars, it would set off to make sure the road was clear, that everyone was paying attention and to test the equipment. Under instruction from the stage safety officer I filled in the information that the co-driver needed, stood back and watched the lights count down. As the lights turned green the car launched itself off the start line in a furious explosion of pops and bangs showering everyone and everything in stones and gravel thrown up by all four of its wheels, then disappeared round the corner.
With a massive grin on my face I waited for the first competitor to take its place on the start-line. This time it was a rear wheel drive Ford Escort Mk2. Working as a team the timing officer, Lynton, the stage safety officer, Graham and I made sure the car was correctly lined up at the start line, the driver and the co-driver knew their starting time and gave them their 30 second warning. Again as the lights turned green the car leapt off the line. Being rear wheel drive the gravel shower wasn’t as bad as before but was no less dramatic with the car slipping and sliding to gain traction before changing gear and power-siding round the first corner. Seeing the silly grin on my face Graham turned to me and said, “Welcome to proper racing”.
We soon slipped in to a working routine and sent a car off every 60 seconds. Before I knew it all competitors had gone through the stage without a hitch. Unfortuantly the same could not be said the the stage after us. Word soon reached us that one of the competitors had managed to roll their car before it landed on its wheels then promptly set alight the surrounding bushes as well as itself. Thankfully both the driver and co-driver escaped unharmed and no one else was involved.
Thanks to the Daily Echo for this snap
After lunch we made sure everything was ready for our second stage to do it all over again.
Thanks to Tim White for this photo
It was a great day and I really enjoyed my first outing as a marshal. The rally had a massive range of cars from old Escorts, Metros and Evos to the new breed of two wheel drive rally cars, Renault Twingos, Fiestas, and Swifts. There was even the armed forces rally team in their Land Rover Defenders thundering through the woods. Marshalling is the perfect way to get up close to the action and everyone made me feel very welcome and part of the team, the only downside was that because of the speed we had to work at I didn’t have time to take any photos of the cars.
I want to say a big thank you to Graham for helping me through the day, the Central Sussex Motor Club for inviting me along and most importantly a big thank you to all the marshals involved, without the efforts of these volunteers this rally and indeed any motorsport event would not be able to happen, they really are the unsung heroes of our sport and deserve much more then then they get.
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