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As a race fan it is very easy to turn up at the track, watch the race, and go home again without giving a thought to the work which goes into preparing the facility for the event. For a race as large as the FIA European Finals that work starts a long time before the first competitors arrive. We went up to Santa Pod Raceway on the Tuesday of 2004 FIA European Finals week to see the preparatory work.
Several members of Santa Pod's operating team give up their annual leave from work and other personal time to make SPR ready for each event. Chief Marshal Steve Horn, who also heads up the timing crew, has hardly been away from Santa Pod recently. "We worked until nine o'clock last night replacing bulbs on the top end scoreboards", he said. "Some of the other guys were still working after that - Steve Warner was working on the track lines until it got too dark to see. Jon Cross, Steve Warner, Andy Willcox, Geoff Quaife, David Anniwell and I also spent a lot of time yesterday painting the red and black areas around the start line as well as the centre line."
"We have also thoroughly checked both Christmas Trees. We have four Tree driver boxes and we will be checking each one. We have also already checked the spares for all of the emitter/receiver cells down the track: it's exactly the same as a racer knowing that their vehicle is alright but checking it all anyway even if it doesn't need it."
Steve and David spent some time this morning repainting the start line and the blue line after a narrow strip of start line was repaved last week. Later on they replaced all of the sponge blocks which contain the reflectors for the timing beams. "These sponge blocks come in at about forty pounds apiece", said Steve. "You have to place them very carefully as there is only three inches of tolerance. Luckily the concrete wall gives the emitters a solid mounting."
Some of the sponge blocks were saved for re-use but fifty or so pounds' worth of sponge had been pecked to pieces by crows for their own inscrutable reasons so the reflectors were removed and then the blocks disposed of.
Later in the evening the last few entries were made to the racer database on the TSI timing system. "It has been three or four nights' work to enter all the data into the timing system", said Steve. "Paula Marshall gives me frequent updates on the entry list so that I can go through and check it. Next year we will be introducing a software upgrade which will allow racers to update their own details over the internet, which will be a great help both to the racer and to us". Your reporter got the chance to enter this weekend's Comp Eliminator field onto the timing database, so advance apologies to Messrs Stenström, Chiarella, Tebenham and Ljungberg for any embarrassing errors.
Timing crew member Martin Wallis was also gainfully employed this evening setting up a TV link to the VIP marquee and replacing the bulbs on the external lights on Race Control.
Tomorrow's work list for Steve and his team includes checking the roll-out on the new start line, a task which is done every day during a race, and operating the timing system for Press Day as well as any other jobs which Track Managers Kjell Pettersson and David Lloyd-Jones identify.
Santa Pod's Race Director Darren Prentice and Fire Chief Jon Cross have been at Santa Pod Raceway since last Tuesday. "We started off by getting the site ready", said Darren. "We swept the track and the pits and then we moved on to scraping the track from just before the start line out to sixty feet. We washed all the track signage and then filled potholes whilst the pits and start line were being repaved. Then we got the track ready for Saturday's Professional Test and Sunday's Run What You Brung."
Darren and Jon came back to the track yesterday and did more work to prepare the pits, which have been set out in a new way for this event. "It's similar to the American block system", explained Jon Cross. "The idea behind it is to ease traffic congestion in the pits. Kjell Pettersson has been working on it for three days. We can get a lot more vehicles into less space, which has freed up a lot more space which in turn puts more racers on the hard standing."
"Kjell and I finished marking up the pits at about ten o'clock last night, and then I went home and worked on this weekend's running orders until four o'clock this morning", said Darren. "Then it was back here to do some more work on the pits, pit the early arrivals, and get the site ready for Press Day". As the track was very carefully prepped for the weekend's Professional Test and Run What You Brung it has not needed any prep work so far this week, although track prep for Press Day will be starting at 8:00 tomorrow morning.
For Marketing Manager Caroline Day and assistant Kelly Ingall the work to promote the FIA European Finals starts even before May's FIA Main Event. "There is a lot of planning to do because of the lead times of magazines and television planning", said Caroline. "We also organise appearances at shows and exhibitions - this past weekend we have been at Rockingham. There is signage to organise as well as flyers and just recently we did an SMS message broadcast to some of our customer database.
"As the event comes closer then we have to put in a lot of work on the event programme, I liaise with Roger Gorringe and a lot of the programme content is based on who has entered so we have to keep a frequent eye on the entry list. This week we have been working on the final Press accreditations, and we have been working with Nitro FM on their programme for the weekend."
Caroline and Kelly also take the corporate bookings. "Goodyear have one group of 328 people coming this weekend, and we have a group from the Motorsport Industry Association who are fairly key players in our business", said Caroline. "This is on top of all of our usual smaller groups of VIPs and corporate guests."
The track office also handles a large number of enquiries by phone in the week leading up to the FIA European Finals, and Caroline said that the volume of E-Mail enquiries was also growing by the week.
Whilst your reporter was speaking to the track staff today, Geoff, Andy and Crispin strimmed the entire length of the spectator bank which is no small task. Work was also underway to prepare the VIP marquee on the pit side as well as the VIP suites on both sides of the start line. The barriers in the approach road were being painted and the marquee for the post-race Banquet was also being attended to. Meanwhile a workman from lane sponsor Cadbury's Boost spent the whole day attaching banners to the track lamp standards.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be doubly busy for the track staff as Santa Pod is holding its Press Day, with no less than thirty racers putting demonstration passes, whilst the final preparations are made. Competitors will also be starting to arrive in numbers, so a number of the staff will be deployed to direct racers to their pits. Track announcer John Price will also be arriving with his audio kit, and Nitro FM will be setting up and testing.
This has of necessity only been an overview of the tremendous amount of work and effort which goes into preparing Santa Pod Raceway for an event of the size of the FIA European Finals. It's a story which is repeated at every track around Europe week in and week out through the season and we all owe a debt of gratitude in huge inverse proportion to a relatively small number of hard-working and selfless individuals. So when those big numbers come up on the scoreboards at the weekend, and when the thirty eighth Pro ET car rounds off another incident-free qualifying session, then be sure to spare a thought for those who make it all possible.