More from our resident racer
“ARE FLAGS THE BEST WE CAN DO IN THE DIGITAL AGE?”
Acouple of recent race meetings have got me thinking about driving standards and discipline in historic racing. Itʼs not that there is a problem, just that there may be room for improvement. There are three areas in which issues typically arise. The first is track limits and what is done when they are exceeded, particularly if an advantage is sought or gained. Until recently, you exceeded track limits if you put four wheels over the white line on the edge of the Tarmac. That remains the case elsewhere, but the rule has changed in the UK.
Here, for a few seasons now, you exceed track limits when you put one wheel over the same white line or beyond a painted kerb. Many period photographs of cars cornering at the limit are now illustrations of them exceeding track limits. Can that be right? Anyway, I imagine this is why my number was shown with a black-and-white driving standards flag at the Silverstone Classic. Hmm.
For now, let me simply say that the signaling gantry is in an awful position and itʼs not clear – other than via introspection – what the signal means. Move the gantry – the clue is that the chequered flag is repeated on the straight – and convey the information more clearly.
Next, and more serious from a safety point of view, are yellow flags, waved yellows, slow zones and safety cars. All are different ways of handling incidents on track while stopping short of stopping the race. We are supposed to slow down under a yellow flag and to do so considerably under waved yellows. Okay, got it, but what does it actually mean? I think we would all have difficulty putting a number on it.
The speed permitted in the slow zones at Le Mans Classic was clearly quantified at 80kph. A number of competitors still seemed to struggle, but at least it was clearer what they had or hadnʼt done. The safety car is another source of misunderstanding. It probably doesnʼt help that itʼs usually signalled by a yellow flag with an SC board.
As we have seen, a yellow flag means slow down, except that under a safety car you donʼt really slow down until you catch the car in front, which is itself doing the same thing. Sooner or later, you form a line behind the safety car, which then controls the speed.
To say it doesnʼt always work like that is an understatement. The usual
problem is that someone slows down too much too soon!
The protocol that yellow flags, waved yellows, slow zones and safety cars have in common is that thereʼs no overtaking. I was surprised then, when following a safety car at Silverstone, to be overtaken by someone seemingly slicing through the field. I discovered, after the session, that this behaviour attracted no sanction. Could it have been unseen? No. It would have shown up in race control. The cars have transponders that show their positions at all times.
I am not in favour of penalties being handed out without good reason – a quiet word or two can often work wonders – but this was a case, unlike my inconsequential track limits excursion, where something was surely required.
The reluctance of the officials to issue sanctions at Silverstone contrasted with the readiness of their counterparts to do so at Le Mans. Needless to say, as soon as the safety car went back in, someone else shot past me well before we reached the re-start line on the track!
Then there is car-to-car contact. Again, I was surprised by what I saw in one of the races at Silverstone. Some contact is, perhaps, unavoidable. So-called racing incidents happen at far higher levels of the sport than we can sensibly aspire to. But some is avoidable – so how to ensure the avoidable is avoided?
Peter Auto – the organisers behind Le Mans Classic – require those responsible to pay half of the resulting repair bill. Iʼm not entirely sure what the process is by which responsibility is determined, or whether the outcome is enforceable or appealable, but the provision may nonetheless be a deterrent.
Another possibility – practiced in categories of contemporary racing – is to say where professionals and amateurs compete against each other, the driver from the higher category will be held responsible unless evidence clearly shows the contrary. It would be very interesting to see Goodwood try something like that at the Revival!
A final thought is that some, if not all of the above, could be improved by better communication. Are flags the best we can do in the digital age? Is it time to allow more technology in historic racing? It wouldnʼt be period correct, but neither, as we have seen, are the current track limits not to mention a number of other features of what is an increasingly modern and professional pastime. CP
This is allowed, but in the UK you have to be inside the white line at the end of the kerb. (Photo credit: 2-Litre Cup/jayson Fong)
Robert Barrie is a classic Porsche enthusiast through and through. As well as competing in historic events with a variety of early Porsches and organising track days, heʼs also a purveyor of fine classic automobiles