Grid Walk

Saturday June 2

If you’re an F1 fan you are probably familiar with the “grid walk”. American fans watched Will Buxton do it for a few years. British fans have been watching Martin Brundle do it for twenty years. It’s the segment of the F1 broadcast where Martin (or Will) walks through the grid just before the race, chatting up whoever he finds, whether it be drivers, team principles, or celebrities.

Today I did my little version of it. It’s nothing so glamorous. Today I helped run the grid for the CECA event at HPR. My job was to check the cars as they formed up on the grid before being released onto the track. I was to see that they had the proper wristband for the session, they had their tech sticker, their helmets were on, their seatbelts fastened, and were properly attired (long pants, long-sleeved shirts, no open toed shoes).

Each group is called to the grid starting about ten minutes before their session starts. Although there are typically a few cars that don’t arrive until their session starts, most of the cars in the group get lined up beforehand and wait in line for a short while. That allowed my garrulous self to have a quick chat with just about everybody. As each driver runs three or four sessions, the only drivers I didn’t talk to a few times were those who were late to join their sessions. Perhaps they were the only ones smart enough to avoid my small-talk.

Obviously, I’d rather be out running laps than working on the grid. But I had a good time nonetheless. Sure, I stood in the sun all day and got a bit sunburned (there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time), walking up and down a short section of tarmac. But I got a good look at all the cars and although I didn’t have a radio, I could hear Joe’s and thus had a pretty good idea of what was going on everywhere.

The obligatory list of cars: three Elises and an Exige, two Ferraris (a 430 Scuderia and a 355 F1 Berlinetta), a Pantera, a couple of Miatas, a Mini, a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 (boasting a built 351cid motor pumping out 450hp), 3 Scion FR-S, 2 Vipers, a Camaro, a stable of Mustangs, a fleet of Corvettes, and a scad of Porsches and a few miscellaneous others. We had twenty or so cars in each group, so a busy day for a CECA event.

Here are a few tidbits I gleaned:

  • I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Ferrari 355 was no garage queen, having over 46,000 miles on the odometer being tracked regularly.
  • One of the Vipers was being driven by a fellow who had not driven the car before that morning.
  • A chap in a Corvette not only hadn’t driven that car before today, but this was his first time driving a left-hand drive stick shift. (He was a recent transplant from Australia.)
  • A fully race-prepared Mustang hit the track with the ECU still in transport mode, where the engine wouldn’t rev more than 3,000 rpm. The owner managed to get it sorted before his second session.

We had no tow truck for this event. Instead, we relied on a pickup truck with a tow strap. We had to deploy it three or four times. One stricken car (a brand new Mustang) had no tow hook. Luckily, he was just out of gas so the sketchy tow was avoided.

One of the cars that needed to be towed in was Mark’s black Elise. The battery came loose. When it happened to me last year, it stayed hooked up and I didn’t know it was flopping around until I opened the boot in the paddock. In Mark’s case (or his daughter’s, actually) the battery not only became disconnected, it leaked acid in the boot. The car stopped, the gauges froze, and they had a bit of a mess to clean up. They didn’t seem to suffer any clam damage though.

I spent a lot of my time standing next to the wall at the end of the pit straight and entry into turn 1. I was a bit surprised how quiet most of the cars were. I may be wrong, but I’m thinking my car is louder than any of the four Lotus that were running today.

This is one of the three passing zones on the track. It’s up close and personal. One of the others is on the highway straight, which is also visible from here. The third is between turns 5 and 6, out of sight over the hill to the west. Obviously, this isn’t racing, but it’s interesting to see which cars are fast, and which drivers are fast. Best example perhaps was one of the FR-S’s. When I thought I saw it pass the yellow Ferrari, I asked Joe. “That FR-S just pass the Ferrari?” “Yup.” Next time around he passed a Viper. The next lap the Ferrari passed the Viper but both were still on the tail of the FR-S. Then the FR-S opened up some space. At the end of the day I talked with the FR-S driver. He says the car is totally stock. But he does have some racing experience, so he knows how to get around a track.

Late in the day, a 1969 Mustang came off the track and when they parked it in the paddock it promptly caught fire. The fuel filler is above the rear bumper in the center. He had an old gas cap which evidently leaked, spilling fuel on the exhaust. They managed to put out the fire with little damage, but it did cause a bit of excitement.

I think the oddest part of my day was during the lunch break. They allow for some “parade” laps. With no corner workers out, we were allowed a few slow laps, limited to about 60mph. I did three laps. It felt strange being on the track with no helmet, going slow. The idea was that Joe would lead the parade. But he and I were the only cars out, and we were half a lap apart. I made a half-hearted attempt to take all the slow turns as fast as I could, so long as I never topped sixty. It felt pretty weird.

I’d much rather be driving than working grid, but I was happy to lend a helping hand. I don’t see why I can’t do this again, perhaps once each year.

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