Organiser, coordinator, doc: race physician Dr Michael Scholz
Back in July 1997, when the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben was opened in the Magdeburger Börde region, Dr Scholz detected a completely new option, for his future. “This was a kind of a kick-off,” says Scholz who is DMSB Association Doctor today and also is the Executive Race Physician in every DTM race meeting. He is a true expert, a member of the FIA Medical Commission and also rendered outstanding services to motor racing by his honorary commitment. When the season is kicked off and the different series start racing, Scholz is busy virtually day in day out.
WEC, Formula One, Formula E and ADAC GT Masters – the DTM races including all their support series aren’t the only events Scholz attends to. Far from it! He attends every DTM weekend and also is responsible for the medical aspects of any other motor-racing event on German racetracks. Scholz: “As far as my schedule allows me to do so, I attend every race in Germany. That’s really time-consuming as there also are the international events and all my organisational duties. FIA Medical Commission, Anti Doping Commission and quite a number of special training courses.” So he runs – for instance – courses for a kind of basic medical education at the motor-racing activities and optimises the respective procedures, there.
And even in the off-season, Scholz continues his activities for the motor sport. DTM uses to hold several days of testing prior to a season and these days can be crucial for the future medical care. Scholz: “There are quite a number of possible injury examples. A big field we are fully aware of are the so-called mild brain injuries. They possibly can have severe consequences as detecting them is difficult. There aren’t serious symptoms and even MRT and CT possibly won’t find anything.” For this reason, all the DTM drivers have to answer a number of test questions that help to identify their cognitive performance. “These questions and answers give us a base line,” says Scholz. “We know what a driver is able to do and following a crash, we can use the results of the test questions as reference value. That’s an important factor for the question when a driver may return into the cockpit. We adopted these tests from the contact sports in the US. If you neglect these aspects and let a driver return behind the wheel to early, this can result in serious secondary failures. In motor racing, it is of major importance to take a close look at the circumstances of the accident and orient the medical care in the Medical Centre accordingly. The intensity of an accident does not only depend on the speed. Often, the impact angle is of crucial importance. These are things you have to confront the emergency teams on site with. Working at the race track is something completely different than the everyday life and work of a medic.”
The documentation of the medical data is particularly important, he says. All the DTM drivers are in great shape, highly motivated and want to get back behind the wheel as fast as possible. “And we only can prevent them from doing so if we can present the appropriate documents. If a driver apparently feels well, the teams also say: ‘Hey, he’s fit, he can race.’ Sometimes, however the symptoms crop up later and you have to convince the team of this threat with well founded arguments that you can’t let him race in order to prevent serious consequences for him.”
When Scholz starts his activities on a DTM weekend, the major part of his job already has been executed. Days prior to the event he has to make sure that the entire network on site works perfectly. Scholz: “After all, it’s not only about making sure that the safety-car works. The entire event hast to be coordinated and safeguarded.” The officials on site, the race control, the stewards, the circuit management – they all must have internalised the necessary steps for numerous scenarios. All the procedures are discussed and determined in detail. “The work on site must be done extremely professionally,” stresses Scholz. “This of course is in the drivers’ interest. Not only in the case of a real accident. When the drivers realise that there are pros on site and everybody knows what to do, they definitely also feel safer.” Furthermore, several scenarios that aren’t directly connected with motor racing also must be considered. What has to be done if a so-called major catastrophic event takes place? Such as a grandstand collapsing or an assault. Scholz: “In the current political situation, you just have to think about this kind of incidents. How are the structures on site? Who is the one to contact if there are four ambulances on site but the number of injured persons id far higher? This sometimes isn’t too easy – particularly when we are racing abroad.”
Then, on the race weekends, Scholz has to make sure that all the procedures planned in advance work flawlessly. More often than not he is staying in the control centre – the race control. Here, he can scan anything that is going on, find the most important contacts and can act more effectively than anywhere else. Possibly developing gaps in the system must be closed by him as fast as possible and he has to keep track of what is going on in the case of an accident. “It is crucial that the crews know that there is someone assuming responsibility in such a situation. Knowing this also reduces the pressure for them.” In the case of a bad incident, Scholz is the link between race control, medical services, hospital, family and the teams – and last but not least the media, too.
Fortunately, a really bad accident hasn’t occurred in the DTM history, to date, with the high safety standards of the cars and circuits representing key factors for this fact. “The development of the safety packages has been just sensational. Nonetheless, we never may lose our sensitivity and must remain wide awake at any time. Even more so in DTM where incidents are rare,” says Scholz to then mention the 2015 Spielberg meeting. “This was about the worst accident picture I’ve seen in my DTM years,” he admits. In the Audi-TT Cup support race, held in heavy rain, several cars collided, looked extremely damaged and partly even caught fire. Fortunately, everybody survived the turmoil without suffering serious injuries. “It looked like a war zone,” recalls Scholz. “Debris everywhere, leaked fuel and oil – and the torrential rain to make things even worse. Nonetheless, the emergency crews did a fantastic job. And this only works if you coordinate the work in the run-up, practice situations and working hand in hand. In Austria you could witness that the effort paid off.” For Dr Michael Scholz a visible sign that his work and the safety efforts of all those responsible have come to fruition.