Total surveillance – a visit to the race control
The room is small and monitors are flickering everywhere. At the front, numerous TVs form a big video wall and the tables are packed with monitors standing side by side. Between them, 15 people are watching the action as if hypnotised. Everybody is wearing a headset, everybody is focused to the max, only every now and then, you can hear somebody saying a word. An atmosphere like the one in the NASA control centre during a lunar landing. Then, things get hectic. Camera angles are zoomed in, the situation is analysed quickly and precisely. Seconds later the unambiguous result. The room is resounding with two words: red flag. The race control has made its decision. The DTM practice session has come to an early end.
I am visiting the Hockenheim race control. Every single metre of the track is monitored by cameras, not a single corner that isn’t observed by the safety and regulations guardians. The practice session for the DTM season opener is running. “Therefore, we all still are rather relaxed,” reveals DMSB representative Michael Kramp. “During a qualifying session or a race, it would be quiet as the grave, in here.” Well, relaxed is relative, I say to myself. Nearly no words can be heard, let alone a relaxed conversation. Everybody gaze at the monitors, are fully focused on their tasks. And this particularly applies to the first row. “They are the permanent members of the race control and attend every single DTM meeting,” explains Kramp. The tasks are clearly assigned and every work station is tailor-made for the respective needs.
Race control: The race Director is the highest authority in the team. He has the final say. The Race Director’s decision is ultimate and will be implemented immediately.
Marshal system: In addition to the Race Director, a steward also keeps track of everything going on. His monitors show graphic reproductions of the entire track. Moving points inform him, where the respective cars of the field are driving at any given point in time. Should a driver go off the track, the respective number starts flashing. Coloured indications next to the different track sections hint to exceptions such as yellow flags.
Advice by active motor racers: The second direct seatmate of the Race Director is an experienced active racing driver. He has got the task to assess situations from the drivers’ point of view. Could a reaction have been avoided? Could the driver have avoided hitting the other car? His assessments support the Race Director on the way to making his decisions.
Safety and recovery: In the case of an accident, this steward gets active. He coordinates all the support and emergency vehicles at the track. Is there a car that has to be recovered? What is the fastest way to recover it. Which vehicles have to be sent onto the track? Will an emergency vehicle be necessary? He is supported by experienced staff members of the respective racetrack. They are sitting in the second row, support him with their knowledge of the local circumstances and conditions and help him when it comes to the coordination. In the case of serious incidents, the race doctor who also is staying in the race control room gets active.
TV pictures and documentation: This steward has got the task to take a closer look at dodgy scenes. He checks all the camera angles available of an incident or possible breaches of the regulations and records them. And if necessary, he also forwards this footage to the TV production of the respective event. Furthermore, the recordings also are saved as evidence for the respective decision.
Video-wall control and start control: This steward controls – inter alia – the big video wall and switches back and forth between the different cameras, thus acting as a kind of director. In addition, he monitors the start. Every single car is captured by the special cameras that allow the steward to perfectly detect possible jump starts.
While the practice session is running, so-called runners are entering the room every now and then. They have got the task to forward the decisions of the race control to the respective teams. During my visit, however, they aren’t needed often as the stewards rarely have to intervene. Until a car goes off and strands in the gravel with 10 more minutes to go. Actually, a minor incident but as the crash site is somewhat blind and heavy equipment will be necessary for the recovery, the decision is made within seconds: “Red flag,” the Race Director calls. And everybody initiates the necessary steps in an experienced way. The practice session and my visit to the race control are over.