Little is known to many visitors about the marshals at Le Mans and their work, although there wouldn’t be any race at all without them. Marshalling is a hobby done by volunteers with a passion for motor sport. These men and women spend their free time and their own money to train in the many aspects of marshalling. They act as flag marshals, chief track marshals, pit lane marshals and there are many other roles. Their skills are crucial for the success of a race, because an exciting race can be destroyed by bad marshalling but it can also be made better and safer by good work from the marshals, even saving a driver’s life. The set of skills which is required is large and the willingness to attend training on a regular basis is an important prerequisite. Training covers fire fighting, flagging, observing, radio communication and many other topics.
There are many types of jobs to be done at any race meeting, and Le Mans is no different. The one thing which is noticeable is that, obviously, officials can’t be working for the whole 24 hours race plus the support event on the Saturday morning etc, so there would be enough for a minimum of 2 shifts, and the number is amazing, when you consider that the British Grand Prix at it’s height required approximately 1500 people for the weekend (that’s ALL jobs) so imagine how many for a circuit 3 times the size and a race meeting 4 times the length.
Some of the roles performed by the officials are:
Course/Flag/Observer, these are effectively the Race Directors ‘ground troops’. These three will work together on a post, the Course Marshal is the one you’ll see going out to an incident and working trackside, and reporting back to the Observer, who will report to Race Control what has happened. This is rather basic, as the Flaggie will be there waving the Blue, and reacting to what is required at that moment.
Pits, these Marshals will observe and report on all pit lane behaviour and stops. To do that requires a knowledge of the rules and regulations, no mean feat when you consider that they need eyes everywhere and will need to react quickly, nimble feet are needed in the lane to see all, but avoid being in the way.
From the information flowing into Race Control from all the Marshal’s post’s it is then up to the Control room people to filter out any important information that the Race Director may need to know and act upon, for example the release of the Safety Car (there are 2 or 3 around the track) who will be informed where the Race leader is and will try to pick him up (sometimes easier said) and if the leader is mired in the SC pack, when to ‘release’ the cars between the SC and leader. To do that, the SC that has the Race Leader behind will ‘wave by’ any cars between him and the Leader, these cars will then proceed to the tail of the next queue. Once the cars are ordered, everyone is happy, the SC’s will pull off, Green Flag will be shown to the Race Lead at the start line, and racing will re-commence
Following are the flags you’ll see over the race weekend and their meaning.
A yellow flag displayed at the starter's stand or a marshal station indicates that there is a hazard downstream of the station. The manner of display depends on the location of the hazard:
Red flags can only be waived upon instruction of the race director. When a race or a practice session is “red flagged” it is stopped due to some condition that has made the track unraceable. Typical conditions are accidents, weather problems or surface problems like too much oil or debris on the track. As soon as a red flag is shown, drivers must slow down and either stop or come back to the pits, overtaking is not permitted.
The green flag is quite similar to green traffic light and simply means “Go!”. It can be waved by the starter to indicate the beginning of a race or practice session. Most typically it will be waved after a caution to tell the drivers that the race has been restarted and to indicate that the racetrack is clear of any obstacles or debris.
The black flag generally means that there has been an infraction of the rules and the driver, to whom that flag is shown must bring the car to the pits. It is usually displayed along with a pit board listing the driver's car number
The French flag, the Tricolore, is traditionally waived by a VIP at the starters post to get the race under way. In 2009, this duty was fulfilled by Fiat and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo to signify 60 years since Ferrari's first victory at Le Mans.