Race Direction – it’s a term often heard when watching MotoGP, WorldSBK and ASBK. But what is race direction, who are they and what do they really do?
Race Direction is the heart and soul of any race meeting.
A day in the life of ASBK Race Direction usually means they are at the track before the sparrows have even opened their eyes and the sun has even began to rise.
The members of ASBK Race Direction are the key personnel who ensure a successful, fair and safe mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship, presented by Motul.
With decades of experience in motorcycle sport, the ASBK Race Direction consists of,
- ASBK Race Director – Tom Williams
- ASBK Safety Officer – Simon Maas
- ASBK permanent MA Steward – Peter Smith
- ASBK Series Clerk of Course – Paul Hinds
- ASBK Series Deputy Clerk of Course – Gary Bleazby
- ASBK Series Deputy Clerk of Course – Peter Black
One of the first tasks of the day is the track safety review conducted by the Race Director and Safety Officer. At each round a leading Superbike rider is selected to join the review starting from the startline, this lap of the track reviews placement of signage, kerb warning lights, ensures air fence is ready and the track surface is in clean and safe condition.
This important task unfolds while the other members of Race Direction bring Race Control online and hold briefings of our many dedicated volunteer officials to ensure they are properly equipped and ready for the day’s action. This also includes radio communications syncing the official race time and computers.
When the bikes hit the track Race Direction comes alive with a frenzy of activity and decisive decision making.
The Race Director, Safety Officer and Steward have assigned operational seating. The Race Director working side by side with Series Clerk of Course ensuring the practice, qualifying or race is conducted by the rules and run smoothly.
The Safety Officer monitors track action ensuring that riders are competing safely, and all the emergency systems are operating correctly, in support of the Race Director.
The calm within Race Direction is broken by the critical radio communication from the trackside flag marshals, ‘’Rider Down’’.
From the outside it could be perceived as a frenzy of activity when a rider is down, however the experienced ASBK team smoothly whip into action making ice cool and calm decisions which are now critical. Is the Red Flag needed, are the marshals responding, is the rider getting up, is there oil or debris on the track that is now a safety hazard for other riders? Do we need a medical response by the Racesafe team?
These questions flash through the mind of the Race Director and Series Clerk of Course in a nano-second.
Speak to any of the Race Direction team or ASBK series officials, and they will tell you that Race Control is the best seat in the house, flooded with technology and information to assist in their quick decision making, but this great view of the action comes with great responsibility.
All trackside marshals are linked by three different radio communication systems. One linking the flag marshals around the track back to Race Control, another links the ASBK Series Officials together with Race Control, including the well-known faces of ASBK Starter Brendan Ferrari and ASBK Pitlane Chief Sammy Phillips. Both have been in the ASBK pitlane for decades and have a wealth of experience.
Additionally, the radios link the ASBK Technical Department of Rob Scott, Gino Coyle, Jan Higgins and crew.
Radio communications is managed by Gary Bleazby and this role is like conducting an orchestra. Multiple radio communications on multiple channels keeping the information flowing and making sure the whole event stays on-time for the tight schedule in paramount. In particular, when every minute counts for live TV and ASBK fans at home watching.
The Race Director, Safety Officer and MA Steward have the additional benefit of multiple TV screens providing a range of information from timing screens, lap times, bike tracking maps which display the location of each bike on track, incident logs, live video feed of the TV broadcast from a number of angles and the closed circuit TV system (CCTV), which has a zooming camera on every corner of the track.
Where possible Australian Race Direction control centres have video screen set-ups, for a first time visitor in the secure area of race control, one might be thinking they have just walked into a NASA control or CIA master intelligence centre.
All this technology and information allows for quick decisions in the moment, whilst the recording and review systems provides for replay and slow-motion frame by frame review for incidents that require further investigation, which sometimes occurs post-race. This is particularly helpful when Race Direction is reviewing the cause of a crash, or other infractions.
The added pressures of showcasing ASBK to a live TV audience across Australia and throughout the World means when a crash happens or a decision is made it needs to be done quickly, clearly and communicated to many areas of ASBK operations.
Thanks to the ASBK Official Timing Partner – Computime, Race Direction is also provided by high-tech Jump Start Camera System. Allowing for judgement on the always important jump start penalty decisions.
One of the key moments of every ASBK round is race starts. This is a moment when you can hear a pin drop, if it wasn’t for the roar of the bikes as they leap into action.
There is no doubt that the handlebar to handlebar action of ASBK includes thrills and spills, flared tempers and big egos and many strong opinions – but Race Direction is judge.
The tough calls need to be made and its not a job for the faint hearted. Years of experience matter and an intimate knowledge of the ASBK rule book is not only a requirement but critical – as decisions impact races, and impact championships.
Sometimes action on-track requires action off-track in the form of penalties from the Race Director or Clerk of Course.
When the rider disagrees, they seek the services of the MA Steward and a hearing is conducted to review both sides of the story.
The MA steward can review video, review on-board cameras when available and will hear evidence from witnesses. This could be other riders, a team member and regularly is the volunteer marshals who have a front row view of the action.
Once this process concludes then the MA Steward determines whether to uphold the penalty, cancel the penalty, or impose another version of it, such as warnings. Like a judge in court, the MA Steward is tasked in ensuring that ASBK rules and MA MoMs are followed and the sport is fair for all.
One race follows another, and on the good days all runs smoothly. The racing action is close and exciting and the ASBK fans at home are in for a real treat.
ASBK is in good hands, as the team of the ASBK Series Officials, including ASBK Race Direction are Australia’s most senior road racing officials. These are the very same people managing the Race Control at Phillip Island for MotoGP and WorldSBK every year.
This elite level of expertise also includes their FIM international level training in Australia and some personnel also attend training in Geneva, Switzerland, joining other MotoGP Clerks of Course and Stewards from countries around the world.
These are the ‘’Top Guns’’ of Senior Race Officials in the World, the best of the best. The outcome for these ASBK personnel is a formal FIM accreditation and FIM Superlicence. The outcome for ASBK is a brilliant series with some of the best officials in the world managing the key decisions.
From nowhere, the radio once again crackles into life and those profound words ring out ‘’Rider Down’’ and Race Control again comes to attention.
This time it’s a big one – the Race Director commands one of the most important phases of the job ‘’RED FLAG’’. Don’t stop for a minute and think its time for Race Direction to have a cuppa – now its peak hour in Race Control.
The Safety Officer ensures the Racesafe medical response system has automatically launched and crucial medical care for the rider is only seconds away. The Clerk of Course and Race Director manage where the other bikes will go – back to the grid for a restart, how many laps are completed, will there be a need for restart?
The MA Steward and Safety Officer review instant replays and different camera angles to find who is at fault and to provide this advice to the Race Director.
The radio blasts into action with instructions and questions flying back and forth. ASBK TV and ASBK Tech Departments both need to know ‘’how long will be the delay’’ the bikes tyres can’t go cold. Can we let the teams onto the grid? Do we have time for a commercial break? How many laps will there be for the restarted race? The questions come and go – but this well-worn routine and the experienced ASBK Series Officials know all the answers.
As the Racesafe team finish their critical task caring for the unfortunately injured rider, all eyes return to the grid. Up goes the 2min board and riders prepare to go again. Before long the race is again underway and now it will be a mad dash to the finish line over the last few laps. Then its time for Brendan Ferrari to show his unmistakable chequered flag waving style, as the winner flashes over the line to take the win.
But wait, the work still not over as the top three riders head to the parc ferme and ASBK podium the ASBK timing and scoring department provide the official placing and the finishing order is formally confirmed. No further penalties are to come, and the ASBK Event Manager, Sam Redfern, and ASBK TV host, Emma Notarfrancesco are awaiting to give out the trophies and interview the happy winners.
For race direction it’s time to catch their breath, grab a quick drink of water and tidy up the paperwork as before too long the next class of riders are heading to pit exit and it all starts all over again. Only 17 more races to go for the round, so back to the job.
The ASBK Race Direction team are under huge pressure in these roles but none of them could think of doing anything else. They are highly dedicated, taking weeks of their year away from home and families and volunteering their time to take on these crucial ASBK duties. They are some of the backbone to the success of ASBK over the past few years. Locked away in the highly restricted zone of Race Control, the ASBK Race Direction team will never be seen by the ASBK fans at home, but after you read this you may have a little bit more of an understanding of just how busy and complicated it is to make ASBK run smoothly for the riders, teams, sponsors and the passionate ASBK fans.
If you have ever thought about getting involved in motorcycle sport, and can see yourself as a volunteers official, then don’t hesitate get in contact via Motorcycling Australia (https://www.ma.org.au/coaching-and-officials/being-an-official/) and come join the fun and get up close to the action at the trackside.
There’s a role for everyone – no previous experience required.
Head to www.asbk.com.au for more info about the mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship, presented by Motul. For the latest updates from the ASBK, follow us on Facebook and Instagram.