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Posted by Dave Williams On June - 15 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Last week Andrew Cliffe gave readers of this blog an overview of marshalling in his appropriately entitled article “So, you wanna be a marshal?” This week Racing Exposure gives you the inside story of the commitment and dedication of those in orange overalls through an interview with the crew chief of the BRSCC North Western Centre’s Rescue Unit – Simon Morrell.

At the scene of an incident Simon has overall responsibility both for the safety of his team and providing any casualties with the best possible care. This is done in accordance to a well rehearsed, clearly defined set of procedures which cover a wide range of tasks that out on public roads would be undertaken by ambulance and fire-and-rescue personnel. “The key point is to remain calm and deal with the situation objectively,” explains Morrell, “you’ll never see us running round in a panic.”

Rescue Crew

There is great camaradarie amongst the crew but when an incident occurs the joking stops

While marshalling enables enthusiasts to get closer to the sport they love by performing a wide range of disciplines that accommodate all levels of ability and experience, the crew of the Rescue Unit can literally have a Life and Death role to play. This may be hugely rewarding and highly demanding at the same time.

“When I first started on the Rescue Unit,” Simon told us, “Getting called-out used to be quite stressful. It was both exciting and frightening at the same time. Now, I see it as a signal for us to stop telling jokes and to get out there to do a job. We often have no idea of the size or seriousness of an incident until we get there. Race control always passes additional information to us if they have it but usually we are only given a location to attend.”

Regardless of the how long people have been on the Unit there is still a degree of apprehension when an accident has to be dealt with. Morrell says “We all endure different amounts of pressure. Our driver has to choose the right moment to join a live circuit and transport us all safely at speed to the crash scene within 90 seconds of leaving our standby location. The crew chief is responsible for the welfare of all persons at the scene and has to work with our Doctor or Paramedic to determine the best way to treat (and sometimes extricate) the injured. Our medical assistant may be under pressure to assist in providing life saving intervention… and we all know that a difficult scene may be played out in full view of an audience of spectators and marshals.

“Thankfully, we find that most ‘shouts’ require nothing more than a check on a driver’s condition but we have been called out to multiple vehicle shunts as well as incidents involving fire, injury, entrapments and even a helicopter that executed an emergency landing in a field adjacent to Oulton Park.” (The latter episode occurred when a pilot got into difficulty when flying over the Cheshire track while a British Formula 3 meeting was taking place).

Training excercise

A scene from one of the regular training sessions

The crew members have to spend many hours learning the latest rescue techniques and practising with all the technology that may have to be used. This is done both on the job and in classroom environments. For many this takes place in their own time outside of their normal working life.

While the vehicle itself – a Mercedes Sprinter 416 – is funded by the BRSCC, the team that mans it worked together to add the graphics, lights and sirens which converted the standard van into a pukka Rescue Unit. Sponsorship is always required to enable the most sophisticated equipment to be purchased.

Having to manage demanding scenarios and the many hours of education is all worthwhile due to the tremendous pride which is felt when the aftermath of a serious crash has successfully been dealt with. “We are volunteers who are doing a professional job,” points out Simon. “We provide a service that would normally be provided by the statutory emergency services. It is very satisfying to know that we have spent the day doing something worthwhile. It justifies all those cold afternoons in the off season when we do our training.”


Posted by Dave Williams On May - 5 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

In the same way that Murray Walker was a quintessential part of Formula 1′s TV coverage, race meetings at Oulton Park just aren’t the same without the enthusiastic and knowledgeable circuit commentator, Mike Cookson, being part of the soundtrack.

Ever with an eye for detail, Cookson can remember not only the date (20th August, 1977) but also the organising club (BRSCC) who were in charge when he made his début on the Oulton Park PA System. Mike told Racing Exposure “Since then I have commentated at 570 meetings. It is anybody’s guess how many races that is… probably around 5,000!”

Mike in action

Mike commentating from the Knickerbrook booth at Oulton Park

Cookson was thrown in at the deep end on that day 33 years ago as he was asked to stand-in for Neville Hay who had failed to turn up. Nonetheless Mike was in familiar surroundings as he had been assisting his absent colleague as a lap-charter since 1973. He must have done a more than competent job as he has since been called upon to describe proceedings in all corners of the world. All categories have been covered but the most unusual assignment was at the Longleat Special Stage of the RAC Rally where Cookson kept the spectators informed from inside the lion’s enclosure. Fortunately he was perched out of reach on a cherry picker style platform!

Mike says that when performing his weekend duties he is conscious of the broad range of listeners who are being addressed. “One has to remember,” he explained, “amongst the spectators there will be people who are real enthusiasts and come to as many meetings as possible and those for whom it is their first ever visit therefore I always try to make my commentaries informative and, hopefully, amusing.”

Despite all his travels Cookson continues have a soft spot for Oulton Park which is only a few miles from his home. One good thing about working at the Tarporley track is that he always has a co-commetator to help him keep the public entertained. He says, “It’s hard work doing a whole race meeting on your own so I enjoy working with all the band of commentators (is a group of commentators called a clutch?!?). I work regularly with Richard (Sproston) and I think we seem to hit it off.”

The one downside is that when he is manning the main Oulton commentary box, there is a brisk walk each time the chequered flag falls when he heads off to interview the winners on the podium at the other end of the pit-lane (…and they don’t always turn up!) before having to get back to his post to catch the next grid setting off.  He once calculated that he walks 3 miles (more than the length of the International Circuit) during the course of a typical meeting. This is in addition to patrolling the paddock during the morning looking for background information to get the full picture.

Mike’s interest in motorsport developed when as a child he was taken to Oulton Park and Aintree. At this time Championship and non-Championship Formula 1 races were regularly staged at these two premier North West circuits. With the general public having unrestricted access to the paddocks the young Cookson was able to accumulate an impressive autograph collection which included those of no less a man than Enzo Ferrari as well as legendary drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn and Jim Clark.

During a holiday to Lake Como his father even produced tickets to the 1960 Italian Grand Prix. This was a fabulous surprise for Mike… and an even greater shock to his mother!

Cookson’s globe-trotting exploits were resumed later in his life after he had become a renowned commentator. Highlights include being part of the Radio Le Mans team when the Silk Cut Jaguars were victorious in 1990 and phoning through a report on the Long Beach Grand Prix to the BBC’s World Service from one of the decks of the Queen Mary.

Away from motor-racing Mike is a qualified Chartered Accountant and did his training in Liverpool where he enjoyed many lunch-times listening to jazz at the Cavern Club. He drifted away when The Beatles came along and the venue switched to contemporary sounds. Fortunately he was better with figures than talent spotting musicians!

His career evolved towards general industry rather than accounting specifically. Mike ended up as the Company Secretary and one of the Directors of NWF Group in Wardle where he recently stepped down to work on a part-time basis.

Semi-retirement is proving to be a busy time. Mike and his wife Sally enjoy walking, particularly in the area around Kyle of Lochalsh where they have purchased a second home. Meanwhile back in Cheshire a significant amount of time is spent improving the lot of those less fortunate by assisting a local charity for people with learning disabilities. The Cookson household has also hosted a number of trainee guide dogs.

Despite having so much to occupy him ‘the Mike behind the mic’ intends to describe the on track action for many years to come.


Posted by Dave Williams On April - 29 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Since the proliferation of one-make categories became established in the lower formulae of car racing towards the end of the 20th century there has been concern over the lack of opportunities for youngsters to gain experience that will be of value to the British Motorsport industry.

Helping to fill this void are the many educational establishments which offer training in the construction and preparation of competition vehicles. One example of this is the Motor Sports Bachelor of Engineering Degree course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). Not only does this provide classroom based learning but there is also the option of getting priceless ‘hands on’ experience by being involved in the extracurricular Formula Ford racing squad.

Preparing for action

This team is operated almost solely by foundation and first year students with just a couple of members of staff being present to guide them. Nonetheless, the outfit has a fine reputation in the paddocks of Oulton Park and Anglesey where it is a regular in the Northern FF1600 Championship. This is underscored by the fact that this season’s lead driver, Chris Chrisnall, has signed up having been impressed by the under-graduates who were on hand to assist when he joined the series in 2004 with another entrant.

Although a great advert for the Lancastrian learning establishment (the racing cars always generate plenty of interest on open days) no funding is received from the university. The budget is secured from those who are willing to get behind the wheel of the cars that are tended to by these budding Formula 1 engineers. The crew of mechanics have to deliver competitive cars to continue in business. It doesn’t get any more ‘real’ than this!

The UCLAN syllabus and the team itself were established in 2000 having evolved from a General Engineering Degree prospectus which had suffered from declining numbers. A more focussed offering reversed that trend.

Many have used the course as a springboard into their dream career. One such is Simon Laughlin who is now the General Manager of Juno UK – the manufacturer of innovative, beautifully engineered sports-racing and Formula Ford cars.

Being involved with the racing team was a key factor in giving Simon and his fellow students an edge in the job market. He says “It allowed us to develop the skills we had learnt in the workshop/classroom. We were given the opportunity to become familiar with setting up vehicles and the logistics involved with getting them out on the track. For people with so little experience the chance to be physically allowed to run a car, make decisions and influence the team is still pretty much non-existent elsewhere.”

Students assisting driver

Simon was especially impressed with the quality of the lecturers and technicians that oversee the course, who he says “…are hugely knowledgeable and supportive. They passed on invaluable advice but also allowed enough room for personal learning and development.”

The exposure available to the world of powered competition extends far beyond four-wheels, infact sometimes no wheels are involved at all(!) as the roster of tutors includes 2008 British F3 Hovercraft Champion, Tony Broad. Meanwhile a Tuesday night motorsports club is the time when engine building skills are practiced. Racing motorcycles are also prepared on club nights, in the past these bikes have competed at Macau and in the Bol d’Or 24 Hours.

There are no regrets in Simon’s mind about doing the course. “I will be forever grateful that I attended UCLAN,” he confirms “as the staff nurtured us while we learnt. We also enjoyed life and motorsport along the way! I would have no hesitation in recommending both the university and the course to anybody looking towards a career in Motorsport. Once studying at the Preston campus it is a no brainer to then become involved in the race team.”

For more details about the course see

Dave Williams

Jon Higgins, Legends legend.

Posted by Dave Williams On March - 15 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS


Three-time British Legends Champion, John “Jon” Higgins, will be out testing at Knockhill this Thursday (18th March) preparing to regain the crown he lost to Burnett Motorsport team-mate Lee Fitzpatrick last season.

Higgins magnanimously says, “We retained the title as a team… and that was the main aim for last year. Lee did a fantastic job and he was a pleasure to race against.” Looking back at 2009 John recalls, “I started really well and then lost a little bit towards the end of the season, so this time I’m hoping for a steady start and be really strong at the end of the 2010.”

Pressure of work means this week will be the first time Higgins has got behind the wheel over the winter however he is not too concerned as he has great faith in the talents of the Burnett squad, he told us, “Because the season is so long it’s not so much of an issue if you’re not completely on the pace from the first round as we have enough experience to get the car sorted within a short space of time.”

The 2010 campaign begins at Oulton Park on 27th March on the short Fosters circuit which will be in use for the first time for a couple of seasons. This compact layout is ideally suited for Legends and should produce plenty of frenetic action.

Once again Higgins’ car will be decorated in the iconic stars and stripes livery which he has used since he competed in Stock Rods on short ovals during the late 1980s. The hue of the colour scheme changed last year from Red, White and Blue to predominantly Green to reflect the environmentally friendly car recycling scheme of sponsors who will continue their backing after a successful debut in 2009.

In November John has plans to take on the World! As the Legends World Finals are returning to one of his favourite tracks – Infineon Raceway (formerly known as Sears Point) – Higgins has been tempted to head West in a bid to reclaim the ultimate accolade in Legends which he won in 2003. This was one of the highlights of his racing career “To be part of any formula that gets to race abroad is mega,” he enthuses, “especially when you get to go to America.”

Text: Dave Williams

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