Well it certainly has been a dramatic few weeks in motorsport. There have been some fantastic races, some brilliant comebacks, and some really low moments.
The recent Formula One races have been exciting, and it is great to see that coming back in to the championship. We have also witnessed a comeback on a biblical scale of Porsche at the Le Mans; dead last, to the top step of the podium. But it is the low points that I really want to talk about.
At Donington Park on 16th April Billy “Whizz” Monger was involved in a shocking and devastating crash at Craner Curve. Billy’s car collided with a stationary car, that was totally unsighted and received life-changing injuries. Both his legs were amputated below the knee.
I was there. I was in the pit garages whilst this crash was broadcast live. The atmosphere in the paddock was immensely dark. The sheer speed of the impact brought on fears of the very worst, and the 90 minute extrication of Billy from the car only fuelled concerns.
But this incident is not what the focus should be. Yes there are lessons to be learnt, but what you have to know is that Billy was back at a race track as soon as he could be. He has been spotted at British Touring Car Championship races since the incident, speaking with fans, drivers, teams and the media. He has even signed up with a V de V team for a race in Portugal. He, along with Frédéric Sausset and another as yet unnamed driver intend to field a team of 3 disabled drivers for Le Mans in 2020.
Billy has become an inspiration. Billy has personified the feeling in the paddock towards teams and drivers. Billy has shown that nothing should hold you back from your passion.
Unfortunately, the crash at Donington was not the only incident to blight the BTCC paddock. During qualifying at Croft, a 12 car pile-up occurred. Several drivers received serious injuries from this incident, with Luke Davenport and Jeff Smith being airlifted to a nearby hospital. Again, extrication took an inordinate amount of time so as not to make injuries worse, and Luke was still in an induced coma until very recently.
The crash itself could be analysed for months. The reason Davenport’s car dropped oil in the first place has been speculated about by the paddock, but I won’t be commenting on that speculation. The fact that 12 cars could pile in to the incident before a red flag was issued should be questioned. (We radioed our drivers to call the Red Flag before it was announced by the officials).
You do have to marvel at the crash structures of the cars however. The impact speeds are well in excess of 120mph, and, despite their injuries, all drivers survived. The roll cages, harnesses, HANS devices and seats all absorbed the energy rather than the driver’s body’s. Yes Luke and Jeff were seriously injured, but they are alive. And that is a testament to the safety improvements of the cars themselves.
We also have to remember the stress under which the extrication and medical teams were working. The sheer number of injured drivers in that incident, was compounded by the seriousness of some of the injuries. On top of that, moving a person that badly injured always risks doing more damage. These people make racing possible.
Both Luke and Jeff have publicly expressed their gratitude to the not only the medical and extrication teams, but also to the fans, team mates and rivals who all gave an outpouring of good wishes. When an incident such as this occurs, there is no longer a rivalry between teams. It stops being about the winning. The mood in the paddock changes and people want to know that their colleagues are OK .
Motorsport is dangerous. We all know that. But the surprising way in which the entire paddock and grandstands react when that danger comes to the forefront is incredible.
Tom is an engineer working his way through the motorsport industry, sharing stories, anecdotes and lessons to help new engineers coming through the ranks.