Inside Bathurst 12 Hour Race Control

Race Control during Practice 4 at the Bathurst 12 Hour

Race Control during Practice 4 at the Bathurst 12 Hour

During Practice 4 of the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, was given exclusive access to the inner workings of Race Control.

Atop the Bathurst pit building is a structure which houses the personnel and functions critical to the smooth running of the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.

Perched high above Pit Straight is a team of people who monitor and react to all the events happening at Mount Panorama; both on track and off it.

In charge is Race Director James Taylor, who is flanked by almost 20 others.

Combined, their job is not only to ensure a fair sporting competition takes place, but that it does so safely.

To his left is the Clerk of Course, Michael Hancock, and on his right is Driving Standards Advisor Craig Baird.

In front of them is a wall of 15 monitors while Baird has two screens; one populated with live feeds from cameras around the circuit and a second where he can examine any one of those feeds in minute detail.

At his fingertips are controls to pause, rewind and zoom in on any one of those feeds in real-time, and a radio panel that allows him to speak with almost anyone – including the television truck.

Contrary to public belief, he’s there to advocate for the drivers, reviewing moments he or others spot before potentially referring that to the Stewards, where any judicial judgment is made.

He also works with the television director, relaying camera numbers and timestamps of key incidents to help with replays on the live broadcast.

Where once there was a clear distinction between Race Control and the broadcast, it’s now a far more collaborative effort where they leverage each other’s resources for the greater good of the spectacle, and the fans, without compromising its integrity.

Across the room are four officials whose task is to relay messages from flag points, information which is fed into the melting pot of information at Race Director Taylor’s fingertips.

Behind them are recovery and medical, while the local police also have representation in the room.

On the whole, the room is quiet and calm; voices are kept low as radio exchanges come in and go out to all corners of the venue.

It’s calm and considered, yet capable of kicking up a gear in a heartbeat when needed.

And so it was on Friday afternoon when Keith Kassulke’s MARC Car suffered a terrifying crash during Practice 4. was in the room as it happened and saw first-hand as the room went from hushed focus to high alert.

Keith Kassulke suffered an apparent brake failure approaching The Chase in his MARC Car.

Kassulke became little more than a passenger as the car hit the kerb, became airborne and sailed across the race track before skipping across the gravel trap into a concrete wall protected by two rows of tyres and a conveyor belt to hold them together.

The impact was enormous, the car flipping as it came to rest on its roof.

At Race Control, the first indication something was wrong was the vision of Kassulke rocketing through the screen showing the feed from Camera 18; a wide shot of The Chase from Rydges Hotel.

Being Friday, and with no broadcast, there were no operators, so the cameras were locked off.

Kassulke flashed through the screen, experienced Race Director Lawrie Schmidt spotting the errant MARC Car.

Moments later, yellow flags could be seen on camera, while radios crackled with reports of a car off.

The aftermath of the incident was not visible on Race Control’s cameras, but officials on the ground offered a steady stream of information, keeping Taylor and his team abreast of the situation.

Of primary importance was the condition of the driver, with marshals quickly relaying back that the driver was moving.

It quickly became clear the car was upside down and vulnerable, with Taylor making the decision to red flag the session.

Rescue crews were quickly scrambled, as was a medical team in a series of instructions that were authoritative but without panic.

The atmosphere in the room had changed; where it had been hushed and focused, now it was a hive of activity although there was no shouting, just the chatter of information flowing in and out of the room in rapid succession.

Baird found vision of the incident and immediately identified the likely cause and therefore outcome – there was no vision of Kassulke hitting the wall, but from the vision available it was obvious that was an inevitability.

While Taylor and his team managed the driver and scene, Baird shared what was appropriate to the event’s commentary team.

The session was not televised, but it did have a worldwide audio feed. The driver was moving, awake, and talking with officials.

The Bathurst 12 Hour uses much of the technology, systems, and personnel as a standard Supercars event; a world-class set-up that is the envy of many categories and events globally.

Supporting that are processes that are well-defined and developed, underpinned by officials trackside who are well-versed in their jobs.

That expertise has been developed and refined over the decades and for the most part, is world-class.

Kassulke was attended to by qualified crews who were given instruction by Race Control who had at their disposal far greater detail than was available to even those at the scene.

The primary consideration is the safety of all and that goes for the marshals, recovery crews, spectators, and the driver.

“Under no circumstances should spectators enter the circuit,” Motorsport Australia said in a statement issued to as it broke news a spectator – not for the first time – had entered the confines of the circuit in the aftermath of the crash.

“Not only are they putting themselves at risk, but they are also putting the safety of others at extreme risk.

“This is simply not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”

And quite rightly. While the spectator had good intentions they were not in possession of all the facts while Race Control was.

A plan was in place and being executed, making the spectator’s response unnecessary, callous and wholly indefensible. What if the car had caught fire? What if it wasn’t stable and, as he lay under it, it shifted?

These are the questions Race Control has answers to, and its officials are prepared and trained to deal with.

They are there for a reason, and while at times the response may appear delayed, there is typically a rationale and reasonable solution – as there was in this instance.

It raises the broader issue of containment and protection for the spectators, with that section of track easily accessible from public viewing locations.

In 2019, Tim Pappas crashed at the same location and two fans jumped the fence with fire extinguishers. While again well-meaning, they were foolish in the extreme.

But worryingly, no lessons appeared to have been learned from that incident.

“Following further post-event investigation, changes were subsequently put in place for the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and will also be utilised at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour this year,” read a statement given to ahead of the 2020 Bathurst 12 Hour.

“We have worked with Motorsport Australia to improve track safety in the area, including the positioning of officials, fire/first response vehicles and the additional tyre bundles at that point of the track.

“The same set up used for the Bathurst 1000 last October will be utilised once again this month for the 12 Hour.”

On Friday, there was nothing more than a wire fence holding fans back – one that could be easily stepped over.

Changes must be made, on a number of fronts. Positively, some were implemented immediately with the circuit installing a temporary six-foot-high security fence at that location for Saturday morning.

But that is a temporary fix and a permanent solution must be found.

At one of the highest speed points in Australian motorsport is two layers of tyres in front of a concrete wall sufficient? On the evidence of Kassulke’s crash, it is reasonable to say it is not.

It should be noted the venue is FIA homologated and licenced, it is at what is considered an acceptable standard, but that is not an excuse to sit back and rest on one’s laurels.

Adding more tyre bundles could be a quick and easy fix – Motorsport Australia has the expertise to look at any make that judgment.

But more clearly needs to be done on crowd control too, with better ways of protecting it from itself.

Perhaps that means restricting access to that part of the track, with structures such that access is far more difficult.

It is a very human reaction to jump to the aid of another, but it is of critical importance that the task be left to those empowered and trained to do it.

Consider the worst-case scenario; what if the spectator’s actions had worsened the situation? If one car can get there, so can another; what happens in that instance?

The outcomes do not bear thinking about but have to be considered due to the potential legal implications they have.

On Friday, Race Control was a hive of activity in the immediate aftermath of Kassulke’s crash.

It had a steady stream of live information flowing in and the resources at its disposal to manage the situation appropriately.

There is no doubt changes are needed to protect fans from themselves and increase competitor safety at The Chase.

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