Their passion for the 24 Hours of Le Mans knowing no bounds, track marshals hail from all over the world. Their history is part and parcel of Le Mans legend. We pay them a well-deserved tribute in this series that takes us from the pioneers of 1906 to today’s slow zones, the latest development in an ongoing process to improve safety for competitors and marshals alike.
White is out... orange is in! The marshals have in recent years been kitted out in bright, eye-catching overalls that contrast sharply with the flags used. In the words of the great Jacky Ickx, they are “the Saint-Bernards of the racetracks”, showing the esteem in which the drivers hold their guardian angels.
An international “code” governs the marshals’ actions, from prevention to intervention. Trackside tents have given way to motor homes, bringing a touch of comfort to the long Le Mans week. It is no longer an all-male environment either. A number of women share marshalling duties with the men, while others prepare tasty meals for the famished crew at the end of their four-hour stint. With the variety of dishes prepared around the circuit, an attempt to write a marshals’ good food guide would result in a rather hefty tome!
The most recent major revolution is the creation of slow zones. Five-and-a-half hours behind a safety car are consigned to history as, now, the section where the accident or incident has occurred is neutralised. The cars decelerate through the preceding section from speeds topping 340 kph to just 60 kph. A green flag marks the end of the slow zone, and racing resumes for the best part of a lap until the situation returns to normal. The marshals are now strictly forbidden to respond until protection is in place and the go-ahead given by the race director. The daredevils who let their heart rule their head, dashing out to rescue stricken drivers despite the obvious dangers, have been tamed. Everything is now under control.
The ACO is behind the training of the nation’s and the federation’s marshals, although a great deal of credit must go the associations who count most of the marshals among their members, and the locals who provide a tremendous service in playing host to their peers during competitions. Le Mans is a unique alchemy of great professionals and dedicated volunteers like this army of marshals whose excellence is recognised the world over. A vital cog in the 24 Hours machine.