From airport to racetrack, a race within a race

 by Mark Cipolloni
June 29, 2004

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Martyn Thake

Many of you might have not heard of Martyn Thake, but we are pretty sure you have enjoyed racetracks either designed or developed by one of racing's behind the scene men. Martyn Thake is the principal behind Motorsports Consulting Services a company dedicated and specialized in motorsports facility development and operations management.

“The services we proudly offer provide a turnkey program of facility design, development, construction, inspection and event planning and management,” explains Martyn Thake. “Our nearly 30 years experience in motorsports management, includes building and operating facilities and events, and our extensive experience is with many major racing series.”

The reason why we wanted to interview Martyn is because he is responsible for the direction of all Operations related tasks for the US Bank Presents the 2004 Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland this coming weekend. We were curious about how he manages to turn an airport into a racetrack within a four-hour timetable; not an easy challenge to say the least.

Making crucial decisionss

We walked in a room when Martyn began briefing his crew by describing the track with the support of a procedural map: “Flat and wide open this airfield circuit features 10 corners, all but two of which are 90 degrees bends, zero bank, camber, or elevation anywhere on the track. The track is very wide and affords many overtaking opportunities, as there is usually more than one line into, around and out of each turn, and the run-off areas are of course huge. The unique layout on the airport circuit at the Grand Prix allows fans to see virtually the entire race course. Drivers have to find their thrills by trying to spot the apex on each corner - and that's not an easy task as the course is so flat that the turns have to be marked by cones. This is one course where overtaking seems to be guaranteed and produces one of the most exciting races on the Champ Car schedule.”

Q. Martyn, you make it look easy, but I bet it’s not, am I correct?
A. You are absolutely correct; I’ve been working full time on this race since March 15th and will finish on or about July 15th. I am in charge of over 300 people and over 90,000 man-hours. Sixty-five percent of the track work will be completed prior to temporary acquisition of Burke Lakefront Airport on the Thursday morning of race weekend. At that time, we will prepare the other 35% from 6 am to 10 am.”

Q. Someone would think setting up Cleveland’s track would be easy with just little challenges, but not in your view?
A. “The challenge of building a world class temporary racetrack is magnified by the logistics of an airport that has to operate at full capacity right up to 4 hours before cars go on track, and return to being an airport within 3 hours of the checkered flag. The coordination required takes an awful lot of planning. In fact, we spend more time planning the construction process than actually building the facility.”

Q. Yes, the planes… I forgot all about them!
A. "Working around two operating FBO’s (fixed base operations) and an airport that have close to a hundred aircraft movements a day is also challenging. Adding helicopter movements into the mix also needs to be addressed. We are very lucky to have a facility (the airport) and city that is fully behind the project that we consider our partners. The team we have assembled has hundreds of years of combined experience and we need all of that to make this project come together. Remember, we do not have the option of starting late, cars will be on track on schedule… late is not an option!”

Some ready to go tires

I would later find out that Martyn Thake has a very specific, military-like plan and uses the following equipment during that four-hour period prior to the first race car taking the track: Six heavy-duty forklifts to put over two hundred concrete wall blocks in place, eight tractor-trailer trucks to place signage towers, two tractor-trailers to place the timing and scoring tower, a couple of two-ton cranes to lift the timing and scoring structure into place, approximately 200 workers put over 5000 tires in place, ten workers place 1.5 miles of debris fence, twelve signage workers place over two hundred signs throughout the track and additionally, the signage crew also places over 250 sandbags to secure signs throughout the track. Wow, I’m tired already!

Q. Well, where do the planes go during the weekend?
A. “Once the airport closes all flights cease. Planes continue to land right up until 6 a.m. Thursday and flights will commence immediately upon the airport reopening Saturday night. Aircraft get moved to other airports in the area at owners expense and their fees are adjusted accordingly. Most go to the 5 surrounding airports; approximately 70 of the 78 based aircraft are relocated and aircraft that do not get moved are those that are in maintenance or are not moved by the deadline set by Airport Operations. Air traffic is limited to helicopters only and these may include News, Life Flight, Military, Traffic Survey, or Law Enforcement.”

Q. What is the big X I see here on the map?
A. Once the airport is closed we paint a big X on the grass that indicates to the planes that the airport is closed and is not a landing option.”

Q. I’m fascinated by the numbers; can you give us an idea of your event-shopping list?
A. “Let me get my notes, I knew you would ask! ‘Timing and Scoring’ will have over 30,000 ft of Cat 5 Cable - 6 miles. There will be another 15,000 ft of Power Distribution - 3 miles. There will be 6 miles of phone cable and we will install and then remove 280 ‘Tire Crash Barriers’ each consisting of 64 tires for a total of 17,920 tires. We will also install and then remove over 4,500 tons of concrete blocks that are 12’ long weighing 10,250 lbs each for a total number of 867 concrete blocks.”

While planes will continue to land and take off – we assume many - up until 6:00 AM, here is the event schedule you will not find in your Grand Prix program:

- Thursday July 1, 2004
6:00 AM - Begin to place signage towers
• Begin to place block
• Begin to place Timing and Scoring
7:00 AM - Continue to place signage towers
• Continue to place block
• Continue to place Timing and Scoring
8:00 AM - Complete placement of signage towers
• Complete placement of timing and scoring
• Continue block placement
• Begin installation of fence
• Begin signage installation on towers
• Begin tire placement
9:00 AM - Complete block placement
• Complete installation of fence
• Complete installation of signage on towers and blocks
• Complete tire placement
10:00 AM - Cars on the track.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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