Inside Revolution: How to Run an AutoSOLO
AutoSOLOs are a great entry point into motorsport and a great way for Clubs to encourage newcomers and train future organisers. Revolution spoke to one of the country’s most experienced Autotest organisers to get the lowdown on what it takes to run one of these events.
AutoSOLOs, which are a part of StreetCar, are relatively easy and cost-effective events for Clubs to organise. All they require is a compact venue, a set of cones and ropes, and some enthusiastic volunteers to set them up.
The limited barriers entry makes them a popular form of motorsport, with a relatively simple format (drive the course against the clock) that is good for beginners, but also challenges those who want to push the limits.
They are also ideal events for Clubs to train members up to be sector marshals or even stage commanders – because the organisation and safety elements required are just like a small section of a bigger event.
To be involved in a Championship, the event must be planned around July as organisers confirm Championship calendars around October. If it is a stand-alone, a minimum of three months lead-up should be enough time to get everything prepared. Using digital planning software – for example the Sapphire system – can help with planning and management because it is intuitive and repeatable for future events.
Make the venue a priority
The first and most important step is to secure a venue – as written permission from the owner is required to apply for a Motorsport UK permit. Check what facilities are available and what else is required – for example, running an event at a motorway services car park can save extra work, as a lot of facilities are on site.
Once you have a venue, it is vital is look after the relationship. Liaise with the owner regularly and maintain a constant flow of information. It is easier to lose a venue than find one, and if you do not leave it tidy at the end of the event, you will not be invited back.
Spread the word
No event will attract competitors without the right promotion, but you need to think about who your potential customers are. The usual social media routes such as Facebook, twitter and Instagram are helpful, especially when posts can be shared by ‘friendly’ Clubs nearby, but to reach beyond your own members, enter one of the Regional Association Championships, most of which are very open to new events. This can also help not only share competitors but also share event equipment. Often AutoSOLO events encourage new families into motorsport as drivers can be from 14 years of age, but those new to motorsport will need help and guidance from the organising team!
Design the course carefully
An AutoSOLO is typically a first gear sprint around a carpark or similar sealed surface venue. The course must have a 90-degree change of direction every 60 meters of travel, to keep the speeds down, and ideally it should balance left and right turns for even tyre wear. Any turns over 90-degrees should be on a minimum of a 5-metre radius.
If possible, use different colours of cones to help drivers get the route correct. Blue, yellow, and green cones are now widely available as well the typical red/orange ones. Also, try to use 750mm cones as they are a lot lighter for marshals to handle.
Develop a course plan diagram before the event, covering the course, the paddock, and safety areas. This is not required before submitting for a permit, but it is very useful to have. If you are a new club organising AutoSOLO then you may be asked to submit your test diagrams in advance. Involve an established competitor in creating the layout, because they usually know what the other competitors will want. Crucially, the diagram should be flexible as you never know what issues will occur on the day.
You will also need to set up your event regulations. To do so, take guidance from the Motorsport UK Yearbook, but also look at regulations created by Clubs that have run similar events successfully.
Once you know how many competitors you have, prepare a schedule for the day. This is typically based on splitting the field into groups, allocating each group around 25-30 minutes of running – this is usually the maximum time marshals are happy to be out on the course. Within that time, plan a set number of tests, but be flexible – and if a session runs slowly, change the number of tests rather than the session length to avoid over-running.
Make things clear
It is good practice to send out final instructions to all the competitors the week before. That way, they can read it and print it out themselves, saving a lot of admin time on the event. When the circuit has been planned, share that with competitors too, so they are already aware how everything is laid out.
You also need to create a risk assessment and an incident plan and share that with the organising team before the event. Keep the risk assessment short, ideally no more than six pages long. There are lots of examples online, but they can be over-complicated. There are good examples of risk assessments and incident plans on the ANWCC website.
Select a good team
A good event cannot run well without a good team, and you should select an experienced Clerk of the Course and possibly a Test Commander – although they can be the same person. Other members should include a Safety Officer, a Chief Marshall, a Scrutineer, and an Event Secretary. The use of digital timing can reduce the number of people needed, while having competitors also take turns as a marshal can help. On a small club night event, it may be run with one Steward and one other official.
Set up in advance
If possible, particularly on larger events, set up the day before you plan to run it, so it is all ready to go first thing the next morning. You will need a stock of equipment, or you can try to borrow from other Clubs to save costs. The list of essentials includes safety signs, cones, cable ties and rope. Asking competitors to help can be a win-win, because it reduces set-up time and allows competitors to walk the course.
The route is typically laid out with cones and either arrow signs or more cones laid on their side pointing in the corner’s direction. It should be intuitive to drive, rather than a memory test. Put up signs to show people where they can and cannot go – standard signs are ‘Motorsport is Dangerous’; ‘Prohibited Area’ and no entry signs. Ideally use Correx and releasable cable ties, as they can be re-used. Separate out the paddock and live circuit using ropes – again, these can be re-used rather than tape, which ends up in the bin and can also blow away.
Several events run a four-group ‘drive-rest-marshal-rest’ system or a similar three-group set-up, enabling everyone to get to drive and marshal each session. Split the field into separate driving groups and in each rotation give each group one driving session, one marshalling and the rest a break. That helps the flow of the day, avoids too much waiting, and gives people experience in managing an event its safety elements, which can help future event organisation. At the end of the event, all drivers can be ‘encouraged’ to help clear up after the event.
Put a focus on safety
Set up an event headquarters in a convenient place – it can be useful to have a trailer containing all the kit to use as a central hub – and keep a hard copy of the risk assessment and incident plans here. Make sure the required firefighting equipment – dry powder and AFFF fire extinguishers – is at the start or finish area and, if possible, also at the event headquarters. You also need first aid cover – a basic first aid box will suffice – and ideally a first aider on site.
Prepare for the conditions
Advise competitors to come appropriately dressed and set up a gazebo or to give cover from rain – or, if you are lucky, shade from the sun – but make sure it is fully strapped down because they can easily blow away. Often, competitors will bring their own pop-up tents to put tools, wheels, and other items. Make sure the paddock is big enough – plan for twice as big as you think you will need, and if you run a grouped system, divide the paddock in to four sections too, as that keeps everything in better order. If it is too small, it can get messy.
Start the day well
Try to welcome marshals and officials with some sustenance – a bacon roll and a cup of tea for example – and also have cake or biscuits available at HQ if you can. If you have the resources, offer the same to spectators – either for a charity donation, or included in the event cost.
Meet and greet
Allocate a marshal to meet and greet competitors onto the site, because even if they are provided with all the information, they often still need guidance when they arrive. The marshal should have a full list of names and which group / paddock they need to be in. Being organised gives competitors confidence and once they have set up, run a drivers’ briefing to talk through the final instructions and allow any questions they may have. It is best to get issues resolved immediately.
The mobile timing apps now available – such as TimingAppLive – make running an event far easier, with one timekeeper able to time a car from start to finish. If the course has the capacity, and good visibility of all the sectors, cars can be set off at 30-second intervals. This will require additional timekeepers to manage each car. Using an App means results can appear instantaneously, as soon as the last car finishes, but in case there is a problem with Internet connectivity, it is also good to manually record the times.
Send people home happy
Prizes cost money, so to keep entry costs down some clubs choose not to award them, but a little something is nice to have. Bottles of wine can be good, or maybe a printed mug – not only useful but also good publicity for the Club when used! If there are any newcomers, create a rookie prize to encourage them to come back.
If possible, try to have someone at the event to take photographs – a friend of an organiser or even a competitor when they are not on track. Competitors will always love to have pictures of them in action, but they can also be used on social media to showcase the day and promote future events.
Never be put off by bad weather. If it rains, allow drivers to go out behind a pace car to test the conditions – these are relatively slow events, so may be able to run in conditions others would not. Driving slow laps in a convoy can also help to clear the course of water, or even ice if salt is laid around before going out. It also gives the competitors the chance to feel the conditions and get used to them – and if someone is not comfortable, they can always sit it out.
Always welcome any spectators who turn up, just make sure they stay outside the live track and the paddocks. Prepare printed leaflets about the Club too – ideally with a list of upcoming event dates – and hand them out because if they like the event, they could become a future participant.
It is important to encourage everyone to race with respect from the start, but if there are any issues, make sure the event team is available at all times and encourage competitors to speak up when any issues occur. That way, they can be sorted out as the event goes along, rather than having the need for protests or complaints at the end. The last thing you want is a competitor going home disgruntled and then giving your event a bad name.
Revolution would like to thank Steve Johnson, organiser of AutoSOLO events for Boundless By CSMA NW MSG, Accrington MSC, and the Under 17 Motor Club North West, plus display events at Event City Manchester, Silverstone, NEC, and SEC for his assistance with this article.
Do you want to compete in an AutoSOLO? Find out more on Motorsport UK TV