Picture: Colin Brown

During main-circuit events the race control office at the base of Killarney’s control tower looks like a cross between an outside broadcast unit and launch control at the Kennedy Space Centre, with banks of TV monitors, computers and radio microphones.

The comparison is in fact an appropriate one, because this is the nerve centre of main-circuit racing at Killarney International Raceway. This is where the decisions are made and where the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the competitors lies.

That responsibility rests with the Clerk of the Course, who is also in charge of deploying and recalling the Safety Car and, in the case of a serious incident on the track, is also the only person allowed to stop a race by ordering the marshals to display a red flag at each marshal’s post.

This is usually, but not always, at the request of the marshals themselves, who are first on the scene when things go wrong on the circuit.

The Clerk of the Course is also responsible for ensuring that each race is run according to the rules set out in the Supplementary Regulations (the format sent out to competitors ahead of the meeting, inviting them to enter), as well as the rules governing motorsport, as laid down by Motorsport South Africa and, ultimately, the International Automobile Federation in Geneva, Switzerland.

For this reason, the Clerk of the Course is not necessarily a single person. Each class of racing may have their own CoC, who is expert in the rules governing that class, and who takes charge of race control when ‘his’ races are being run.

The Clerk of the Course is also the first line of inquiry should there be a protest or disciplinary action against a competitor.

Backing him up in race control are two very important functionaries. The radio officer is in constant communication with the marshals around the circuit, relaying their reports to the Clerk of the Course and the COC’s instructions to the marshals.

The camera controller is responsible for monitoring the images captured by the closed-circuit cameras that cover the entire circuit and displayed on the monitors in race control.

He’s able to pan individual cameras remotely and zoom in for a detailed view of any part of the circuit, giving the Clerk of the Course visual information of what is happening in real time. The footage from all the cameras is recorded so as to settle any later disputes – and to show alleged transgressors exactly why they are being disciplined.

This sometimes brings the Clerk of the Course into conflict with competitors, but it must always be borne in mind that the most important function of race control is the safety of the competitors, and this is where the buck stops if anybody gets hurt.