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Jacques Gérard - Passion in practice

 

“This is my first motorcycle 24 Hours, I usually work at the car race. But I’m on Jacques team so I'm not worried, it’ll be fine,” a young marshal tells us. By Jacques, he means Jacques Gérard who has been an ACO-licenced steward for 20 years and who is in charge at curve #4 at this year’s 24 Hours motorcycle race. Twenty years pursuing his passion on race circuits in France and Navarra, occupying 20-25 weekends a year now that he is retired. Twenty years in a role that also brings him a lot on a personal level. “When you give, you always get something back,” states the former firefighter, who knows a thing or two about dedication. “Of course, there’s the personal satisfaction when you do your job, but that’s not what counts most. What counts is “the sense of camaraderie between the riders and the track crew, the way we communicate using just flags and signs, the bonds that are forged, even though we can’t really see one another, the mutual respect even though we don’t know one another.”  Indeed, when the two sides come into contact during the race, it is not usually a good sign, yet they manage to form close ties as the years and the races go by. Without the marshals, there wouldn't be a race, and without the competitors, there would be no need for marshals!

“We depend on each other.” And the marshals depend on one another too. “When we go out to attend an incident, our life in the hands of the colleague waving the yellow flag. We give them our absolute trust.”  Then, if the marshal with the yellow flag has to turn his back to the oncoming riders, they are dependent on their partner with the blue flag who remains facing the race and will warn them if they have to move away, points out Patrice Foinnel, another marshal at the same post. Even when lives are not at stake, everyone has to make sure they do their job properly. “If someone fails to do their job, they become a burden for the others. And everything we do can have an impact on the race, especially now that technologies have progressed and there is sometimes only a very narrow gap between the leaders. We are a bit like voluntary firefighters: we are volunteers but we have to be just as good as the pros.”

Bikes can be deceiving

Jacques Gérard

Do the marshals play a different role at motorcycle races? ”Not really, but there are a few subtle differences. Motorcycle races are a great training ground for car races. They hone your awareness because bikes can be deceiving! When a car sets off, you know where it’s heading —  that’s not the case with a bike.”

The chief marshal’s job is to make sure the right person is in the right job, and that they all do the best they can. For Jacques Gérard, that means looking beyond the track. The marshals choose their leader when they arrive, grouping together by shared interests... and the interests of their spouses and partners who often come along too! “We rarely meet between races but we stay in touch. If someone appears off-form at a race, we take care of them. We grow fond of one another after spending so much time together. First and foremost, we share a passion and a close-knit team always performs better.”

“Jacques is very upright and deeply caring. He knows how to bring people back into line when necessary. And how to say thank you,” emphasises Foinnel, a former amateur racer who “switched sides when [he] had had enough of getting injured”. “It’s a real pleasure to work with him.” Who are we to disagree?

 

 

Marshalling, in four words

Passion – “It’s what inspires a marshal to get involved and it is vital if you are to accept all the constraints that come with the job.”

Training – “The operational training the ACO provides is really valuable and the more practice a marshal gets, the better he becomes.”

Humility – “Because we never stop learning and when we start to think that we know it all, it’s probably time to stop.”

Solidarity – “A marshal is just one link in a chain formed by the other marshals, the race management and the medical services, with the sole aim of ensuring the riders’ safety.”

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