A Week in the Life of a CLO

First published December 2014.

A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A CLO – by Nigel Raeburn.

CLO stands for Competitor Liaison Officer – but what does that mean and entail?  Well, Peter Boyce and I have for the last 5 or 6 years spent nearly a week each June as joint CLOs on the Three Castles Rally in north Wales.  It’s not exactly a week’s holiday at the seaside, although we do stay in a guesthouse on the front at Llandudno!  Let me try to give you a flavour of what we do each year.

The role is essentially to act as an independent link between the competitors and the organising team, able to resolve problems and queries related to the event – how it works, what are the rules, the penalty system and the results.  We need to understand the regulations inside out and have a good grasp of the logistics of this three day rally so that we are able to understand, interpret and hopefully answer any query which comes our way. The Three Castles, under Event Director and founder Ian Crammond, has a strong focus on competitor satisfaction so inevitably we get drawn into all aspects of the event (eg arrangements for evening meals and trips, the awards dinner etc) in trying to ensure everyone has a good time and gets the most out of their participation.

While the competitors stay in Llandudno’s best hotels, we stay in a pleasant guesthouse further along the prom with the results and timekeeping team led by famous navigator and organiser Hywel Thomas.  Since many of the queries we have to deal with relate to the results it is good that we have built a good working relationship with Hywel and his team – which itself includes notables such as Barrie Llewellyn who co-drove Welsh driver Tony Chappell to win the Welsh International in 1966 and Olwen Davies who is a key official of Teifi Valley MC and the Cilwendeg Rally.

The competitive part of the rally takes place during daylight hours on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday and consists of smooth surfaced special tests on private land and regularity sections on public roads, linked by transport sections.  Coffee and lunch halts are taken at up-market locations and there is a hospitality team to ensure all the arrangements run smoothly.  In the evenings, back at Llandudno where everyone stays throughout, there is a programme of social activities and meals at a choice of venues – the social side of this rally is an important element.

Peter and I make our way to Llandudno on the Tuesday and attend the meal held for the organising team in an Italian restaurant in the evening – the organising team for an event of this scale running to some 50 people.  During the day there is a briefing by the Clerk of the Course for the course car crews which we try to attend too.

Wednesday is a busy day with scrutineering on the prom and signing-on in the Imperial Hotel.  There is also a ’Prologue’ practice rally which most crews take advantage of – a short run not counting for any results but in the style of the real event with one regularity and one special test.  We CLOs have a desk at signing-on and it’s our first opportunity to get to know the participants.  In the morning there is a beginners’ training class-room session which we also attend and help with – and a debrief after the Prologue for those who want to review what they learned (or didn’t!).  In the evening we attend the big (some 250 people usually) welcome meal at ‘Venue Cymru’ where our main duties are taking Team Entries.

Thursday morning brings the first of three early starts for we CLOs as we have to be out on the prom at 7am for the rally start at the ‘rally arch’.  We sometimes have to issue official amendments to all crews, but usually this first morning it is just a question of making ourselves known – helped by the distinctive bright red polo shirts we wear throughout the rally.  The hospitality team wear beige polos and other organisers black but we are the only ones in red!  When all cars have started if time allows we go back to our guest house for some breakfast, and then it is time to set off to be at the lunch halt hotel (which may be many miles away such as near Dolgellau or Lake Vyrnwy) ready to start dealing with any problems or queries.  We especially try to help the beginners – some of whom are often on their very first rally ever, so we are starting from first principles!  Many queries are dealt with on the spot, often by explaining the regs, road book or other paperwork.  More serious queries can be submitted to us on a Query Form, which we log and track through to resolution in writing – which is placed on the event noticeboard in the Rally HQ at the Imperial Hotel.

 

Some queries we can resolve by examining the results data with the help of Hywel and the results team – looking at both the computer data (Liege timing clocks are used) and the Time Cards and Marshals’ Check Sheets.  As the rally progresses we carry around a laptop with as much of the results data loaded as possible and this helps us resolve some of the queries – but the majority can only be tackled in the evenings in the ‘results room’.   A well-disciplined filing system for all the time cards and check sheets helps enormously with this.  If ‘chipping errors’ have been made by any marshals then this tends to give rise to a lot of queries and time-consuming investigations – bad weather tends to increase the number of chipping errors.  Some queries can only be resolved by the Clerk of the Course who has to make decisions about reports of penalties like jumped starts, stopping in sight of a timing point, wrong tests and hitting cones etc..  It’s our job to present the CoC with all the facts so that his decision-making is as easy as possible.  Sometimes he will phone the marshal concerned to get at first hand a report of what happened – this is why if you are marshalling it’s important to fill in the marshal phone number at the top of check sheets – and then be available on that number for the next 24 hours to help the CoC if required!

So after attending the lunch halt during the time when all cars pass through, we CLOs will see if the time schedule and route allows us to attend any tests or controls during the afternoon which we will do if we can – maybe at the tea halt.  Most years we seem to get to the Glan-y-Gors kart circuit where there is good spectating and shelter for tea/coffee!  Then by about 7pm we will be ensconced in the Rally HQ at the Imperial for the evening at a table by the noticeboard and close to the results room, ready to deal with queries arising during the day.  We take a break to eat with the results team via ‘room service’ with our meal brought to the results room.  On average we might get 20 to 30 written queries each day of the rally – even more when there has been a big entry of 120 cars – in recent years it’s been closer to 80.

If all goes well the provisional results for day one will be posted on the noticeboard and PC displays by about 9pm – which usually gives rise to another flurry of queries.  With luck by about 11pm competitors have gone off to bed and so can we – but some times it has been gone midnight before we can get back to our guesthouse – then up early to be on the prom by 7am the next day!

At the start on the prom on Friday and Saturday mornings we are on hand to issue printed results from the previous day – an individual set for each car.  Again – another flurry of queries is triggered!  Friday follows the same pattern as Thursday (and each day we attend the lunch venues) with the evening back at the Imperial Rally HQ, but on Saturday the rally finishes mid-afternoon so our base then is at the ‘Venue Cymru’ – a large conference centre on the prom, also housing the theatre.  The results team also move base to here and we stay until the results can be finalised which is usually about 8pm just as the awards dinner is commencing at this location.  This is a busy and tense time for us as it is essential all queries are resolved before the results for the full event can be declared provisional.  We are invited to attend the awards dinner but some years we have been too exhausted to do so – but other times we have managed to dash back to our guesthouse to change into our DJs and join in the celebrations.  Some of the competitors have been very generous and thank us for our help by plying us with drinks – so it’s not all bad!

On Sunday we have a slight lie-in and then enjoy a relaxed breakfast with Hywel and his team before driving home.  Hopefully this has given you an insight to the role of the CLO.  Other events may handle it differently, but this approach seems to work well on the Three Castles.  Peter and I have agreed to do it again in 2015 but really we need to find someone else to take it on and allow us to retire – any volunteers?

The Three Castles is a bit different and a very successful formula with its focus on the social programme and the quality of the hotels and food – as well as a well organised rally.  Many competitors treat it as a motoring holiday with quite a few husband and wife crews – having a base in one hotel is a plus for many.  By sticking to good surfaces it tends to attract some lovely motorcars.

There will no doubt be some changes in 2015 as Fred Bent (after many successful years at the helm of the Rally of the Tests) takes over as Clerk of the Course from Kenny Owen who carried this out with aplomb for every year since the first (when it was Denis Cardell).  Shon Gosling takes over as Chief Marshal so I expect he will be hoping for lots of volunteers from our NW Area!  John Hunt and Dave Thomas have carried out this job previously and I’m sure Shon will keep up the high standards.

To read more about the Three Castles see the website at www.three-castles.co.uk .

 

 

 

 

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