Editor's Note: Conquest Racing American Le Mans Series driver Martin Plowman served as a spotter for Ana Beatriz's Conquest/Andretti Autosport effort during the month of May. The Englishman chronicles his experience in this guest diary.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter (@Plowey), you will know that this May I got to take part in the Indianapolis 500 in an official role for the first time. Now it may not have been behind the wheel as I hope to be one day, but was possibly the next best thing: inside the ears of the driver, acting as a second pair of eyes positioned high up in the stands. I was a spotter for Ana Beatriz.
In case you don't know what a spotter is, it's basically an observer high up in the stands dedicated to a single driver who constantly communicates with the driver about the whereabouts of the cars around him/her in their blind spot, the distance of the car behind them and any relevant information they need to know during the race.
I had never been a spotter in my life before, so I was a little nervous about taking the job when Eric Bachelart (Conquest team owner) first asked me, but then I thought to myself, “Why not? I don't have anything to do during the month of May at Indy, so it would give me a chance to stay involved with the team and a great excuse to get out of the house.”
On day one, it struck me just how difficult the job was going to be. I had never really thought about it until then, but my job was to pick out a car from nearly a mile away! Even with the help of binoculars, at a mile away, the cars look miniscule and distinguishing colors proved to be tough, especially when there were three cars that looked similar. Two of Ana's teammates at Andretti Autosport (Sebastian Saavedra, Ryan Hunter-Reay) were predominantly yellow. As the month wore on I trained my eyes to pick out the secondary colors sooner.
Some of the days during testing were long and grueling sitting in the heat for hours with no shade. I basically set up camp in the Turn 3 stands with all of the other spotters and rarely left my station all day.
At times I'll admit it was boring, but it's a little funny to learn that most of the spotters in Turn 3 kept themselves occupied by commentating on the golf going on behind us at the Brickyard at the Crossing. The funniest moment of the month was when a guy holed his birdie shot from the bunker. About 15 of us watched the ball crawl to the hole then erupted into cheers when the ball sunk. The guy seemed embarrassed at first that all these strangers were watching – then he realized he had performed a miracle and lots of people had seen it. Bragging rights!
The rest of the practice sessions were pretty uneventful for me, which was both good and bad. It was nice to be able to learn the procedures of calling Ana out of the pits safely and finding space alone on the track or in a small pack in a more relaxed environment, but at the same time I needed to be challenged. With no experience, I would have liked to have practiced calling the shots with Ana in the middle of a 15-car pack with three-wide action to get used to race day. The first time I experienced that was during the race itself!
Race day came and I felt 10 times more nervous than if I was in the car! I don't know what my deal was. I guess as a driver in the cockpit, I have been racing nearly all of my life. Nothing truly fazes me, so heading into a big race I can handle the pressure. This was different – I was about to do something I had never done before on the biggest stage of them all. Not only that, but I had the responsibility of keeping one of my fellow drivers safely out of harm's way. If something bad should happen, part of the blame would be on my shoulders!
Standing up in the Turn 1 spotters' stand looking down at the track, the spirit of Indy really hit me. I had the birds-eye view of 11 rows of three and all of the pomp and circumstance unfolding beneath me. When my adrenaline started to kick in, I began to calm down and focus on the job at hand. When the green flag dropped and the famous words “Green, green, green!” were called, the first two turns were just a blur for me. If I ever listen to the radio recording again, I'm sure I sounded like an auctioneer. “three-wide, four-wide! Clear outside, still inside!”
Before long I felt I was getting the hang of it and was able to safely guide her through a few very scary restarts. The only time that I'll admit that I dropped my direct focus on my driver (and I am not alone here) was when Sato attempted that pass into turn one. For a moment, time froze and all of us in the spotters stand seemed to be fixated as we saw the inevitable unfold. “Yellow, yellow, yellow!” I knew Ana was at the very back of the pack and was not in immediate danger. Sato's move was obvious from the moment he had a run on Dario. I don't blame him for trying, and he's not a loser in my book. No driver would have backed off and come second. It capped off what was an amazing race.
Of course, part of me wished I was racing that day, but one thing you will never hear me say is that I feel I deserve a chance to be out there. No one truly deserves to race at Indy. Racing at Indy is a gift that hundreds of talented drivers may never get to do and millions of regular guys and girls only dream of doing. If one day I get a chance to take the green flag at Indy in an IndyCar, I will simply be thankful for the opportunity. Only when I drink the winner's milk will I know that I deserved that chance.
To be a part of a team is the next best thing, in my opinion, so I am thankful to Conquest Racing/Andretti Autosport and of course Ana Beatriz herself for letting me be a part of her team. I was at the greatest race in the world – and loving it!