The role of the team coordinator
"I like to refer to the TC role as 'the glue.' You hold all of the moving pieces together, but you should dry clear," says Kayla Layton, team coordinator for Team Chambliss. "If you're doing your job well, no one should know what is happening in the background."
Layton and Victoria Griffiths – who was TC for retired World Champion Nigel Lamb and now fills the same role for Mikael Brageot – take care of everything necessary to enable their teams to focus on racing. Their responsibilities cover various areas including public relations, marketing and logistics, as well as project, time and travel management. One minute they're hosting VIPs, handling media relations or working on branding, and the next they are organising shipment of the raceplane or updating social media.
Layton describes, "For TCs, a typical race starts a couple months prior to being on site. Not only are we responsible for our team, but we hold responsibility for our aircraft. We have to manage flight reservations to and from the event, accommodation, and so on. If anyone needs a travel visa, we make sure they get one. We have to review the preliminary race week schedule and coordinate catering.
"In regards to the aircraft, we have to maintain correct documentation for shipping – is the inventory list correct? Where is the plane's final destination? And more."
Once on site at a race location, a TC's job is not only about management, but also hands-on support of the team. Griffiths begins, "For our team, I travel with the technician to ensure he has everything he needs to start raceplane assembly. We usually arrive the Monday before the race. We often have a sponsor commitment on Wednesday or Thursday evening, so I'm the main contact and in charge of getting Mika to the right place. There is always something to be doing, whether it's handing spanners to the technician, taking the pilot to a photoshoot or just making sure everyone is eating properly!"
Layton's duties are much the same, "I'm no mechanic, but I offer our technician an extra set of hands and I help with the hangar setup. In the midst of that is picking up incoming crew from the airport, making sure everyone gets checked in to the hotel okay," she states. "As a TC, you're usually the first to arrive and the last to leave."
When the race draws closer, the atmosphere intensifies and the commitments increase, and that is when scheduling is crucial and the team coordinator really has to take a firm hand.
"Every evening I send out a schedule for the following day, then my job is to make sure we stick to it!" Griffiths says. "Race Days are very, very busy, with media interviews, autograph sessions and briefings. I ensure Mika is ready and in the zone mentally and physically before flying, and that we push the aircraft out to weigh and start up in a timely manner with as little pressure as possible – I'll be on the radio with the grid control so I'm aware if there are any delays in our start time."
Essentially, a TC is on call 24/7, so is it stressful? Griffiths answers, "If I'm doing my job correctly, then no one, including me, should be stressed at any point of the week. The most nerve-racking moments, though, come when Mika flies the track – it's a nail-biting experience. You so desperately want for him to fly clean and fast, but there's nothing you can do. It's all down to him at this point!"
Her counterpart on Team Chambliss nods in agreement. "So much goes into a race, from the assembly to training and everything in-between. It truly is a team sport, but that [when Chambliss is racing] is the one time we, too, become spectators. The other, not so consistent, form of 'stress' we may experience is if we encounter a maintenance issue. Sometimes there are long nights in the hangar."
After each flight, many TCs manage the video captured on the raceplane: keeping cameras charged, downloading footage and passing it along to the team tactician for review. Once the race is over, TCs generally help their technicians with disassembly, and they transport team members to the airport for departure. Once home, there's little rest, especially because the pilots and teams have plenty of commitments outside the racetrack.
"I'm always thinking about our upcoming projects – do we need flights and hotels, do I need to provide media kit information, are there certain sponsor or media needs? What else has to be done? Being able to evenly balance the requirements of multiple events, projects and team needs at once without letting anything slip through the cracks is the toughest part. I keep a LOT of checklists!" Layton discloses.
Even the off-season is a busy time. Griffiths relates, "We plan the season ahead, coming up with new ideas for photo flights and potential media days to fit around the racing, for example. This season we have had lots to plan for, including building an updated website and communication materials, plus the unveiling of an exciting new paint scheme to come."
The two TCs note that the "family" atmosphere of their teams makes their jobs a pleasure; but with so many key organisational tasks, is it fair to say that the TC is the unsung boss of the team?
"Well, they do call me Mum and I've been around the longest of anyone on the team, so yeah, I'd say I'm in charge...although don't tell Mika, he likes to think he's the boss!" Griffiths smiles. "It's a team effort and I'm there to make sure everyone works together to create the best outcome."
Layton chimes in, "The boss? I don't know about that, but the role encompasses a very large span of duties, and all anyone should see is things working smoothly, even if you had to juggle a tornado and a hurricane to make it happen."
Both Layton and Griffiths will be taking care of their teams in Abu Dhabi on 02-03 February, get your tickets HERE.