The Blue Flag is blue, with a diagonal
yellow strip. It is one of the most important, but poorest understood of all racing flags
. TV sportscasters
, and race fans
often refer to it as the 'move over flag'. It's not, but like many great lies there's some truth to it. The blue flag simply instructs a race driver
that a faster car is about to overtake
him. Nothing more.
The rules for the blue flag are described in section 9.4 the General Competition Rules (GCR) of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). They are virtually the same everywhere in the world, which is administered by the FIA. In the US, most if not all race workers are trained and licenced by the SCCA, including those who work CART, American LeMans, AMA motorcycle racing and other pro series, and SCCA rules largely apply. According to the GCR, the blue flag is an advisory flag only, and should be held stationary. In all cases the overtaking car has the responsibility to make a safe pass.
If it's just an advisory, why bother?
There are two reasons why the blue flag is a real asset to safety on the race course. The first is that it often prevents blocking. Blocking occurs when a race car changes its racing line in order to prevent another car from passing. In road racing, passing is very difficult because the snakelike alternating turns tend to reduce speed, and thus increases the differential required to pass. A passing move often requires an early commitment, and some extra risk. So blocking can place cars in contact with each other, or cause one to spin to avoid contact. Plus it makes the overtaking driver angry, and anger clouds judgement. The blue flag tells the overtaken driver that the corner workers (in Europe, corner workers are called turn marshalls) have their eyes on him, so he should play nice or speak with the steward.
Second, a blue flag influences the tactics of the overtaken driver, letting him know he has another car to be concerned with. When you are strapped into a race car, it is nearly impossible to swivel your head to check behind you. You are also very busy. When two backmarkers are racing each other, it is easy to focus at the battle at hand and forget who's coming up behind you. A well timed blue flag lets you know to check your mirrors.
Let me provide a concrete example from personal experience. I was working as station communicator at turn 5 of Summit Point Raceway, in far eastern West Virginia. I witnessed an incident that took place at turn 4, an extremely fast downhill righthander, that I have personally driven at over 100 MPH. What happened was that a very fast car from a very fast class had problems at the start of the race, and thus ended up at the very back of a field he outclassed. Also, his problems had him worked up a bit. He was on a mission, blowing by people like they were standing still. During the third lap he was carving his way through the field he encountered two slower cars who were having their own race. Corner station 4 displayed the blue, which was ignored by a nissan. The faster car made a move, and an instant later the nissan made a move on his buddy, pulling directly into the path of the faster car. They hit.
The next thing I saw was the Nissan doing a 120 MPH horizontal, airborne cartwheel that ended when he smacked an earthen berm. Hard. The faster car followed him right into the berm. Cars everywhere. Smoke everywhere. All manner of safety equipment summoned. Race cars left with 90 degrees of toe-in. Roof racing. The track was shut down for almost an hour. Fortunately, no one was badly hurt.
Had the Nissan paid attention to the blue flag, he would have checked six and known he was about to be passed. The accident would have been avoided. Lots of accidents have been avoided because of a well-thrown blue, and they aren't spectacular.
How to Blue Flag
According to Lake Erie Communications, one of the world's most respected organizations for flagging and communications, the blue flagger's first responsibility is to protect his station. A blue flagger stands facing traffic, and thus may be the only person in the station in a position to see an onrushing car, flying tire or other potential hazards. I have personally bailed from more than one corner station, and seen wheels fly over my head. The blue flagger has to keep her head up.
Second, blue flaggers need to retain a good idea of the order of the race. Sometimes during a long race, such as for CART, race control will pass on the numbers of the leading cars. Lake Erie teaches it's workers to begin by memorizing the numbers of the first three, and last three race cars. That works well, as you can pick up the rest of the order during the race, as the leaders lap.
Next, plan your blues. Every corner is different. As a driver, I concentrate on the cars around me and the next corner, not the corner stations. The flagger needs to know where the drivers are when they are looking at the flags. That is always a significant distance before the flags. Never when the car is at the flags, because drivers look ahead, the best drivers far ahead. You have to have that blue up when they're looking at you. Blues thrown too late confuse drivers, and may lead them to ignoring the flag.
At some corners that's pretty easy. At stations 5, 8 and 9 at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course you can see the cars for a long time and can see who's overtaking who. At eleven or thirteen you may have less than a second to identify your target and raise the flag. I like to track faster cars, and identify their upcoming victims. When I see the targetted slow car and the fast car in my sight picture, up comes that blue!
Find ways to identify individual cars. Stock bodied cars are pretty easy to identify. It's no problem picking out the black GT-2 Lotus from a crowd. Colors and model are usually enough. But formula cars are pretty tough. A lot of Formula Continentals are made by Van Deimen. They all look alike. It's no good to target the black car, when there are six of them! But drivers do like individuality. One may paint his nose and roll bar orange, the other has silver wings. A yellow helmet may be your key. Try to find ways of telling the wolves from the sheep.
Finally, sell the blue! Move it! Wave it! Pop it out quickly. Drivers see movement before they do things that are motionless. Catch their attention! If the drivers see you are into it, they're more likely to pay attention.
The blue flag is one of the most misunderstood, but important racing flags. It's also a ton of fun!
Noders wishing further information are suggested to log in at the Lake Erie Communications web site: http://www.lakeeriecommunications.com or your local SCCA region which can be found at SCCA.ORG