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Constant Change—Updates In Driver & Vehicle Safety

Manufacturers of race safety gear provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of the factors they consider when designing and manufacturing new products for the motorsports industry.

By Ilona French

Many safety manufacturers do their part to advance safety through laboratory and FEA simulation; however, according to Kelli Willmore from Impact in Indianapolis, Indiana, the real-world environment often dictates a different set of challenges that cannot be simulated or accounted for. “For instance, our subsidiary, MasterCraft Defense, live fire (blast tested) our energy attenuating seats, and we were able to successfully reduce a 55G blast energy to a survivable event. Unfortunately, we were too singularly focused on the blast. What we realized from the real-world environment is that our war-fighters were surviving the initial event, however they were experiencing grave injuries during the ‘vehicle slam down.’ MasterCraft Defense has since changed the parameters of our validation to include +Z axis tests in order to account for the initial event as well as the subsequent slam down.

“Motorsports is no different,” she noted. “We learn more as an industry from a real-world incident than we could from lab tests. These unfortunate incidents allow us to evolve as a safety industry and advance our knowledge base.”

When it comes to motorsports safety, oftentimes multiple systems operate in concert with one another. HMS Motorsport in Mooresville, North Carolina, works to provide racers with the equipment they need to stay safe in a race car, all from a single source. “We currently provide Schroth race belts, Stilo helmet, forward neck restraints from Schroth and HANS, Cobra FIA race seats, BSCI SFI rated roll bar padding and Lifeline fire suppression systems, to name a few of our brands,” said Billy Glavin. “To achieve maximum safety, a racer needs all these items installed in the car and functioning together. At HMS, we work hard to educate the racers on what all these different components do and why you need them all. By being able to offer a complete safety cell from fire wall to fire wall, we can ensure the customer gets products that will not only work in their particular car, but will function with all the other safety equipment in their car.”

Unfortunately, amateur racers tend to shop for the lowest common-denominator personal protection equipment, believing that such equipment is adequate, when it rarely is. “Many are still convinced that single-layer suits, sometimes two-piece suits (rated SFI-32A-1) worn with fire-retardant underwear is sufficient protection against on-board fire—the ‘two-layer fairy tale,’” said Philippe de Lespinay of Stand 21 North America, Huntington Beach, California. “Accidental burn injuries sustained [while] wearing such garments are a liability to the very survival of racing at any and every level, as liability insurance rates may skyrocket, or not be available any longer, while lawsuits may fly. Requiring a minimal standard for racing suits for club racing, such as SFI-32A-5 or FIA rating, with mandatory wearing of SFI- or FIA-rated, full-length underwear, with matching socks and shoes; the mandatory wearing of the HANS device for any form of racing (except some vintage cars, where the wearing of such device is physically impossible), should be a goal for any racing organization, be it drag racing, oval track, club or vintage racing.”

“I hope to see more sanctioning bodies and racers adapting all the safety standards and equipment that has been developed for the top levels of motorsports,” said Glavin. “I would like to see all race cars have complete 360 degrees of head-and-neck protection installed within five years. A forward neck restraint only protects the driver from a 0-degree frontal to 30-degrees offset either side. The remaining 300 degrees of protection must be achieved by the race seat, race nets, or a combination of both. Currently, most race cars have a gap in their neck protection from 30 degrees to 90 degrees, because they are relying on the seat with too small of a head rest to protect them. If you look at a NASCAR seat, their right side head rest extends 15 inches forward of the driver’s head. This is because in an accident (30 mph, 30 G) the driver will be 10 inches to 12 inches off the back of the seat, even with properly installed and tight belts. So if the head rest on your seat only extends four inches to six inches forward of the driver, then you will be well past that in an impact. That is why it is critical to have a race net installed, or have a seat with a longer head rest. Hopefully in the next five years race nets on both sides of the seat are mandatory in all race cars, as well as a proper head surround seat. This already started to happen in 2016 with the FIA mandating race nets installed on both sides of the seat for all GT3 style race cars, so the change is coming.

“There is a great wealth of information and products out there that are not being used by a majority of sanctioning bodies and racers,” Glavin continued. “To install a lot of the latest safety products will require modifications to the race cars, but over a period of time this can be accomplished and improve safety dramatically.”

Constant Change -Updates In Driver & Vehicle Safety

Race safety equipment suppliers take into account a variety of factors—from real-world testing to developing systems that work as a single unit—when bringing new products to market.

Performance Racing Industry