Motorsport is inherently dangerous, make no mistake. In the years of racing I’ve experienced, I have seen horror crashes that have taken the lives of many people and yet I have seen many more where the driver has walked away with minimal bruising and the reason for this is the push for safety.
When building a race car the first thing should not be aiming for speed or exceptional handling, those are important but rather the safety of the driver should be paramount. In the words of a famous motoring journalist “Its not the speed that kills you, its the sudden stop”. Advances in technology and materials has brought us to a point where competitors have no excuse for not considering safety a priority.
Lets take a look at some of the items every drifter should have and should consider having at their disposal. Well start with the car and move on to the driver. We’ve discussed some of these item here but I’ve added a few more for safety’s sake.
Minimum, 6 point rollcage
There’s an old saying that rubbing is racing and the competitive nature of motorsport ensures that well always see contact of some sort. Roll overs, flips, endo’s and collisions, when this happens the results are often spectacular and terrifying and is probably the best reason if any to have a proper roll cage fitted to your race sled.
Stock seats are good for stock situations but when it comes to racing you are going to want to be firmly in place and secure should you be involved in a collision or loss of control.
Minimum, 4 point safety harnessThe Race seat and goes hand in hand with a good quality harness. When referring to a 4 or 5 point harness it basically means how many mounting points in consists of. A four point will consist of two shoulder straps and two waist straps, these should be a minimum of 3 inches wide for competitive racers.
Electrical cut off switch
The driver should be able to switch off his engine from inside the car while still being strapped in place but there is also a switch on the outside that is accessible by marshals should there be a need to kill the cars electrical and the driver is unable to do so.
Onboard fire extinguisher
Fire is a deadly reality of motorsport. When you put a really flammable substance near red hot metal surfaces and add them violently together the chances of fire increases exponentially. Having a small onboard fire extinguisher gives the driver an extra chance of putting out any small fire inside the cabin.
This is doubly important if the driver is running an exotic fuel like Methanol or Ethanol, which burns with a clear flame!
If you’ve checked off the above items your car is now safe, Now its time to make sure that you are protected aswell.
Minimum Level 1 Race suit
When speaking about the levels here it refers to the amount of fire resistant material layers there are in the construction of the suit which translates into how many minutes of fire resistance you have before you get burnt to a crisp. Formula One drivers have to wear up to a level 5, so consider us lucky here in SA, that in drifting we only need a level 1.
Minimum Level 1 Gloves, Race boots
Gloves are a must not only to protect your hands from the threat of fire but they also provide grip on your steering wheel. A good set of leather race boots will also protect your feet from fire and often times allow you to feel the car through the soles of your feet as the shoes have paper thin rubber soles which allow for heel toe and left foot braking. There are still too many drivers out racing in running shoes and street footwear.
FIA approved Safety Helmet
Few drivers know that it is a requirement that the helmet you use in competition has to be FIA approved. The scrutineer can ask to see the approval sticker and you can be refused entry if your helmet isn’t up too spec. Easy way to check, on your helmet there will be a small sticker that indicates its approval rating.
The better the rating, the safer the helmet and the better your chances are if something goes terribly wrong.Its also important to
Also keep in mind that if you choose to run with an open face helmet such as a rally style you will need to have a fire proof balaclava.
FIA approved HANS Device (Head and Neck Safety)
Although not yet a requirement in SA motorsports we seriously advocate the use of a HANS if you can afford one. A HANS device is a padded carbon fibre or Kevlar shoulder mounted system that is connected to your helmet with two straps and is held in place by your harness. It essentially stops your head from bouncing around during an accident, seriously minimising head and neck trauma.
I should also mention at this time that the safety equipment in you racecar and on your person does have an expiry date and you should check on these at regular intervals.
Now I’am already hearing a collective grumble from racers out there saying that some of these items are too expensive, well I have one thing to say to you…
Can you put a value on your life?
As the speeds increase and drivers take more chances to out perform each other safety in these forms should be a priority and not seen as something that has to be done just to get through scrutineering. Contrary to popular belief we aren’t all indestructible and invincible race heroes.
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