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Safety aspects of car tuning

The anticipation and the desire to win as man and machine become one unstoppable force that rushes towards the finish line… It is no secret that much of the excitement and the passion for motorsports comes from the sense of danger when driving at extreme speeds. The need for safety regulations and the development of security systems emerge in the second half of the 20th century, as sports racing gains momentum. The effort to ensure maximum safety, either by securing the vehicle or protecting the driver, continues to this day.

For a race car and its driver, the basic safety equipment means having a roll cage, racing seat and harness, racing suit and helmet, fire extinguisher mechanism and hood safety latches.

Roll cage

The role of a roll cage is to provide additional stiffness to the chassis which will, in case the car overturns or gets severely hit, by far increase the chance for the driver to remain unharmed.

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The design of a roll cage varies depending on its purpose, and type of competition. 

As the name says, this safety element resembles a cage, and it is actually a grid of tubes installed inside the vehicle. The tubes are usually welded, while a higher quality construction means installing a one-piece framework (non-welded tubing), which increases the firmness of the connections. There are various materials that can be used to make the roll cage - carbon-rich steel, chromium-molybdenum alloy steel and newer technologies that use hardox. All these materials have excellent characteristics in the sense of being resistant to corrugation, breaking and bending.

The history of roll cages goes back to the first half of the previous century, following the development of agricultural mechanization, when tractor roll-overs caused alarming numbers of severe driver injuries. The Swedish government was the first to introduce a mandatory safety cage on tractors in 1959. However, it was not until 1971 that roll cages were made mandatory on all racing vehicles.

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Racing seat and harness

Racing seats, sometimes referred to as “bucket seats”, are designed according to the shape of the human body. They are fastened to the car frame for additional safety. Beside holding the driver’s body firmly in one position, the purpose of such seats is to ease withstanding g-force when cornering and accelerating.

An additional support for the body is the so-called racing harness of a defined width and resistance to tearing. The harness is fastened to the vehicle’s frame in 4, 5 or 6 points.

Racing seats and harnesses provide much greater safety than any other driver’s or passenger’s seat in any commercial vehicle equipped with air bags and commercial belts. However, imagine sitting in one position every day, sometimes for hours, without being able to move? The lack of comfort is the reason why such solutions are not being used in commercial cars.

Racing suit and helmet

A driver’s racing suit is made of flame resistant materials, the purpose of which is to prevent skin burns until the driver, who is in a conscious state, manages to leave the burning vehicle (which is about 16 seconds). When we say racing suit, we mean overalls, gloves, hood, underwear, socks, and shoes.

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The most frequently used material for racing suits (nomex) is also used to make suits for firefighters.

Along with the suit, protective helmet is also mandatory. Nowadays, in major car racing competitions the helmets are modelled to fit the head of the driver. Although they seem robust and heavy, modern helmets weigh only 1 - 1.5 kg, which helps reduce the pressure on the neck and shoulder muscles under extreme g-forces.

Fire extinguisher

A fire extinguisher mechanism is present on rally cars. It is made of tubes that stretch along the entire length of the vehicle. The tubing system is connected to the central unit which contains flame retardant substances, which gets activated by simply pressing a button.

Cars for other types of competitions like circuit racing and hill climb touring, have a fire extinguisher device anchored to the vehicle, on a mount that is readily accessible to the driver or the co-driver.

Front and rear hood safety latches

Regular hood latches are forbidden on race cars, because if hit, they get deformed easily, causing the hood to open. This reduces visibility and jeopardizes the safety of the driver. Safety latches are of more simple design and cannot be opened by any kind of blow.

NOTE

It goes without saying that all the equipment and car parts mentioned above need to be certified according to the current regulations of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. This is a means of protection against untested or uncertified products that can directly compromise the safety of racing contestants. 

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Our next article will explore racing oils and fluids, so sit down tightly and stay with Total team!