To coincide with our Racing Gear Buyer's Guide (page 76), we're focusing on the safety items that are available to make our S2000 race car as safe as possible. As we've proved in the past, anything can happen on track and having the right gear in place can make the difference between walking away unscathed and being seriously injured.
Two of the fundamental safety components for any track car build are the rollcage (see the Aug. '09 issue) and racing seat. A seat with integral head supports such as the OMP Pista, Recaro Pro Racer Hans or Cobra Sebring, for example, make a huge difference in a side impact or rollover scenario. For improved comfort and safety, be sure to select a composite shell seat as opposed to a tube frame seat that will result in point loads to your body in an impact.
Next up are your belts. We have chosen the OMP Professional 6E six-point lap belt. This belt is FIA certified, which means it can be used in competition for five years as opposed to an SFI-certified belt that's only eligible for two years. For touring car/sports car applications, the six-point belt is your best option and is very comfortable when installed correctly. For complete belt-mounting details, it's best to follow the included instructions and to reference your series regulations. SCCA has all of the mounting guidelines available in its rule book at www.scca.com.
Onboard fire suppression is a worthwhile investment and is mandated by many sanctioning bodies. A simple handheld bottle within reach of the driver will meet most regulations and is better than nothing. However, if a fire has started you want to be able to expel the extinguisher and get out of the car as quickly as possible, not be reaching for a fire bottle. Consequently, we have chosen a Life-Line Zero 2000 fire system with six outlets that can be plumbed to high-risk areas such as the fuel tank, engine compartment and at the driver's footwell for maximum protection. This system is designed with an electric controller that simply requires the push of a button to activate. It's best to place one button within reach of the driver and another at the base of the windscreen, where a track worker can reach should you be unable to activate the system. Be sure to disarm the system when in the pit area to avoid any accidental "Hey, what does this button do?" moments.
Finally, you will need an electrical disconnect or kill switch. This needs to be within reach of the driver and track workers. You can use one switch near the driver A-pillar or locate one in the center of the dash and have a remote pull at the base of the windshield.
With the car outfitted with the right gear, it's time to outfit the driver. From the top down, this means a helmet, belaclava, HANS Device, Racing suit, gloves, underwear, shoes and socks. Starting with the helmet, it's best to look for an auto racing-specific helmet because they're designed to withstand the type of impacts that can occur within a race car. I've chosen the Bell Infusion top forced air which features Kevlar-composite construction to keep weight low and has a fresh air feed in the top to keep the driver fresh and cool. When choosing a helmet, fitment is critical and the only way to know is to try them on. Be sure to find a helmet that fits snug without any pressure points for maximum comfort and buy the best/lightest helmet you can afford.
The HANS Device is a safety breakthrough. In a frontal impact they do a fantastic job of keeping your head attached to your body. There are two versions available, including an economical sport model that offers the same level of protection as the lightweight pro model. Weight is not a safety issue with the HANS (unlike helmets) because it's constrained under your belts and on your shoulders. New HANS models are available with "sliding tethers" which don't limit visibility and can be retrofitted to previous models. Wearing a HANS is comfortable and is a safety must-have! Check out www.hansdevice.com for sizing info-the 20-degree model is the most popular with sport compact cars.
For the racing suit, shoes and gloves we turned to Alpinestars. The GP-Tech suit features state-of-the-art construction, resulting in a very lightweight, breathable and comfortable suit. It's amazing how lightweight the suit is while meeting FIA and SFI 3.2A/5 standards (minimum of 10 seconds until second-degree burn). Alpinestars suits offer great style and the GP-Tech is no exception. The suit is not bulky at all and with flat-seam construction there are no pressure points or discomfort with the seatbelts tightened up. In addition, the Nomex underwear will add another three seconds of burn protection and helps keep your suit less sweaty. The Tech 1-Z shoe is quite possibly the most comfortable shoe I've worn. The shoe features a wide toe box area but remains compact and slim, allowing great mobility in the pedal box area and offers phenomenal pedal feel. These are great for heel/toe and with a Nomex inner liner it will meet all FIA and SFI standards. They also feature a quick lace system for those last-minute days where you need to make it to the grid quick. The Alpinestars Tech-1Z racing glove offers excellent fit and as with all the other products meet all SFI and FIA standards. When choosing a glove I find a thin palm with minimal padding offers the best feel of the wheel. The Tech-1Z excels in this area and features a slightly stretchy construction along with precurved fingers and palm that conforms nicely to the hand. Alpinestars' driver gear is definitely leading the way by offering excellent fit, safety and style. When ordering your gear, be sure to add a Nomex belaclava and a couple pairs of Nomex socks to ensure you're protected from head to toe!
One final safety device that has been recently released is the Shock Doktor Eject. This is a slim air bladder that slips in the top of your helmet and in the case of a neck injury can be inflated to remove the helmet without causing any further injuries. At $60, it's an affordable feature worth having.