Giving safety a leg up

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 04/07/2016
  • By Kassie Gadeke

Always looking to improve safety standards, Supercars continues to work with DJR Team Penske and the Chassis Technical Advisory Panel (CTAP) to develop a seat extension tray with the aim of increasing foot and leg protection for drivers (pictured in yellow).

Leg brace

After two significant accidents at Bathurst last year – one with DJR Team Penske’s current driver Scott Pye and another with the squad's former driver Chaz Mostert – the team began the project, which is a variation on what is used in NASCAR.

Now, in the wake of Lee Holdsworth’s accident in Darwin – which new information reveals recorded a 95 g hit – the spotlight is on safety once again and any additional protection that can be provided for drivers.

Holdsworth’s hit was almost double that recorded by Mostert at Mount Panorama last year. Holdsworth has a fractured pelvis, two ribs and knee, while Mostert broke his femur when his leg hit the car’s gear lever, and also suffered knee damage as well as a broken wrist.

Supercars technical and sporting director David Stuart reinforced how important safety was to the category, with cars traveling at speeds up to 300km/h at circuits like Bathurst.

“Our cars are safe, our cars are developed to a very high standard and over the last 10 years the category has had a major focus on driver safety,” Stuart told supercars.com.

“That was evident in the developments of the latter phase of the project blueprint chassis, as each individual team did, and collaboratively in the next gen platform.”

The current ‘car of the future’ sees the driver sit as close to the centre of the car as possible, has improved side intrusion on the older cars after testing in Europe, and has a mandated seat specification.

“From there, we’ve unfortunately had a couple of fairly significant accidents and this is just a continuation of the ongoing driver safety development,” Stuart explained.

DJR Team Penske aren’t the first to push forward in the area, with Betty Klimenko’s Erebus team developing and homologating the carbon-fibre E-Cell ‘safety seat’ as part of its Mercedes-Benz E-63 program.

Stuart says this foot tray is a logical step forward as the category looks at ways to protect the drivers’ legs and feet, as well as offer the freedom they need in the car. This tray would enhance the E-cell or any other homologated seat, for example, not work against it.

“I don’t think this will impact on the driver’s day-to-day control of the vehicle – what it will do is it will provide more protection around their lower legs, from the mid-thigh downwards,” Stuart said. 

“What we’re looking at with the car with foot protection is just the next thing. At the moment, foot protection is a freedom the teams have so they can design any foot tray they like and run it.

“So it’s more about, how can we encapsulate the driver but still have the driver exit the vehicle on their own, in the event of an extreme accident, if they’re capable.

“The NASCAR solution doesn’t work for us … and Penske has been working with the CTAP on an evolution of that for our cars and our style of racing.”

The CTAP is the chassis technical advisory panel, which operates separately from the Commission, with representatives from each team.

Meanwhile, the Commission has resolved other issues that contribute to safety ahead of this week’s Castrol EDGE Townsville 400.

There will be further testing on the Safety Car speed limiter after practice on Friday.

Teams can engage a brake lock valve, if fitted to the rear of the Supercar, to stop the rear wheels from spinning in a pit stop (which is penalised severely with a drive through penalty given it is dangerous for wheel changers).

And the use of five per cent propylene glycol – a product used in food production that has low flammability properties – can be used in cool suits to help prevent the cold water running through them from freezing. Given the hot weather expected in Townsville, a cool suit failure would be detrimental for a driver.

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