Limiting the danger

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 28/07/2016
  • By Bruce Newton

Supercars has moved to assure its teams the introduction of mandatory measures to slow cars during safety car periods will only come after lengthy deliberation and study, and not at the cost of racing equality.

The study of how to make sure Supercars drivers maintain moderate speeds passing crash sites has been ongoing this year, with tests conducted at both Winton and Townsville.

At Winton speed limiters fitted to the cars for 2016 were tested at 100km/h, while they were tested at 80km/h at Reid Park.

Data from these tests is now being assessed, along with new timing software that analyses car speed through the various micro-sectors of race tracks.

The idea is to avoid scenes such as at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 last year where cars were racing past the site of Scott Pye’s late-race accident while the injured driver was still in the car and medical and recovery staff were in attendance on-track.

Formula One has introduced a virtual safety car in response to this sort of issue. It is designed to be a step beyond waved yellows but less intrusive than a safety car. It is signalled by VSC displays on the marshalling light panels and messages to the teams and the drivers must stay above a minimum time for a sector.

But Virgin Australia Supercars Championship sporting and technical director David Stuart said a system requiring that infrastructure was not being considered here.

“We are working on the limiter as a strategy for the safety car and we are also working on a couple of other things in conjunction with that,” Stuart explained.

“We don’t currently have the technology to run a virtual safety car but there might be other ways to analyse sector speed around an accident, so we are working on bits of software for things like that as well.

“So the original goal was that we want the cars to do a particular speed in and around an accident zone and that’s for the protection of the driver that could be in the car and the recovery personnel and our medical staff.”

The prospect of mandatory speed controls during safety car periods has triggered massive debate up and down pit lane and Stuart confirmed he had been involved in plenty of discussions.

He also confirmed that at this stage of data gathering and research he simply didn’t have all the answers for those queries.

“Whenever you introduce anything to do with racing, whether it be a tyre or a pit limiter or anything, the first consideration people have is how will that affect the racing?

“And that’s fair enough and a natural reaction, particularly when there is not a lot of meat on the bone.

“What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? What are you going to do if this happens? What are you going to do if that happens?

“At the moment we are gathering all that information so we can provide the answers to those questions.”

The fundamental concern teams have is that their rivals will somehow gain an advantage during a speed limited period of the race. For instance, one engineer is slower to instruct his driver to engage his speed limiter button and that driver therefore gains an advantage.

Being able to compare actual times through micro-sectors against a pre-determined safe speed would help resolve that, as race control would be able to penalise speeders.

Stuart said the issue had become all the more scrutinised in the VASC because of the move this year to more pit stop racing.

“This issue of racing under safety car has always been around and it’s not isolated to Supercars, it is in every category that involves pit stops because you are racing to the pit exit.

“It has been around for a long time when I was working for teams. It’s a problem, but now it’s time to tackle it.

“The fact is in almost all our races now we have an element of pit stop activity in both the Saturday and the Sunday race.”

Stuart played down the chances of revised safety car regulations appearing in 2016, stressing that there was a significant number of factors that had to be considered in writing new rules. 

“We don’t want to put something out and have an adverse effect on a car because of something the limiter might do … the paramount thing is the safety of the driver in the car and the recovery crew and then we need to look at how that affects everyone else.”

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