My focus at the 24th Annual Performance Racing Industry trade show was to take in as much as I could from the available seminars and sessions on the various aspects of motorsports safety. It was a full program for me this year. Lots to absorb.
GILL CAMPBELL, CEO/GM of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca said her road racing circuit wasn’t a SAFER barrier kind of track. But that didn’t mean the county-owned race track didn’t consider safety. The track “is constantly looking for ways to promote more safety. Among the improvements made so far are literally moving a mountain ‘in an environmentally-conscious community – but it had to be done.” So, huge earth movers beavered away in Turn One, making more runoff areas mandated by FIM for the Moto GP events.
More than $2.5 million was spent on runoff area improvements for MotoGP. During the events, “The track utilizes tremendous amounts of air fences, and gravel traps to slow down the bikes. There now is a tremendous amount of runoff area. Had those improvements been in place when he raced, maybe it would have saved WAYNE RAINEY. ”
Applying the law of Unintended Consequences at Laguna Seca, those safe motorcycle gravel traps were an anathema to road racers, who got caught and trapped in them. So another $2.2 million was spent for asphalt ribbons in Turns Two and Six. These are strips of asphalt behind the kerbing. So when a car gets off track in the gravel, it still has traction to get back on track rather than being abandoned. Motorcycle kerbs are more gentle than car kerbs, which aren’t called Dragon’s Teeth for nothing.
After each MotoGP weekend, FIM dissects each and every accident, even if it was a one-rider slip and fall with no injury.
DR. HUGH SCULLY, International Council of Motorsports Science Chairman, Canadian F1 Medical Delegate, and presenter at the Annual ICMS Congress, talked about the strides being made in motorsports safety. ICMS implements motorsports safety initiatives. The group brought the best minds together at the Congress to come up with better ways to do things. It looks at drivers, cars, circuits, barriers, all types of systems such as rescue and fire, and significant advances in early work on spinal and head injuries – which is a topical concern these days with baseball and football injuries.
The whole issue of fire in motorsports, especially in GT racing, is going to be revisited. Scully is optimistic that “We can make a different and have been making a difference. Now we have the expertise of other medical teams, such as the Olympics and on the battlefield, in terms of what happens at an event.”
This year ICMS was looking at some pretty unfortunate accidents.
The world was shocked and devastated at the horrific accident at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway season finale race for IndyCar, which involved 15 cars, five of which went airborne. This was the worst nightmare for any race medical team. It’s a very big concern to find ways to stop the open wheel cars from going airborne. The SAFER barriers at LVMS minimized the impacts, and the progressively collapsible nature of the cars helped. The debris fences did their job, keeping the spectators safe.
There has been progress. When the awful Le Mans accident occurred in 1955, there was no mechanism to keep the cars from going airborne. In those days, one in seven drivers were injured. Now, even with higher speeds and greater impacts, only one driver in 364 is injured. Still not a good statistic, but progress.
Dr. Scully was the Race Doctor at the Toronto CART race when American driver, JEFF KROSNOFF of CA, was killed instantly after his car went airborne and hit the debris fence. A wheel killed a Flag Marshal, who didn’t see it coming. But the fence did its job – there were 22 spectators right on the other side, who were protected.
Dr. Scully said what should be discussed, in addition to driver safety, is more emphasis placed on improving safety for the volunteer race marshals. The FIA Institute of Motor Sports Safety and Sustainability, of which he is a member, has made great use of the $700 million FIA Motorsports Development Fund (courtesy of McLaren from Spygate) for promoting regional motorsports training networks and Regional Training Providers through The Safety Training Working Group. The FIA Institute is also involved with the RRDC (Road Racing Driver’s Club) new ‘Safe Is Fast’ online racing program. SAFE stands for Skilled – Assured – Fit – Empowered.
“Safe Is Fast” is a three-year old initiative of RRDC which held three seminars for young drivers and parents, and has since expanded into a comprehensive website, with short vignettes from many professionals and drivers, categorized into seven topics.
Among those who have participated in the features are DR. TERRY TRAMMELL and DR STEVE OLVEY, who were founding members of ICMS and the FIA Institute, and the CART Medical team. They spoke about the HANS device and head and neck injuries. Olvey is associate professor of neurological surgery, specialist in brain injuries and author of “My Inside Story As a Motor Racing Life-Saver” and another book. Trammell is an orthopedic surgeon focusing on spinal biomechanics, injury and occupant kinematics (Kinematics describes the motion of bodies (objects) and systems (groups of objects) without consideration of the forces that cause the motion,) and motorsports medicine. He is a consultant, and a very active proponent of motorsports safety.
The FIA Institute has a Medical Commission, chaired by DR. SID WATKINS. InstituteFellows include Scully along with DR. PAUL TRAFFORD of the UK – FIA; US motorsports doctors and founders of ICMS, Drs Olvey and Trammell; American DR. GARY HARSTEIN-Formula One Medical Rescue Coordinator Medical Delegate; and DR. MICHAEL HENDERSON of Australia-retired RAF surgeon, motorsports consultant and author of a book on Motor Sports Safety.
In January 2011, the Medical Commission launched “Medicine in Motor Sport” available in print and digital formats. It was designed for use at all kinds of motorsports events, and was edited by Professor Harstein. The goal of this effort by Medical Training Working Group is to make medical protocol universal and consistent around the world.
After NIKI LAUDA’s fiery Formula One accident in 1976 at the German Grand Prix, former F1 driver, JACKIE STEWART, made it his own personal crusade to promote motorsports safety an made a career of it. He worked with the medical and manufacturer side of the issue.
An aside here on Lauda: there are rumors that RON HOWARD and Cross Creek Pictures will be making a movie about Lauda called “Rush”, with PETER MORGAN as screen writer for the production.
Currently, there are protocols for returning to competition. And the various medical and safety groups are making inroads, becoming leaders in safety and working with the race series to incorporate safety improvements.
Nowadays, the up and coming young drivers are more of the mind set where safety is emphasized, with all the equipment and precautions and efforts by circuits and manufacturers. It’s the older drivers who are the tough sell.
Wednesday was a milestone for racer JIM DOWNING, who invented the HANS device with his brother-in-law, DR. ROBERT HUBBARD, professor emeritus of biomechanical engineering at Michigan State University. It was 25 years to the day Downing first wore the HANS device in an IMSA race.
Hubbard recalls that day. They lost a mutual friend to a racing accident – Renault Le Car driver ,PATRICK JACQUEMART, who was killed in an accident during an IMSA test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He died of head injuries. Downing asked Hubbard a very important question: “How can we stop people from dying of basal skull fractures,” and Hubbard said “I have the answer.”
Hubbard invented the HANS device which has been in use since the early nineties. It or other FIA approved head and neck restraint systems are now mandated by all major professional racing series, and in 2012 will be required for the thousands of SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) club racers. To help implement the process, HANS has come up with models which are more attractive to the low-budget racers.