Let me set the scene – it was lap 62 of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 hour. I was feeling confident after some great runs in the 2019 Enduro Cup with Shane Van Gisbergen and I was getting into the rhythm of the track. As I rounded the turn at the top of the mountain, my team mate Dries Vanthoor and I clipped bumpers and I went hurtling into the wall at 210km an hour.
While this wasn’t the most dangerous or serious crash I’ve been in, it was certainly the fastest. You could say that I was lucky to walk away from the impact with a few bruises and a concussion, but in reality, that luck has more to do with the sheer volume of safety specs that the track, our vehicles, suits and helmets are fitted with.
It should come as no surprise that the racing industry prioritises driver and spectator safety over everything else. The industry has more innovation around safety than it does around speed and making sure everyone at that track gets home safely is the top priority.
So, what specifically saved my life back in February?
It’s amazing to think that drivers like Peter Brock and Allan Moffat raced with stock factory, lap sash seatbelts, which wouldn’t even pass the test for new passenger cars today! My vehicle is fitted with a 3inch thick, 6-point safety harness which goes over both shoulders and hips to clasp on my stomach. Once adjusted, my body and torso don’t move at all. It’s a strange sensation to get used to but this harness, plus a HANS device ensures that there is no severe whiplash during any impact.
It may come as a surprise, but Supercars aren’t fitted with airbags because the bumps on the racetrack and the trackside kerbs we jump over would set them off incorrectly. Window nets also known as driver safety nets hold arms and legs in place, this is to ensure no hyper extension.
2. Race suits
Our race suits are made up of three different layers of fireproof material plus a full-body fireproof underwear suit. These are all tailored to fit me perfectly. In the event of a fire on impact, the rescue crew has about 3 to 4 minutes to get a driver out of the car safely. Our gloves and boots are also fireproof.
Watching the replay of the crash still makes my heart skip a beat, especially when I see the impact of my head hitting the side pillar. Without my helmet, this could’ve been a very different story.
3. Concentration & driving technique
When you’re racing, every sense is heightened. Your concentration is laser-focussed and you’re constantly making minute adjustments to meet the conditions of the track, your vehicle and your competitors around you. This level of concentration means that when we see a potential hazard, we’re either able to correct for it, or, when an impact is inevitable, prepare ourselves properly.
In a nutshell, we are taught how to crash. I’ve been racing professionally for 21 years and have been blessed to be taught by some of the world greats like Peter Brock and Jim Richards. Learning how to react in a high-speed crash is a vital part of our training. We learn techniques such as relax just before the crash (don’t tense up, ironically!), let go of the steering wheel just prior to impact (so we don’t break our thumbs/wrists from the steering wheel kickback on impact) and brace our legs so they don’t fly around the footwell and become injured. The best way to do that is keep braking as hard as possible all the way until impact, effectively reducing as much speed as possible prior to impact.
4. The track’s safety barriers
On this occasion, I ran through the sand before hitting the tyre barrier. The sand helps to slow momentum of the vehicle and the tyres cushion the impact, absorbing energy through the barrier.
Applying these lessons in the real world
While all these safety specs may seem, a bit removed from reality, there’s lessons to be learned and applied in everyday driving situation:
- Wear your seatbelt. There is always no excuse for you or any of your passengers to not be properly secured in the vehicle. Always wear a seatbelt the right way. Don’t place the belt under the arm or place anything on your lap while driving. Store any items and ensure the seatbelt is fastened properly.
- Understand your vehicle’s safety features & invest in your safety by driving a newer model car. Ensure the car is serviced regularly, especially in older vehicles so that the airbags and other safety features are checked by a professional mechanic.
- Focus on your driving technique, concentrate on the road ahead and potential hazards around you. And of course, put down your phone!
- I highly recommend doing some professional driving lessons like a defensive driving course which can help teach you the tools to stay calm and protect yourself in the event of an accident.
- Look for a safety barrier. Safety barriers are becoming more common on new highways which is great to see, but even a boggy bit of sand on the edge of the road will help to slow you down.
- Wear appropriate attire. A full race suit might be overkill, but appropriate footwear is vital.
Don’t take safety for granted, it can save your life. It certainly did for me.
Want to keep your fleet up to date to ensure the safety of your drivers? Or are you looking for a new personal vehicle with all the latest safety additions? Contact Fleetcare on 134 333 and we’ll help to get you into a new, safer vehicle.