Last week I covered the most prevalent safety feature of any race car: the roll cage. This week I will focus on the remaining safety measures required to become Chumpcar [Champcar] legal, as well as what we did to help ensure reliability through our first endurance race.
Note: All regulations referenced in the following paragraphs were taken from the 2018 Champcar Rules and Regulations. The link to this document can be found at the end of this article.
In lieu of going through each installation process step-by-step, I’ve included a quick summary of each safety device you will need, what types of regulations are associated, and what our logic was behind our decisions.
Racing Seat: If you think your factory seat will protect you in a crash, you are sadly mistaken. Champcar recommends an SFI or FIA certified seat be used. We chose a certified OMP seat with side impact protection (since most neck restraint systems only protect the driver in the forward/rearward plane).
1. All seats must have a fixed back. If you have a one-piece seat like we do, that automatically meets that criteria.
2. Our team has drivers of varying height (the team was almost called Two Tall Two Small), and therefore, we could not use one fixed seating position. Champcar requires that the seat has to be within 3″ of the harness bar, if not, you must use a seat back support (shown above) that sits within 0.5″ of the back of the seat in its forward-most position. This is to protect the driver should the seat separate or lean back in a crash. We chose to make our seatback support adjustable to accommodate the different driver positions.
Harness: The seat belt harness is very important since it keeps the driver stationary in the vehicle, as well as help keep the seat in place should any mounting points fail. Champcar requires a minimum 5-point harness, but recommends 6-point or 7-point. These MUST be SFI or FIA certified. Some things to consider:
1. Harness Width: Harness belts come in 2″ or 3″ width. If you are new to racing and don’t have any gear, the option is up to you. If you already have a neck restraint system, such as a HAANs, make sure you select the proper width for the restraint system you have.
2. Latch Styles: There are two styles of locking mechanisms: camlock and latch-and-link.
The camlock works more like the modern seat belt where all of the harness pieces click into a central hub. That central hub can then release all of the belts with the click of a button or flip of a lever. The system is very easy to put on if you don’t have any help getting in the car. However, there have been instances of camlock latches jamming, leaving some/all belts latched, trapping the driver in the car.
The latch-and-link style you need to slide each belt over the link and then secure it with a heavy duty latch. The pull tab on the latch is pulled to release the latch, and all of the other belts will slide off the link. This style is a little more challenging to put on by yourself, but if you have someone to help get you into the car that is not an issue. We chose this option because there is no way for a mechanical failure to occur, which would leave you trapped.
3. Mounting Styles: There are a few ways you can mount your harness to your car, each with their own specific purpose.
Bolt-In: A bolt-in mount only works well if the angle of the belt never changes (i.e. you are the only driver). This style makes it hard to keep the belt in 100% tension in all scenarios (such as a collision where the seat mount breaks and alters the driver’s position).
Clip-in with Eyehole: This mount requires an eyehole to be installed where a bolt would be for a bolt-in mount, however, the harness then clips onto the eyehole. The benefit is that it allows the harness to pivot to any angle change which keeps the harness in 100% tension at all times (i.e. it’s strongest form). The ability to pivot means that multiple drivers and seating positions are not an issue. We chose these mounts for all but the shoulder straps.
Wrap Around Tube: This mount relies on the strongest part of the car, the roll cage. The harness is wrapped around the tube and secured. Similar to the clip-in style mentioned above, this mount also allows the harness to pivot to maintain 100% tension. This is commonly used for the shoulder straps, as we did below.Note: You need to use some sort of device to prevent the belts from sliding laterally on the roll cage. We chose to weld a small square enclosure on the cage as seen in the picture above.
Fire suppression: Think of this as a sprinkler system for your race car. The bottles come in various sizes and can have electric or manual actuation. Some bottles are rechargeable as well, which lowers the replacement cost in the event you need to use it. Champcar requires, at minimum, a 2 liter system with a nozzle for the driver, and a nozzle for the engine bay.
We chose a Sparco 4.25L system that came with everything required for installation, including two pull handles, six nozzles, mounting hardware, and plenty of tubing. The installation is easy, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. The more nozzles you use, the faster you will extinguish your bottle, so match the nozzle quantity to the volume of the bottle. If you purchase a kit as we did, they should have already covered this, but check the included documentation.
2. If possible, mount the bottle within driver’s reach (this was one of our mistakes). This way if the pin forgot to get pulled, or there was a jam with the actuation cable, the driver could still attempt to use the system.
3. Make sure at least one pull handle can be reached from outside of the vehicle. This will allow safety workers to activate the fire suppression system if the driver is unable to do so.
Kill Switch: The kill switch is used to disable all power from the battery and the alternator. The difficulty of installation really depends on how your alternator and battery are wired. In a lot of cases the alternator power goes straight to the battery, so the switch just intercepts the positive wire between the alternator and battery. Champcar will make you bring the idle up to 3000RPM and hit the switch to ensure the car turns off immediately.
Window net: Champcar requires that all cars have an SFI approved window net installed, using ONLY the cage for mounting points. The window net is to prevent miscellaneous debris from injuring the driver, as well as keep the driver’s extremities inside the vehicle in the event of an accident. In addition to the window net, teams are allowed to use up to 80 sq. in. of plexiglass no greater than 1/8-in. thick to block any areas not covered by the net.
If you intend to run a convertible, t-top, or sunroof, there are some additional rules to comply with. A sunroof can easily be remedied by removing the glass and securing a metal patch panel in its place. Convertibles and t-tops require drivers to have SFI certified arm restraints and/or roof nets. If a roof net is not used, the arm restraints must prevent the driver’s arms from extending outside of the roll cage barriers.
Steering Wheel Disconnect: A steering wheel disconnect is not required, but is recommended from both a safety and comfort standpoint. The ability to disconnect the steering wheel allows for more room when entering and exiting the vehicle. This is helpful for quick maneuvers, such as competitive driver changes or, in more serious cases, driver egress in the event of a fire. Stock steering wheel locks must also be removed or disabled, which is another argument for a quick release hub and steering wheel.
Structural Reinforcement: The driver’s floor was pretty flimsy on the Civic so we decided to beefen’ it up a bit. We just happened to have a good resource for carbon fiber, so we figured “why not?”
In addition to the aforementioned items there are a few other safety measures I would like to mention:
1. ALL hardware used for safety devices should meet or exceed SAE grade 8 or metric class 10.9 standards. Anything mounted to sheet metal requires a 2-in. diameter steel plate or a load washer at minimum to distribute the load and prevent tearing the thin factory body.
2. Roll cage padding (certification optional) must be installed in areas where the driver has the ability to impact in the event of an accident. Some of these areas include the driver’s side of the halo, driver’s door bars, and driver’s A-pillar support.
3. Various stock components, such as non-laminated glass and airbags, must be removed. Your windshield can even be removed provided you replace it with a properly supported piece of plexiglass or lexan (see Champcar rules and regs for more details).
4. Tow hooks with a minimum 2-in. diameter opening must be installed and clearly marked in both the front and back of the vehicle in the event your car needs to be towed from track.
5. In addition to vehicle safety compliance, drivers must wear certified safety gear, including full-face Snell compliant helmets, fire retardant suits, gloves, socks, and shoes. You can find additional information on safety gear in the Champcar rules and regulations.
In addition to safety we wanted to ensure that we could last the full eight hours on track. That meant getting the 20+ year old Civic’s reliability up to standard. Our plan was to attack the systems with the most extreme failure modes first. The most dangerous failure modes we defined as “the inability for the driver to control the vehicle.” This led us to an all around suspension and brake tune-up.
The list of components included MOOG upper and lower ball joints, MOOG tie rod ends, MOOG rear trailing arm bushings, Centric front wheel bearings, Dorman front hubs, Hawk HP+ front brake pads, Autozone store-brand rear drum shoes, and braided stainless steel lines from the master cylinder to each corner. Aside from the rear trailing arm bolts getting stuck in the frame, all of these were pretty straight-forward installs. See the photos above for reference.
The last of the build was focused on buttoning everything up. We did an alignment, replaced and bled all of the hydraulic fluid, and equipped the Honda with a brand new set of Falken Azinis. We took turns test driving it up and down the street, and before we knew it, we were loading it up on the trailer and driving to our first event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Stay tuned for next week’s coverage of what went wrong, what went great, and what we learned from our first Chumpcar (now Champcar) event.
Resource: Champcar Rules and Regs
Seat: OMP HTE-R 400 Fiberglass Seat
Harness: Crow Enterprizes Racing Harness
Fire Suppression: Sparco Fire Suppression System
Quick Release: NRG Quick Release Gen 2.0
Steering Hub: NRG Short Hub
Steering Wheel: OMP RacingGP Steering Wheel
Image: Latch and Link Harness
Image: Camlock Harness