Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR
The future of the
HANSŪ Device in F1 and CART
Part 3 of a 4 part series
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History has taught us that improvements to racing safety are a long and arduous process, and we have painfully learned that often it takes human tragedies to influence change. Sometimes there are no amicable answers to the problems, but other times there are viable solutions to implement. The
HANSŪ (Head And Neck Support) Device just may be one of these solutions, but how will F1, and CART choose to implement it?
(Tomorrow, part 4 of 4 will talk about its future in NASCAR)
As explained in "The History of the HANSŪ Device - Part 2", Mercedes Benz and Hubbard Downing have a long and rich history between their two companies. Their testing was critical in the development of the HANSŪ for open wheel racers.
Mercedes Benz (now DaimlerChrysler) and Hubbard Downing worked closely together to develop and test the HANSŪ for use in the Formula 1 cars. After years of testing with consistent and encouraging crash test results, Dr. Sid Watkins, chief medical director for F1, recommended that the HANSŪ become a standard part of the drivers safety equipment. The Mercedes effort to test the HANSŪ Device was such an extensive undertaking, that it was instrumental in Formula 1 approving the use of the HANSŪ in competition.
FIA announced that for next year, they are mandating that all of their drivers wear the HANSŪ for all events in their 2001 racing season.
CART's Franchise Team Owners recently mandated that effective with the first FedEx Championship Series event of the 2001 season, all Champ Car drivers must wear the HANSŪ for all oval-track testing and racing activities. CART is also recommending the HANSŪ for road-course events.
Before mandating the HANSŪ, CART reviewed the crash test data from Hubbard Downing, Mercedes Benz and Formula 1, and then they set about testing the HANSŪ with some of their own drivers. First to volunteer were Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi from Newman-Hass Racing. Both Andretti and Fittipaldi logged countless laps working with Hubbard Downing in an attempt to refine the HANSŪ, its fit in the cockpit, and the drivers "feel" for wearing the HANSŪ. It was important that not only the reliability and durability testing be completed, but also the "fit" of the HANSŪ had to be accounted for. The HANSŪ is unique in that it has to be fitted to each driver's helmet, and then the cockpit has to be modified accordingly to account for the HANSŪ. With the physical difference in size among the drivers, each cockpit has to be modified differently for each driver, which can be a very time consuming and labor intensive.
Once a number of drivers had been fitted and tested the HANSŪ, it became clear that this was clearly a major breakthrough in safety. With the timing right, CART approached the franchise holders and the drivers to vote on whether the HANSŪ should be mandated for the oval races in the 2001 racing season. What happened next was outstanding - every single team and driver voted to accept and mandate the HANSŪ, a unanimous decision.
Hal Whiteford, CART's President Of Racing Operations explains it this way, " We finally got to the point where we could mandate it and we had enough drivers who had used it under various conditions where we could say, clearly this was a major breakthrough in safety. To be able to do it on the ovals first, was what we wanted to do, and we received unanimous to do it both from the franchise holders and the drivers."
The unanimous decision by the drivers may have come in part due to a testimonial of a driver who was wearing the HANSŪ earlier this year and crashed. Whiteford wouldn't elaborate on who the driver was, as he deemed the information confidential, but he did tell us, "I do know one individual because I personally talked to them and he looked at me after he had his altercation and said the only reason that I am standing here talking to you is because of this HANSŪ Device".
Whiteford was with Mercedes Benz for 18 years before joining CART and had originally heard about the HANSŪ while there. "Mercedes had spent millions of dollars investing in an airbag system for their F1 cars and then dropped it after testing the HANSŪ", said Whiteford. "The other real plus to the HANSŪ in it's simplicity is the fact that you can take a double hit, which happens a lot of times. You can hit a wall, then get hit by another car, or vice versa". It is very difficult to achieve the same protection with an airbag system unless you use a double threshold triggering system, which is extremely expensive. To properly equip the system, not only is it critical to determine the rate of deceleration, but also the angles that are involved.
Another issue that figured in CART's decision in mandating the HANSŪ was availability. Only a limited number of HANSŪ are produced by Hubbard Downing, and with Formula 1 mandating the HANSŪ, CART did not want to run into a supply problem in obtaining the HANSŪ for their own teams. If NASCAR had also chosen to mandate the HANSŪ for 2001, this could have created the inability for CART to properly equip their teams.
With CART drivers testifying to its usage, don't be surprised if the drivers are wearing the HANSŪ, not just for the ovals, but the road circuits as well. Whiteford was hopeful that the time when the HANSŪ was worn for every race was in the not too distant future, "We are very, very happy that we were able to get unanimous support to go forward next year on the ovals", said Whiteford, "I look forward to the day that I put into the rule book that it is mandatory on every venue. I think that will happen quickly, and I think the way that we did this protects us from supply issues and also allows the drivers to be the biggest testimonial".
In our conclusion to our series on the HANSŪ, we look at its use in NASCAR with a conversation with Kevin Triplet, Director Of Operations for NASCAR.
Part 1 of this series, Should NASCAR Mandate the HANSŪ Device
Part 2 of this series, The History of the HANSŪ Device.
Part 4 of this series, The Future of the HANSŪ Device in NASCAR
Available for sale at Hubbard Downing, Inc, the HANSŪ Device is available in different models for different race vehicles. At a cost of around $2,000 the HANSŪ Device is portable and can be used in nearly any type of vehicle. Please visit their website at www.HansDevice.com or call Hubbard Downing, Inc directly at (770) 457-1046 at their Atlanta, Georgia location, or for technical information, please contact Robert Hubbard in Michigan at (517) 353-5013.
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