A collaboration between BTCC, Cobra Seats and Schroth has resulted in the development of a seat net that “squares the circle” of providing optimum geometry in the car and optimum safety when needed most.
If ever the need for seat nets in a racing car was in doubt, just take a look on YouTube at Bobby Thompson’s dramatic off at this year’s BTCC meeting at Croft: His Audi somersaults four or five times before coming to rest and is the perfect example of how a driver in the wrong place at the wrong time experiences a range of forces – not just front to rear or side to side, but forces from every angle in between.
Peter Riches, Technical Director for the British Touring Car Championship, was eager to introduce the use of seat nets in the 2020 Championship but was aware that the existing seat net designs had too many limitations.
To find the solution, Peter knew that he needed to talk to the man whose company supplies over half of the seats to BTCC drivers and whose Shropshire based company has supplied seats to eight of the last nine BTCC Drivers Champions: Mark Dunsford, MD of Cobra Seats.
Peter explains: “Mark is the third generation of his family to run Cobra Seats, you could say that racing seats are part of his DNA and he has spent the last ten years developing seats for the BTCC, so he knows the drivers, knows the cars and really understood what we needed to achieve both from a safety perspective and from the drivers viewpoint. Furthermore, Cobra has a long established strategic technical partnership with Schroth who, themselves, are world leading manufacturers in motorsport and aerospace restraint systems”.
The result was a three way collaboration with Peter establishing the “wish list” and analysing the results during development and Cobra developing and refining the solution and working with Schroth’s technical team to finalise a design which would pass the FIA’s stringent testing as well as technical appraisal to gain full approval.
DRIVING THE NEED FOR CHANGE
The FIA Driver’s Guide advocates the use of head and shoulder nets which offer significant advantages over window nets: While window nets are designed primarily to prevent an occupants limbs from being thrown out of the window in a crash, seat nets not only perform this function but also provide additional support to the head and shoulders in a crash while guiding the occupant back into the seat, prevent drivers arms from being thrown around inside the car and also offer greatly improved visibility compared to window nets.
Implementing the FIA recommendations in BTCC cars wasn’t straightforward. Existing seat nets didn’t provide a “universal” solution, its design could only be adapted to certain cockpits and achieving the desired geometry was almost impossible in saloon car cockpits where the front attachment point was effectively in the middle of the screen. Peter knew that if teams were to “buy in” to the idea, an innovative solution must be found which combined safety and practicality and which, vitally, would be equally effective for every car on the grid.
Once Cobra were onboard, everyone involved recognised that finding an effective and highly adaptable design for seat nets for the BTCC, which is at the very pinnacle of motorsport, would provide an opportunity to cascade the use of seat nets throughout all levels of the sport. Peter Riches explains “Drivers nets represent a significant advance in Motorsport safety, we knew that if we could develop a highly adaptable solution which could be installed without any modification to seats and cages in competition cars it could be a game-changer.”
THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE
Mark Dunsford explains the development process: “Professional racing seats and safety harnesses are carefully designed and tested to protect the driver from front, rear and side impacts: It is more difficult to optimise protection when the forces at play are coming from an oblique angle – there is an obvious compromise between optimal protection and giving the driver room to actually drive the car.
“The objective of the seat net is to protect the driver when he is experiencing forces from a direction that lies between the effective support of an FHR and the side support of the seat head restraint.
“The major challenge for BTCC cars was to find a way to secure the nets where the front attachment point is effectively in the middle of the screen. Our solution was a control strap which lifts the front attachment point up to the desired level and triangulates the load between the cross-car beam and the front roll hoop of the cage above the windscreen.
“This required a more complicated attachment buckle than the traditional single point buckle. The solution was a multi-point buckle similar to a safety restraint system.
“To further complicate matters, seat nets tend to work best with paddle shifts as the required geometry takes seat nets down the centre of the car and very close to the driver. Since BTCC cars have manual shifts, we needed to provide added space for the gear shift, so added a further ‘tensioning’ strap which can be attached in a variety of positions, dependant on the vehicle, to pre-load the net away from the manual shifter”.
There were several additional requirements that needed to be met to get the seat net approved. The buckle arrangement had to be accessible for the driver in a crash without first releasing his belts; the Emergency Services need to be able to disengage the buckle from outside if the driver is unable to, and - when disengaged -the driver needs to exit the vehicle without any of the net creating a potential trap loop for his arms and legs, so the seat net needs to disengage fully but still be easily reassembled as required.
The resulting product is a seat net that can be used inboard and outboard in any car, with almost any seat position and allows the net to fully function to the optimum geometry regardless of the available attachment points at the front of the car”.
Engineered in accordance with the latest FIA 8863 – 2013 standard, the new seat nets manufactured by Schroth Racing have earned widespread praise for “squaring the circle” of providing optimum geometry in the car and optimum safety when needed most.