‘Motorsport can be Dangerous’ – it’s a fact we all have to accept in the sport that we love. Just like the warning signs will say at every venue in the UK, despite the organisers taking every reasonable precaution, unavoidable accidents can happen.
We will touch on lots of safety issues in future articles, but today we are talking about the most personal safety equipment – Racewear. What you wear in the car should be comfortable and enhance your feel on all the controls, as well as complying with all relevant regulations, most of which relate to one of the biggest risks when racing cars – Fire. Every item of auto racing safety gear is primarily to protect you in event of a fire in the vehicle.
In this article we will not talk about helmets – they are important enough to be worth an article on their own. That means we will be discussing Race Suits, Boots, Gloves and the critical fireproof undergarments.
There are a few general rules with racewear to follow – buy new, buy from a reputable supplier, buy the best you can afford, and try it all on. The best suppliers of racewear in the UK are Grand Prix Racewear based at Silverstone, and the motorsport supermarket Demontweeks, based in Wrexham, both should be able to give you great advice on fit.
The race suit is the most obvious item of racewear other than the helmet. This covers your entire body in at least 2 layers (sometimes 3) of a fireproof material such as Nomex. Most suits zip through the front, and should have tight fitting cuffs on the ankles and wrists. It is hugely important the limb lengths are long enough in the suit to ensure you have fireproof protection on these critical wrist and ankle areas.
Fully floating sleeves are desirable to give a more relaxed fit with your arms in the driving position. Unfortunately if you are tall and slim (like the drivers here at Motorsport Essentials) it can be difficult to find an off the shelf suit that fits well, as larger suits tend to be fit for ‘larger’ people. Remember that a larger suit might be a little baggy, but not having the length in the arms and legs will not protect you properly in the event of a fire.
Race suits start at around £250 up to about £1500, and you can spend more on a fully customised made to measure suit. In general spending more buys you a lighter more breathable suit, and also 3 layers of material as opposed to the 2 layer construction of entry level suits. All suits should have an embroidered FIA standard on the rear of the neck, outside the suit.
Don’t confuse a race suit with a karting Suit, they are completely different. Kart suits are abrasion proof and not fireproof. You cannot use a race suit for karting or vice versa, and you can’t use karting boots or gloves for racing either. They are not fireproof and do not carry the correct FIA approval.
A final thought on race suits is colour – this is totally down to personal preference, but I would generally steer you towards a dark colour or black if you think there is a chance you might be doing some of your own spanner work. The brighter colours soon look very grubby if you have to clamber on the floor and get oily.
Race boots – these protect your ankles and feet, and are also responsible for the feel you get to the pedals. Like buying any pair of shoes, you need to make sure these fit well and are comfortable. With race boots there are a couple of other considerations – first being how hard wearing the boots are.
High end race boots are extremely light and delicate – there is no problem using these at club level if you are disciplined with taking them off every time you get out the car, and/or if you are prepared to replace them regularly. If not entry level boots can often be harder wearing as they have not been meticulously engineered to save weight.
Spending more on boots can also give you an extremely stiff and hard sole – this is because purpose built race cars have extremely hard brake pedals which require the full force you can muster, and the hard sole helps alleviate strain on the foot through a race. For most cars club racers drive, this just means less pedal feel, as it is likely your car will have servo assisted brakes requiring less effort.
Boots start at about £95 ranging up to about £300 – again check for the correct FIA labels and buy what is fit for purpose, expensive may not always be best for a club racer.
Gloves are of course important to give you a better grip on the steering wheel and reduce fatigue, as well as protecting you from fire. It is absolutely key that gloves fit well, and a good fit is probably tighter than you think – the reason for this being that even a slightly loose fit can result in rubbing and blisters. Other than the fit being correct there are two other considerations – external seams and palm grip material. More expensive gloves tend to have external seams. This means there are no ‘ridges’ inside the glove and makes them far more comfortable – I would hugely recommend going for this type of glove. The palm material depends on the vehicle you will be driving, as there are combinations of glove and steering wheel materials that don’t work well together. In general it is a good rule to match the material of the glove to the steering wheel, i.e. leather to leather, suede to suede. Most manufacturers also have synthetic palm materials that work with all wheel materials, such as Sparco HTX. Gloves start at about £50 and you can spend up to £150.
Any questions just shoot! Check out our Facebook and our other articles!