Body guards to protect young racers in karting safety project

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Prototype rib and chest protectors based on the standard have already been tested at the track by safety equipment manufacturers such as Bengio.
Prototype rib and chest protectors based on the standard have already been tested at the track by safety equipment manufacturers such as Bengio.
The FIA has developed a standard for a combined rib and chest protector for karting that it wants to be used in all CIK-FIA series.
The FIA has developed a standard for a combined rib and chest protector for karting that it wants to be used in all CIK-FIA series.

A new safety standard for competitive kart racing has been developed by the FIA, with the support of the FIA Foundation, which will protect drivers from chest and rib injuries.

Rib injuries are a common issue in the competitive world of karting, the only motor sport discipline that does not require racers to wear a harness. Drivers sit in rigid seats with little support with the upper part of their body exposed as it is subjected to bumps and knocks induced by high grip levels.

They have the option to wear body protection along with their overalls but for the moment it is not mandatory. Even for those who choose to do choose to use body protection, they do not necessarily know if the equipment is effective or offers a high level of protection.

The FIA is introducing the first Karting Body Protection Standard, making it mandatory for drivers to wear an approved combined chest and rib protector by 2021 for all championships run by the CIK-FIA. The protector will be designed to protect against three forms of injury: impact with flat or curved structures; impact with steering wheel or edge of seat; and impact with steering column. It will be made to withstand 60J of energy to the chest and 100J of energy to the ribs, ensuring that the force transmitted to the body is no more than 1kN during an impact. All parts of the product will be permanently connected and must allow for free movement of the arms, body, head and neck while being worn. Drivers will be able to tailor the vest to their body size to ensure that it is comfortable, with dedicated versions for female drivers.

“We know that there are a lot of drivers already using chest and rib protectors but currently there is no FIA standard, so there is no way for the drivers to know what is a good protector or not,” says Nuno Costa, FIA Head of Safety Equipment Homologation. “The target is to design and put together a protector that can give protection to the rib and chest at the same time, and become standard across the sport.”

The standard has been a decade in the making with consultation from the FIA’s Industry Working Group to ensure that the product will be an effective, accessible and affordable solution for drivers at grassroots level.

Manufacturers will even be given time for their product to be used on track before it is made compulsory, to allow them to catch up with existing products and to ensure that drivers are satisfied with how it performs. “The target is to make it recommended until December 2020, and then from 2021 it will be compulsory,” says Costa. “And the reason is because we need to give time for the industry to come up with final products and to approve them, and to make them available on the market. “This will give manufacturers time to build new products that can meet the FIA standard and give time for the drivers to use them.”

“Drivers don’t like the news, but this standard will give them more protection and safety,” he says. Certainly, the data suggests that a chest protector has become necessary in karting. A review from the DMSB, Germany’s national sporting authority, found that many karters had suffered thoracic injuries.

“Setting fresh standards for a product has been quite challenging because some manufacturers were not sure about the need of the chest protector,” admits Costa. “For the rib protector there is not a challenge at all because when you go to the international competitions all the drivers are already using the rib protector as they need it to be able to drive the kart. They apply a lot of lateral force against the seat and they need the rib protector to protect themselves from injury or from getting pain.

“For the chest protector there is more negativity because some manufacturers didn’t see so many accidents where drivers would get injuries to the chest as they saw with rib injuries, so from their point they are more reluctant about the need for these sorts of devices. But the data that we have available, for example from the DMSB, shows that drivers do get injured in this area and we want to protect them.”
The new rule are part of the FIA’s safety focused work across motor sport from Formula 1 right through to karting, which is supported by the FIA Foundation to ensure that safety always comes first.