17 Apr 09
Side impact protection
DL: "Along with roll cage development the other area that stands out is side impact protection. Nowadays there's a lot more energy absorbing material in the side of the cars. Together with the FIA's news safety seat and the Hans device, we've taken some big steps forward.
CL: "When it comes to crashes, front and rear impact protection is already pretty good in a rally car. The one you want to avoid is a side impact - into a tree or some other immovable object. The lack of space to absorb the impact makes these difficult to deal with, and it's here where we've been working hardest.
"Hans, head side supports and the FIA regulation seat have all been good improvements. Since last year the FIA also introduced a minimum distance of 200mm between the shoulder area of the seat and the door. That's compulsory for everybody now but it's something we've been building in for about ten years.
"We also design the car to get the driver and co-driver further in board - away from the door - to protect them from side impacts. Generally the cars have also become wider too - which has helped us. This is something we're looking to continue with the next generation of Super 2000 cars. We're working on a narrow centre tunnel and prop shaft so we can move the seats further towards the middle.
"In the Focus RS WRC we have also chosen to add an extra crash beam inside both sills. It's a major piece of fabrication - a bit like a section of Armco - which weighs 7kg each side. For me this side impact beam has made a huge difference to driver safety. There's absolutely no doubt that without it Patrick Pivato would have been killed in his crash on Rally Japan."
Learning from accidents
CL: "We're always looking for ways to make our cars safer. Every time one of our cars is crashed we carry out a through inspection and make a complete report. For instance after Colin McRae crashed and injured his finger in Corsica 2002 we had a look at the car and decided to make some changes to the roll cage material.
"The steel we were using then was strong but wasn't very flexible. It was good for the handling and the chassis but not good in terms of safety for energy absorption in a crash. So we changed it. We've not had a failure again since. More recently, after Francois Duval's crash in Japan, we further reinforced the sill beam.
DL: "When we get a crashed car back to the workshop the first thought is to look at it and work out what we could have done better, because you should never been complacent. You learn a lot from crashes.
"About that time of Petter's accident in Germany in 2004 we did a review of roll cage materials and welding processes. When you look at massive accidents, probably the single most common form of failure of the roll cage is at a joint in the zone affected by welding. So we looked at materials, joint design and the welding processes.
"The homologation process means you can't often change these things overnight. But every time we do a new cage we try to incorporate what we've learned in the previous model.