04 Jan 10
Andy Mellor, the FIA Institute's Head of Technical Affairs, has been working to optimise the side impact safety of World Rally cars for some time and has found that the foam offers the ideal solution due to its light weight and energy absorbing properties.
He says: "We have always stated that intrusion is not the problem; it is the energy management." This is the crucial rate at which high energy levels are absorbed. If the side of a rally car hits a tree at speed there is little space between the outside of the door and the occupants - who sit side-by-side - for energy to be absorbed. Ideally, that space should contain material with deformation qualities sufficient to absorb and dissipate high speed and high energy levels optimally.
FIA Institute research also showed that window winding mechanisms should not be allowed and plastic side windows must be fixed to enable the area between the door skins and the outer sides of the seats to be filled with more energy absorbing foam. Seats built to the latest safety specification will be mandatory for manufacturer teams in 2010 and all World Rally Cars in 2011.
For existing World Rally Cars there must be a minimum of 200mm between the outer door skin and the outer side of the seat to accommodate a foam volume of 60 litres or above. Andy Mellor says: "The key is the energy management and the foam part of the system. The current systems work very well and the 2009 WRC package is very safe. Incorporating that package into the Super 2000 cars is to some extent a measuring and desk job rather than needing testing."
With this being a formality, the FIA Institute's Closed Car Research Group is focussing its work on optimising protection in roll-over accidents. The first task was to investigate roll cage performance through component testing and computer modelling.
The findings of this research were reported to the Closed Car Research Group Meeting, chaired by Professor Watkins, after which the team then enters the second phase, when up to seven Subaru Impreza bodyshells will be fitted with full cages for destructive dynamic physical testing at high energies and deformation. Testing is dominated by measures to reduce possibilities of the roof section collapsing. Mellor says: "When we have established the best designs for rollover we will then validate for other impact directions."
The definitive safety blueprint for 2011 will be defined when the FIA Institute incorporates its resulting findings for best practice in packaging, roll over and side impact protection into two Super 2000 cars for testing. This work is expected to be complete early in 2010.