It’s well known that motorsport fire safety is (excuse the pun) a hot issue, given the potential for leaking fuel tanks, among other hazards, including high-impact crashes. So minimising the risk from blazes during motorsport events is crucial.
And while it’s true that there is never a way of completely avoiding fires when taking part in track days, racing tournaments and similar, you can minimise the risks, both of blazes breaking out in the first place and of the chances and severity of resulting injuries, not to mention the chances of damaging your engine or other parts of your vehicle.
At the Fire Extinguisher Valve Company (FEV), we specialise in motorsport fire and safety. And, following more than three decades’ industry experience, we’ve seen far more than we’d like of the dangers. But we’ve also seen fire safety regulations evolve so that a motorsport racing track has become a far less dangerous place than it once was.
So we believe we’re ideally placed to offer these motorsport fire safety tips, to help you stay as free from harm as possible. We’ll be covering having the right fire safety equipment, ensuring it’s serviced and working properly, and the full range of flame-resistant clothing.
How To Minimise The Risk of Fire at Motorsport Events
Make no mistake, the menace of flames at motorsport racing events is very real, from pitlane fires to engine blazes, to those which break out on impact or because of mechanical failure, even though the chances of the latter are increasingly rare these days.
All of which means that motorsport fire safety needs to be a top priority at all times.
That remains the case even though Motorsport UK (MSUK) regulations are being updated to come in line with current Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) standards, which require all competition cars to be fitted with an FIA homologated fire suppression system by January 2022. The move should enhance driver safety on the tracks and at rally events, where the risk of an inferno can be even higher.
With all this in mind, here are our top seven motorsport fire safety tips for protecting you and your racing vehicle from flames as far as physically possible:
#1 Ensure you have installed a plumbed-in fire suppression system
Clearly, apart from anything else, you need to be sure you’re meeting all relevant regulations – or you won’t be allowed to race. But having the right fire-safety equipment on board your motorsport racing vehicle can literally make all the difference between life and death.
A race car plumbed-in fire extinguisher system is essential for any cars taking part in any motorsport competition, and you can choose a gas or foam-based solution, each one with its own pros and cons, but with the former being more compact and likely to cause less engine damage in the event of a fire, often making them worth the extra expense over the alternatives. We discuss the benefits and possible drawbacks of each system in our previous article comparing gas and foam fire extinguishers.
These types of systems are both offered as manual or electric, with the former using a pull-cable while also being more cost-effective.
#2 Make sure your fire suppression systems comply with FIA technical list 16
From January 2022, it is a requirement for all competition cars to have an FIA-approved plumbed-in fire extinguisher, a rule which already applies to any new vehicles registered, and which has been in place since 2019.
#3 Ensure you service your plumbed-in system regularly
People often ask us when to service their fire suppression systems. Clearly, regular servicing is hugely important to ensure the system works properly and reliably when you most need it. You won’t have the chance to check it in an emergency! Ideally, you should service your solution every couple of years or you may not qualify to race. And this needs to be done by your manufacturer’s approved service agents.
#4 Don’t use a system if it’s more than 10 years old
Many manufacturers will not service a fire extinguisher system if it’s more than a decade old. Not only that, but the newer the system is, obviously the more reliable it’s likely to be. So, as a general rule of thumb, it makes sense to replace your system every 10 years, which is also a requirement for most motorsport events too.
#5 Protect yourself with properly fitting flame-resistant clothing
Wearing the right flame-resistant clothing and footwear that fits you properly plays a key role in motorsport fire safety. Wear the wrong clothes made from the wrong materials can be nothing short of a recipe for complete disaster.
- Fire-resistant motorsport underwear: Don’t skimp on this simply because it’s out of sight – it actually has a very important role to play. Indeed, because it is the layer that’s closes to your body, in the event of a blaze it becomes your final line of defence. Wear it and stay better protected from severe burning, to the tune of up to 50%. Don’t wear any materials which haven’t been specifically developed as fire protection (for example Nomex) – ordinary fabrics simply transfer the heat to your skin, or will melt and stick to it.
- Fire-resistant motorsport socks and gloves: Again, you will need flame-resistant versions. Another point to bear in mind is that brightly coloured gloves, in a different shade to your racing vehicle, are a good idea. Anyone working trackside will spot you more easily if you need to point out any issues while at the wheel or on the grid.
- Drivers’ suits: Invest in the best FIA-approved flame-resistant suit possible – it may just save your life. Keep this clothing clean, and follow washing instructions to the letter, so that protective treatments remain effective. Don’t borrow overalls or indeed any other vital motorsport racing kit. Finally, if your suit fits quite loosely, from head to toe, you’ll be better safeguarded against flames, and feel more comfortable too.
- Appropriate fire-resistant footwear. Again, include this in your checklist. It has to be spot-on for sizing – and remember that untied laces can become tangled around your vehicle’s pedals. As with clothing, footwear needs to be bone-dry and spotless – use overshoes in damp paddocks and service areas.
#7 Competing in a rally event? A handheld fire extinguisher is vital
If you’re taking part in a rally event, it is part of MSUK guidelines that all drivers MUST have an on-board handheld extinguisher. Not only that, but you will also need to fit an FIA-approved, plumbed-in system as well. That’s because rally racing presents an even greater fire risk than comparable motorsport activities, and this is reflected in the extra requirements.
#8 Familiarise yourself with all fire safety protocols
Clearly, it’s extremely important that you understand all the fire safety protocols and procedures in place, and are familiar with what to do in the event of a blaze. It’s well worth having a read of the FIA’s technical list 16 detailing its homologated motorsport fire suppression systems – which you can download for more information.
Additionally, each track and event may have its own extra rules or procedures, with which you’ll need to familiarise yourself ahead of each race.
Talk to The Experts About Fire Safety in Motorsport Events
At FEV, we’re motorsport fire safety specialists, and produce both foam and gas-based plumbed-in motorsport fire extinguishers, all of which are FIA-homologated and MSUK-compliant. We also produce handheld motorsport fire extinguishers. We’re always happy to discuss your particular requirements and to help you ensure you have the right system in place for your specific vehicle. At the same time, our list of approved and highly capable service agents can help with all of your servicing requirements.
Contact us today to learn more.