Competition in a race truck: fairness and safety
Safety in racing sport is a combination of rules, technology and mental attitude.
In principle, truck racing is a non-contact sport. But in practice, the metal-to-metal duels are what make racing so fascinating. Particularly exciting are the sheer masses that are moving at racing speeds: a modern race truck tips the scales at a minimum of 5,500 kilograms. And the fact that race trucks are high by comparison with other racing vehicles means that the racing drivers have to deal with unusual centers of gravity and rolling and pitching movements. Moreover, the regulations stipulate the wide-ranging use of series-production components. They forbid, for example, tyres with special rubber compounds that give the trucks extra traction by "sticking" to the track surface. Aerodynamic aids are also largely ruled out. The result is an exciting mixture that the engineers and drivers alike have to master.
Stricter safety requirements are key. The total mass again plays a role here, in conjunction with risk assessment, because in the event of a collision with an obstacle, five-and-a-half tonnes release a great deal of energy. For this reason, one of the most important rules for ensuring safety in general is the limitation - unusual for racing - of the top speed to 160 km/h. From the technical point of view, the trucks are capable of much higher speeds.
The technical regulations laid down by the sport's governing body FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) also specify the safety equipment of the driver's cab. These regulations cover everything from the installation of a precisely defined safety cage to the selection of seats and seat belts, from the forbidding of fuel lines in the cab to the emergency shut-down switches for engines and electrical systems to the characteristics of the glazing.
In addition to the structural measures, there are also stipulations concerning the drivers' personal equipment. These stipulations require the driver to wear flame-resistant protective clothing (underwear, overalls, hood, gloves) as well as a helmet and special shoes. Especially important in this regard is the Head and Neck Support System ("HANS"), which protects the driver's head against the forces that arise - not just in the event of impact. HANS was introduced into truck racing in 2008 and is in effect a collar adapted to fit the helmet and supported by the torso.
Every race weekend, the stewards and scrutineers check to make sure that the technical regulations and "dress code" are being complied with. The same applies to the rules of behaviour covering both the training sessions and the races themselves. To prevent accidents at the start, truck races employ the so-called "rolling start". The trucks drive a formation lap until reaching the home straight, where the drivers keep an eye on the start lights. The race only begins when the light turns green. From then on, the trucks are allowed to accelerate and overtake one another. Flag and light signals by the marshals and the Race Director must be obeyed in terms of international racing regulations. Compliance with the speed limit is technically monitored. The stewards are responsible for making decisions on race situations and incidents. They are empowered to impose penalties for which they have a catalogue ranging from driving through the pit lane to exclusion from the race.
However, all these regulations only take their full effect when they are permanently established in the awareness of the participants. Tense battles for position do not preclude fair and respectful behaviour: on the contrary, that is what turns a fight into a real sport. This applies in particular when one considers the extraordinary size of the sports equipment, which soon makes a corner that has been taken by innumerable touring cars an impassable bot-tleneck. Norbert Kiss, who drove one of these XXL racing vehicles for the first time in the 2011 Truck Race season, is deferent towards the special dimensions: "When three or four race trucks head into a bend it soon becomes pretty crowded. Steering your truck into the last free space needs great vigilance and driving skill." There has been more than one instance of a front spoiler being shredded into carbon splinters, but if a driver deliberately turns the non-contact sport of truck racing into a full-contact one, he will find himself reined in by the FIA stewards. Sportsmanship and fairness in competition are the most important prerequisites for ensuring that the safety reserves are not tested beyond their limits.
The FIA safety regulations (excerpt):
- The speed of the vehicles is limited to a maximum of 160 km/h.
- All competing vehicles must be fitted with a correctly calibrated and functioning speed measuring instrument.
- It is prohibited to run any fuel, oil or coolant lines inside the cab (except for clutch assistance and changing gears).
- Double braking-circuit operated by the same pedal: the pedal must normally control all the wheels. All trucks must have a "four circuit" protection valve that isolates the two brake circuits from one another and from the other pneumatic circuits.
- Safety belts must fulfil special requirements in terms of material and anchorage points.
- Fire extinguishers (described in detail); alternatively, it is permitted to fit an automatic extinguishing system.
- All vehicles must have a protective bulkhead of non-flammable material between the engine/transmission and the driver's compartment.
- A circuit breaker and a choker device which shuts down the engine must be fitted on the inside and outside of the cab.
- Safety cage, reinforced by struts in the front, rear and on the sides.
- A windscreen of laminated glass must be fitted.
- Protective nets must cover the area of the side windows.
- Split rim wheels are forbidden.
- All forward facing lamps must be adequately protected and secured in case of glass breakage.