Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Crash, Bang, Wallop!!

By Simon

I’m reading The Limit by Michael Cannell at the moment and which looks at racing in the 50’s and early 60’s. Naturally death rears its ugly head again and again with the upshot it’s had me reliving the crashes I’ve had and ones I’ve witnessed.

Crashes are funny things. Essentially, high speed crashes are living breathing monsters with a life of their own. You could walk away without a scratch or you find yourself in hospital. Personally, I walked away from 130mph impact after my car went airborne, but I broke two vertebrae going into a tire wall at 60mph. I won’t bore you with the details but the reason for these differing outcomes was safety harnesses. One was done up properly and the other wasn’t.

So the safety improvements have changed the dynamics of crash survival immensely, but there's one thing that can’t be changed (in theory) and that’s speed. Having seen the pile up at Belgian Grand Prix again, it reminded me that once the wheels have been sheared off a car, safety measures somewhat go out of the window and Newtonian physics takes over—a body in motion will remain in motion until an opposing force is enacted up on it (usually in the form of a crash barrier).

Velocity is a really killer. When I was learning to fly, I remember doing calculations with my instructor about crash survival rates. The numbers said that if I crashed 10knots under normal landing speed, my survival rate improved by 25%. Bring it in 20knots under normal landing speed, it wouldn’t ruffle my hair. In the light of calls for greater safety since Dan Wheldon’s death, the biggest safety improvement racing can implement is to reduce speed—but that isn't going to happen. It’s certainly something I wouldn’t want to see. The appeal of racing to me is controlling the uncontrollable.

So crashes are ugly but they are a part of the sport.

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