Why today's karts are safer (although there is still work to be done)

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Beyond the regulatory aspects, it is worth noting that fairings have improved safety in many ways in the event of an accident. (F.M)

"It's nothing but plastic anyway." "It's just a way to make you spend money." Fairings in karting are a divisive topic, and we're not just talking about the eternal debate about bumpers and penalties. It's just a way of conceiving our sport: those who regret lighter and more spartan karts, those who believe that the technical evolution of fairings has brought with it positive aspects, in addition to the simple increase in weight (which, to be honest, is due to many other factors).

Introduced to increase safety in the mid-80's and then becoming a standard, the "plastics" have fulfilled and are fulfilling their task of protecting the driver in case of an accident. More recently, for a series of reasons that we have often gone into, the impression is that the number of accidents has also increased, besides the fact that the speeds of the categories of entry to the discipline have increased (top speeds for OK and OKJ often in the order of 135 km/h). And if little can be done, at least at the moment, in terms of "steps back" as regards outright performance, a lot can be done and has already been done in terms of safety, especially in the case of karts that, after a spin or a contact, remain in the middle of the track and are hit by other karts at high speed. In order to better understand what happens and what kind of test we have consulted with a technician of the sector, Davide Gaggianesi of KG: «The family of materials is always HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and/or PP (polypropylene). But within this family the improvements have been remarkable. What is called 'stress cracking resistance' in the material data sheets has improved enormously over the years. Even today we are increasingly looking for materials that can be light, offer high strength and do not break in impacts. So we have details today, such as the side fairing, which with only 550 g of weight can absorb a lot of energy and consequently pass the crash tests imposed by the FIA. In the past it was necessary to have a greater weight; at the time the fairings either broke (too rigid materials) or collapsed (soft materials). Today we are able to combine these two characteristics much better. Another aspect of safety is the dimensions. Let's take the front spoiler: the first CIK regulations foresaw a width of 1000 mm., but the front track was already 1160/1180 mm at that time. And therefore the front wheels were particularly uncovered. Today the front spoilers are 1200 mm. As a matter of fact little or nothing remains of the uncovered wheel. This is true; it also has an aerodynamic need to “fairing” as much as possible, but it has brought improvements in terms of safety. Also, in the past, no rear bumper was used.»

«Some of the features, which made fairings more fragile, were imposed by issues of "convenience" - continues Gaggianesi - One factor you may have noticed is that the side fairings and even the front spoiler were cut and 'open'. This made them particularly fragile and the reason for this was the CIK regulations at that time, induced by the fact that the threaded inserts had not yet been thought of as being embedded in the plastic and therefore screws + washer + nut were used, a banal solution. So it was necessary to have the opening to use the wrench inside. So the mix of poorer materials, large uncovered areas due to the small size, more parts cut and weakened for reasons of "assembly" meant that the protection was not what it is today. If you were impressed by the crash tests carried out on single-seaters and prototype cars, those on karts are no less impressive: "Crash tests are largely dynamic and partly static. The dynamic tests are essentially carried out by means of a trolley in which a fake frame is fixed with the fairing component. It is launched at a certain speed that with the weight gives the desired energy input. In the kart, by regulation, it is 920 Joule. The fairing must absorb energy, so on the cart there are accelerometers that measure the peak acceleration, which must be within certain limits (10G for the fairing, 20G for the spoiler: all indicated in the rule downloadable here) and by derived function you can easily obtain the energy absorbed. Basically the energy is absorbed by the plastic part and its support, whose fixing plates are shaped just for this purpose. The plastic absorbs thanks to the fact that the fairings are contoured. If they were a simple open cover underneath, it would be necessary to use elastomers to absorb the energy, as happens in cars. Instead, our contoured parts have the benefit of being hollow and empty on the inside where there is only air and this allows them to absorb a lot without having the resulting weight. Think of the plastic New Jersey road barriers: the principle is the same. If we think about the above mentioned case of the kart stopped in the middle of the track that is hit by another kart racing, it is a scenario very similar to these crash tests. Finally, there are software to simulate in the design phase, but they have limitations regarding the concrete result because when we talk about physics and racing, the main part is empirical. So in design, you simply make prototype pieces and go to the lab for a fee, doing the same tests that the FIA will then officially do to validate the homologation.»

On the track in recent years - and also in this early season - we have witnessed literally striking incidents, which have often made people hold their breath. One of the reasons why very often drivers have left the scene of the accident on their own two feet is the result of the research done in the last twenty years on fairings. The fact remains, we would like to conclude, that we must continue to work in terms of competitive education and especially on the tracks so that the context also guarantees the level of safety desirable for Motorsport, fate or plain bad luck notwithstanding.

Photocredits: Fotocar13

Created by: fmarangon - 19/03/22

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