Built-In Safety: How Pro Shops Do Safety


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Story and Photos by David S. Wallens

It’s rarely celebrated, but safety gear has literally kept our sport alive through a century of thrills and spills. Back in the day, racers entrusted their survival to leather helmets and simple roll bars. Today, safety equipment is a science.

This means that modern race prep shops do a lot more than build engines and set up suspensions. We paid a visit to one, BGB Motorsports Group, to see how the guys building the top production-based race cars keep their drivers safe.

BGB has been fielding Porsches in Grand-Am competition–the series now known as IMSA–for more than a decade. During the 2013 season, they even held off the factory-backed Mazda effort to win the GX crown with their homegrown, rather stock Porsche Cayman. Today, they focus on building and preparing customer cars for both track events and wheel-to-wheel competition. They partnered with Next Level European to build a pair of Porsche Caymans for professional endurance racing, and shared with us how the pros do it.

You probably haven’t heard of Next Level European, but you will soon. They’re BimmerWorld’s sister company, but where BimmerWorld caters to the BMW market, Next Level European will support the other European brands.

Also like BimmerWorld, Next Level European will mount a race program in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, the pro endurance series for production-based cars. But where BimmerWorld builds their BMWs in house, for the Porsche race effort Next Level turned to BGB Motorsports Group.

The 2009-’12 Cayman is considered by many to be the hot car for the series’ Street Tuner class. “The permitted ST offering is referred to as a 987.2 base,” explains BGB Motorsports Group Director John Tecce.

Where the Cayman S received a 3.4-liter engine fed by direct injection, the base car uses a 2.9-liter fitted with the same engine management found on other non-direct injection Porsche 997 models from the same generation.

“There’s no advantage to owning a 2012 versus a 2009 other than age of parts,” he continues. One of these Caymans came to BGB as a well-used street car, while the other had already netted some track time–and encountered something during the process.

We paid a visit to BGB, which is just up the road from our offices in Ormond Beach, Florida, to check out the projects and share how the shops building the top production-based race cars keep their drivers safe. Although the two Caymans represent six-figure, ground-up builds, nearly all of these measures can be incorporated into a club-level effort.

1.

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Door bars that fill a gutted door cavity have been part of roll cages for years, and BGB often uses this “basket” design that features three horizontal tubes. To facilitate ingress and egress, the bars kick out toward the back, allowing the driver to easily slip behind the wheel.

2.

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Since this silver Cayman was originally built for track days–where it’s likely an instructor will ride shotgun at some point–the passenger side of the cage gets the same door bar treatment.

3.

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Following the customer’s wishes, the Next Level European Caymans feature door bars that mimic those found on the BMW Motorsport race cars. The center X-section is fully boxed. Again, the driver-side door bars push all the way out to the door skin.

4.

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Since the Continental Tire Challenge Porsches will never carry a passenger, the right-side door bars don’t fill the entire door cavity. This is done to help keep as much weight as possible near the center of the car.

5.

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Many of the major junctions have been reinforced via triangular gussets. The A-pillars are tied into the cage, too, to further stiffen the entire structure.

6.

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The cage’s design offers maximum headroom, as all of the tubes were pushed out to the factory sheet metal.

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The original interior door handles have been replaced with red straps that actuate the stock latches and can be easily grabbed by the driver or a worker.

8.

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“While a widely discussed topic, the shoulder belts are anchored with no upwards or downwards angle to the horizontal bar, allowing only plus/minus 5 degrees for unforeseen circumstances,” Tecce explains. Belts that rise too much to reach their mounts won’t properly restrain the body, and those that dip excessively can compress the spine. In these Caymans, the Racetech RT4009HR seats are bolted directly to the floor, and the harness bar is non-adjustable. In other words, these cars are purposefully tailored to drivers of a specific height. The six-point harnesses come from Schroth; the double anti-sub strap arrangement is designed to better secure the lap belt.

9.

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The days of a single, simple window net are long gone: Today’s standard setups feature three restraints. The driver is now tightly contained on each side by a pair of nets, while an additional, outboard net on the driver side fends off any outside hazards. The Safecraft Racing net used to left of the driver is mandated by IMSA and retails for $340, including the trick quick release. The center nets cost a little less thanks to the simplified hardware. The far outboard mesh window net and hardware adds $50 to the total.

10.

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The Safecraft net features a pair of quick releases: Corner workers use a red strap, while the driver has access to a big, red button on the other side of the release. To facilitate egress, BGB mounts the release for the outer window net so it faces the driver.

11.

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The outer window net’s upper rod hangs off a rod end, allowing it to quickly and easy fall out of the way. Remember, the team wants to get the driver out of the car as quickly as possible, whether it’s during a driver change or after an incident.

12.

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Switches to activate the fire system and kill the electrical system are mounted both inside and outside the car. The ones near the driver-side A-pillar allow corner workers to trip them while checking on the driver.

13.

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Both the inside and outside electrical kill switches activate a solenoid that shuts off main power, the fuel injectors and the ignition coils. “When the driver hits it, the car dies on the spot,” Tecce says.

14.

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The SPA Technique fire bottle sits low in the cabin and covers four zones: driver, engine, fuel and battery. The system uses SPA Lite AFFF, an aqueous film-forming foam that is nontoxic and ozone-friendly.

15.

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The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series gives teams two options for carrying fuel. Option one: They can install an approved aftermarket fuel cell fed by dual dry-break probes, but the rules stipulate that it must be accessed by opening the trunk, hatch or OEM fuel door.

Option two: They can retain the stock fuel tank. In either scenario, fuel must be fed through a single or double dry-break fueling setup using unmodified, stipulated part numbers from ATL or an equivalent dry-break manufacturer.

BGB chooses the second option. “We prefer the stock tank mostly because it reduces the requirement to go in and out of the bonnet during a pit stop,” Tecce explains. He adds that late-model Porsches have been safely using the stock fuel tanks for many years. Check out the other Caymans on the grid, and you’ll likely find a similar setup using the stock tank, not an aftermarket fuel cell.

16.

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Both permitted fueling setups require a vent to atmosphere, and obviously the fumes must exit outside the driver compartment. “Teams electing to run the stock fuel tank are required to find the highest point of the stock fuel tank and install a discriminator/rollover valve to control fuel loss under any situation; this valve must not be somewhere where it can be crushed in an accident,” Tecce explains. That ATL Discriminator vent valve retails for about $300. Add close to another $500 for the female receptacle found inside the stock fuel door.


This article is from a past issue of the magazine. Like stories like this? You’ll see every article as soon as it's published, and get access to our full digital archive, by subscribing to Grassroots Motorsports. Subscribe now.

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Comments
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GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH MegaDork
3/5/19 11:24 a.m.

The guy who put a NASCAR-style cage into a Cayman for track days *knows* that he has a lot to lose laugh

ichirofanus
ichirofanus New Reader
3/5/19 1:38 p.m.

Totally enjoyed this article.  more please!

AlcantaraFTW
AlcantaraFTW New Reader
3/5/19 4:23 p.m.

Awesome info!

pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
3/7/19 7:53 a.m.

It's easy to think safety gear isn't important...until you are on your roof or heading towards the tire wall.  One rollover convinced me how important it really is! Note that the belts were made to fit the car owner, an important consideration if buying a used race car.

 

pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
3/7/19 7:53 a.m.

It's easy to think safety gear isn't important...until you are on your roof or heading towards the tire wall.  One rollover convinced me how important it really is! Note that the belts were made to fit the car owner, an important consideration if buying a used race car.

 

pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
3/7/19 7:53 a.m.

It's easy to think safety gear isn't important...until you are on your roof or heading towards the tire wall.  One rollover convinced me how important it really is! Note that the belts were made to fit the car owner, an important consideration if buying a used race car.

 

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