Bill Simpson’s SG Helmets take racing expertise to football helmets

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With his life and career dedicated to safety enhancements, the legend that is Bill Simpson didn’t need to shift from motorsports into creating a safer football helmet.

But because the concussion threat is impacting the next generation of football players, it’s a cause Simpson felt he needed to commit to based on his 40-plus years of motorsports safety innovation.

SG Helmets, or Simpson Ganassi, has come to life over the last several years as Simpson’s research into the new industry has began.

The research began following a chance meeting between Simpson and then-Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Tom Moore.

“I’d watched people got taken out on stretchers; that aspect largely went away from automobile races a long time ago,” Simpson told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week.

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Photo courtesy SG Helmets

“As I looked into it, I’d see these kids out there that couldn’t hold their heads up. It made me look into this whole deal. After I did some tests, we saw we could make huge improvements and bring (racing technology) to the athletic field.”

Simpson spent roughly 1.5 years on research and development and a further 1.5 on field tests, with what he deemed to find “perfect results.” Testing was conducted by Purdue University researchers, which found these helmets to be at least 50 to 100 percent better at attenuating forces reaching the head than any other helmet they studied.

The key to the SG Helmets is their weight, or rather, lack thereof at as little as 2 pounds per.

Created and built with a carbon fiber and Kevlar composite, the SG Helmets are half the weight but offer twice the level of protection. They’re stronger, lighter and more absorbent than polycarbonate shells.

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Photo courtesy SG Helmets

A number of high schools in Central Indiana have already begun utilizing these helmets, as have some NFL players. Ex-Colts and Green Bay Packers C Jeff Saturday switched and reported no further headaches, a unique experience after a 15-plus year career.

Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind. switched from 2012 to 2013. In 2012, the team reported 24 concussions; after the switch in 2013, the whole team had only 2 minor ones. Numerous parents have offered thanks for the new technology.

The Ganassi element of SG – Chip Ganassi is a minor partner in the company – stems from his own horrifying accident in a CART open-wheel race at Michigan in 1984, and the helmet technology utilized then that saved the legendary team owner from serious injury.

“I was at Ann Arbor hospital then with Chip’s dad (Floyd), and the neurosurgeon wanted to know what that (helmet) was,” Simpson recalled. “Without that helmet, he wouldn’t have come to hospital; he would have gone to a mortuary. The guardrail hit him in the helmet.”

Dr. Steve Olvey, who has spent his entire career on the front lines of racing and authored “Rapid Response” several years ago, praised Simpson’s work and transition to these helmets.

“What Bill Simpson has done is put 40 years of safety innovation in manufacturing motor sports helmets into the most modern and innovative football helmet made today,” Olvey said, via the SG Helmets website.

Comparing G-loading in football to auto racing is something of an apples-to-oranges comparison. But impacts in a racing accident could run anywhere from 75 to 80 G’s (that amount times a driver’s body weight) in 5-6 milliseconds.

There isn’t a real number yet for concussions, but there is an estimation of 90 to 95 G’s on football impacts over 6 milliseconds.

Simpson, who thinks this technology could eventually revolutionize the helmet industry, said the target for the next generation is key.

“I want to go after the 5-year-olds, so they don’t have a head injury that’s not repairable,” he said. “The horror stories you hear now are scary. Guys in their 40s who have their lives upside-down, with anger and stress, simply from repeated concussions.”

On Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Simpson was awarded The Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award for his contributions to motorsports in California. Glick was a legendary automotive journalist for the Los Angeles Times, who passed away in 2007. The award is below, as Simpson accepts with Ed Justice, Jr.

Said Simpson, “I could think of a lot of people who have done a lot more in this sport; I’m doing just my job.”

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Photo courtesy SG Helmets

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton sees off Vettel challenge to take Australian GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton saw off challenges from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to pick up the first Formula 1 pole position of the year in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

Hamilton topped the timesheets on Friday to give Mercedes hope of continuing its impressive qualifying form from 2016, when it took 20 poles from 21 races.

However, Ferrari looked poised to strike and take its first pole position since Singapore 2015 as Vettel led final practice, setting up a close battle in qualifying.

Hamilton took provisional pole with his first Q3 run, going three-tenths faster than Vettel, and was able to find a further three-tenths on his second run to make pole all but his.

Vettel refused to back down, producing a rapid final sector to gain plenty of time on Hamilton, but it was not enough to deny the Briton his 62nd F1 pole.

On his Mercedes debut, Bottas put in an impressive display to take third on the grid, finishing three-tenths off Hamilton’s time. Fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen ended the session fourth in the second Ferrari.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge in fifth, while Haas driver Romain Grosjean put in a stellar display to take sixth on the grid. Felipe Massa will start his comeback race from seventh ahead of the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat.

Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo’s difficult home race weekend continued as he crashed out at Turn 14, wrecking the rear of his Red Bull RB13. While Ricciardo was physically unharmed, the Australian’s ego was left bruised as he was resigned to starting the race from 10th on the grid.

Sporting is bright pink livery, Force India failed to light up the gloomy conditions in Melbourne as it suffered a double-elimination in Q2. Sergio Perez qualified 11th, while rookie teammate Esteban Ocon will make his first start in Australia from 14th on the grid. Nico Hulkenberg saw his 13-race streak of Q3 appearances ended as he could only qualify P12.

One of the biggest talking points from the early part of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s titanic effort to put his McLaren-Honda 13th on the grid. Following a tough winter marred by reliability issues, Alonso dragged his car through to Q2 and did “all he could”, yet the issues faced by the team meant no Q3 berth was forthcoming.

Sauber enjoyed an impressive start to the year as Marcus Ericsson made it through to Q2, eventually qualifying 15th. Last-minute substitute Antonio Giovinazzi was poised to also get out of Q1 on debut, only for a mistake on his final lap to leave him 16th overall.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen failed to get in a late lap, leaving him 17th on the grid for his first race with the American team, while a fuel flow issue meant Stoffel Vandoorne could only qualify 18th for McLaren.

Lance Stroll’s baptism of fire in F1 continued as he finished 2.9 seconds off the pace in P19 for Williams, while Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was made to pay for his lack of track time, rounding out the grid in P20.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Lance Stroll set for Australia grid penalty after gearbox change

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Formula 1 rookie Lance Stroll has been forced into a gearbox change ahead of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix following a crash in final practice at Albert Park.

Stroll lost the back-end of his Williams FW40 car coming out of Turn 10, hitting the wall and causing damage to the right-hand side and rear of his chassis in the process.

The crash brought out a red flag that ultimately caused FP3 to end early, with Stroll returning to the pit lane on the back of a marshal’s moped.

After bringing the car back to the pit lane, Williams confirmed that it would have to change Stroll’s gearbox ahead of qualifying, which will trigger a five-place grid penalty for the Canadian.

Stroll’s crash comes after a mixed pre-season program that saw him suffer three shunts in the opening week in Barcelona, raising concerns about his readiness for F1.

Stroll bounced back in the second week of running, racking up plenty of mileage in Williams’ 2017 car to back up his extensive private test program in the team’s 2014-spec F1 car last year.

At just 18 years old, Stroll is set to become the second-youngest F1 driver on Sunday, trailing only Red Bull’s Max Verstappen whose first start came at the age of 17 in 2015.