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

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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