INDYCAR has been busy developing several mechanisms with the goal to reduce the amount of hand and wrist injuries among its drivers.
Among the possibilities are a new steering damper, a thumb/wrist brace adapted from motocross racing, and energy-absorbing material for steering wheels.
During the recent major test session at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda featured a hydraulic damper that is designed to counteract the transfer of energy to the driver’s hands in a crash.
The damper, which would work in concert with the deformation of suspension parts to disperse the energy, was first tested last month by Charlie Kimball during a Chip Ganassi Racing test session at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway.
Keeping an eye on the development is one of Kimball’s teammates, Ryan Briscoe, who broke his wrist in a crash during last year’s Toronto doubleheader.
“…The steering damper might be the best option; you have wheel-to-wheel contact or impact [with walls on some road/street circuits or the SAFER Barrier on ovals] and nothing bends on the race car and you feel all that shock comes through the steering wheel,” Briscoe said recently.
The aforementioned brace may also help in incidents where the steering wheel hits a driver’s wrist after the car makes initial impact with the wall.
Motorsports safety expert and INDYCAR consultant Dr. Terry Trammell is working with several manufacturers to try and create a brace for drivers that is light and flexible enough to let them push the buttons on the wheel, but also strong enough to protect in a crash.
“The thumb is the most frequently injured part of the hand, and designing a brace that keeps the thumb at normal excursion but not any further has been a challenge,” said Trammell.
Meanwhile, the sanctioning body recently tested each driver’s grip strength to help push development of materials for covering the steering wheel.
“As they grip the steering wheel, they would still have that connection to the racetrack but any loading beyond that the material would provide a cushion,” said INDYCAR director of engineering/safety Jeff Horton.
“We could tune that foam to whatever grip strength wanted. It’s just another piece in the chain to mitigate the forces coming back through the steering wheel.”