Seatbelts were invented to save your life. Personally I don’t plan on testing that theory. But I do enjoy the benefits racing harnesses provide in the way of holding my butt in the seat during hard cornering and braking. The only real problem with racing seatbelts is they are cumbersome to put on quickly and correctly. It takes time to attach a five point harness and get the straps over a Hans device. Time is on your side if you are in the paddock getting ready for sprint race which will start in 30 minutes. However, if you are an endurance racer and you are going to do a driver swap during a pit stop, time is not on your side.
The art of getting in and out of a racecar quickly is something that has been practiced in motorsports since the early Le Mans races, when the drivers ran across the track and jumped into the cars as the race started (rumor has it those seatbelts were put on eventually in the Mulsanne straight around lap three while going ludicrous speeds). Obviously, for safety reasons, that is no longer allowed. A driver must be properly restrained before the car leaves the pit box.
Toolshed Engineer columns in the past have helped you shave time off of your pit stops (faster fuel cans, driver hydration quick disconnect, easy access helmet radio attachments, organization, gluing lug nuts to wheels, etc.). If all of these tricks of the trade were utilized you have found that the most time consuming component of a pit stop is the driver swap. The last thing you want is to lose an endurance race by a few seconds because you were slow to get your butt into the car.
The first component to making this process go faster is by the choice of harnesses you use (connection type, adjuster locations, easy to grab straps for tightening or loosening belts, etc.). Latch-n-link is a nice lightweight connection hardware but it is not quickly put on. And if you find out the hard way you missed a belt strap, the entire system has to be disconnected before all of the belts can be reconnected appropriately. A cam-lock system is easier to buckle together quickly and we move our cam-lock hub to the sub belt (most cam-locks can be anchored to the belt of your choosing it does not have to be on a lap strap). However, one of the major issues with a cam-lock system is placing the lap and shoulder belts into the correct receptacles (since all of the receptacles will accept any of the belts, right or wrong). This problem can be fixed for just a few bucks at Walmart.
Walmart sells an array of wacky colored duct tapes. Pick up four different bright colors and then color code each belt strap and each receptacle on the cam-lock. This way during a rapid pit stop there is no question or hesitation about which strap goes where. Find a color, match it, and you’re done.
Another thing that has to be watched for is that the cam-lock isn’t twisted/spun in the wrong direction (dangerously placing the releasing mechanism against the driver’s body). To remedy this we use a label maker and put a large sticker that says “WRONG” on the back of the cam-lock. If you see “WRONG” then you know right away you need to spin around the cam-lock hub before buckling any of the straps. Pro Tip: We first put on a sticker that said “NO” but we soon found out that “NO” upside down says “ON” which confused everybody. The word WRONG is much clearer.
This is the part where you say, “With my helmet on, I can’t see the buckle to see of it says WRONG and I can’t see the colored tape. I have to put my belts on by braille.” And this is the part where I say, “Get some friends.”
Putting on belts is serious business and the last person you want doing it is the adrenaline filled “I’m in a hurry” driver. Let’s just be honest, racecar drivers in the heat of the moment can sometimes be dumb, don’t let them decide things or try to help. On my team we try to keep the driver away from anything except driving fast. Let a crew member put on the belts. Better yet, let two crew members do it.
Our team has one crew member jump in through the passenger door and we have another crew member come around to the open driver’s door. The crew member inside the interior is in charge of the belts. The racecar driver’s only job is to get in the seat as fast as possible and then hold his hands out of the way so the crew members can do their thing. The interior crew member will handle the cam-lock attached to the sub-belt, the lap belts and the right side shoulder harness. If you are running a cool suit guy in the interior takes care of that too. The crew member at the open driver’s door ensures the left side shoulder harness isn’t twisted and that it is routed over the Hans correctly. Once that strap is connected to the proper color receptacle then the crew member at the open driver’s door connects the helmet radio, driver’s water tube, helmet fresh air, clicks in the window net and closes the door. Make sure he shuts the door! The driver can’t do it once he is strapped into a race seat. The crew member inside the car tightens the belts (lap first, then shoulder harnesses) checking to make sure nothing is out of place or twisted. Then he gets out of the car as quickly as he can before the driver dumps the clutch and takes a crew member for a wild ride.
As another pit stop approaches the driver getting out of the car can be very helpful to ensure the upcoming driver swap is rapid. Once our racecar is on pit road heading toward our pit box we radio our exiting driver to loosen their belts (so they are easily put on by the next driver). Also to help get the belts out of the way quickly for the incoming driver we use shock cord attached to each belt strap and then attached to the cage to instantaneously clear the belts of the seat once the driver quick disconnects the cam-lock. This keeps the new driver from jumping into the car and sitting on a belt which is very time consuming to rectify with a tight race seat. The trick with the shock cord is to get just the right amount of tension in the cord to move the belt when you want it off but not to have the belt in the wrong position when it is strapped on. A warning here: Always have your helmet on when testing the release of your shoulder harness shock cords which are mounted to the top portion of the cage. I twisted my cam-lock for a quick disconnect and shot a metal harness adjuster right into my upper lip. Ouch!
The biggest time saver isn’t expensive endurance racing belts, colored duct tape or shock cord. The solution is practice, practice, practice. I ensure everyone on my pit crew is familiar with their job and is proficient. That comes from doing the same job over and over again through practicing, which sometimes is a lot to ask a volunteer crew. But these folks take pride in their efforts and strive to be the best. Our personal record for a complete driver swap in an enclosed sedan including the car stop, 6-point harness, driver water, helmet radio, helmet fresh air attachment, Hans, left side window net, radio check, belts tightened, doors closed and car moving out of the box: 36 seconds. Now it’s your turn to break that record.