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Thread: Motorsport is dangerous Darmstadts inferno and tremendous safety issues at FS Italy

  1. #1
    You can read it on most of the team member passes and the FS ATA competition dreadfully showed that it is true even in FSAE – Motorsport is dangerous!

    The newly fire accident of our 2009 car is heavily discussed on various platforms. Beaneath the official statement on our homepage here’s my statement of what happened (as I was directly involved during the driver change) with some not yet seen pictures. This thread should also be used as a safety discussion to prevent something like that to happen again.

    Perhaps many of you heard about our fire accident during testing before FSG09 where our car took fire during an endurance test.
    As a long term driver for 4 years and involved in both incidents I am quite shocked that something like this can happen even to a well prepared car. We were able to rebuilt the heavily damaged car to take part in FSG.

    In Italy we even were on the way to a certain top 5 finish when disaster struck again.
    My teammate Marco entered the driver changing area after the first half of the endurance.
    Engine specialist Jan and I were waiting ready to unstrap the seatbelts and to re-vacuum the seat. A few meters before reaching us the engine suddenly stalled. Having no time to think about what went wrong we wanted to continue our driver change procedure and leaned over the stopping car when the rear suddenly exploded in a huge fireball. The (petrol vapour) explosion was that intense that we were smacked back by the blast with Jan getting some burns to his hairs.
    Marco was still strapped in the now completely and heavily burning car. Jan (with experience in the extinction of the first fire) immediately took off the fire extinguisher from the push bar and attacked the flames while I rushed to the cockpit and tried to help Marco to eject from the car. After a felt enternity he jumped out into safety while the delta was still buring intensely. Now, Eindhoven and both Karlsruhe teams rushed to our help and finally managed to stop the fire. THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN GUYS, THIS DEEP SHOULD HAVE ACHIEVED A SPECIAL AWARD ON THE CEREMONY, NOT SOME GIRLS!

    Did something attract your attention? Yes right, where were the Italians??? No fire extinguishers at all, the officials even continued with the driver changes of other teams as nothing had happened only a few meters away. Only one fireman reached the scene about one minute later. 3 minutes later the official fire engine entered the scene when everything was already over.

    But the worst of all: 50m away a medical car was placed which didn’t even do anything! Marco, Jan and I were on physical shock. We swallowed extinguisher powder (which was quite painful while breathing) and Jan had the mentioned burnt hair. Only a girl from our team studying medicine supplied us with first aid.
    What are they waiting for? To collect body parts? And even that is only allowed by a doctors permission…

    With one week gone since the incident I still can’t believe that something like that can happen twice a year on the same car. And what provokes me the most thoughtful is the cause of the incident and some overall safety issues in the series.

    I don't want to take the blame us in any way. All in all, it was our fault.
    But in both cases we didn’t have any harsh design or safety errors. We had a sealing failing during driving on the intake system the first time allowing fuel to gas out and ignite. The second time a Loctite fastened screw loosened on the intake system and allowed fuel to leak out which gathered in the rear monocoque. I saw much worse design flaws in the last years on many cars which hopefully didn’t end up in a disaster like here.

    In my opinion we need some rule changes to prevent that those incidents from happening again. Actively and passively… I have 3 overall suggestions on my mind and I would like you to some others so we can discuss them with the officials to procure a change of rules.

    1. NEW DRIVER CLOTHING RULE: Every driver has to wear his full safety equipment INCLUDING FIRE RESISTANT UNDERWEAR AND SOCKS. This should be checked during competitions on every single driver before moving the car. In the last years I saw many drivers even from top teams only wearing a polyester shirt underneath their overall (even me on very hot test days) and no judge controlled it. This is nuts guys! Even wearing bike helmets during test drives is nuts! Gasoline fires will reach temperatures over 1000C / 1800 F, this will melt these stuff onto your skin. But the worst of all: In videos from the Texas Autocross Event I saw people driving wearing ONLY shirts! No comment on that, only take a look at the following pictures and image the consequences.

    2. NEW RULES FOR SECURING GASOLINE RELATED PARTS. All bolts and nuts which are used on the fuel suppling system should have a special type of securing like a bent metal sheet which prevents them from getting loose instead of only getting lost. This should also be rigorously checked during events.

    3. ONBOARD FIRE EXTINGUISHER ON ALL CARS. Let’s be honest. Our engineering series is more prone to technical failures than other Formula Racing series. Nearly every series I know has to have an onboard fire extinguisher. Why not FSAE/Student? Our car was not the first that burnt, in know at least 5 other occasions. To put it straightforward: A crash nose on the cars is a cool engineering task to design but the real gain in safety is marginal in FSAE. Or do you know a crash where these noses were a gain in safety?

    Please feel free to add some critizim are to make some new suggestions!
    Last edited by DART-CG; 05-19-2015 at 12:05 PM.

  2. #2
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    I think at least your second suggestion is very important. Suspension bolts are strictly checked at all events but fuel related bolts aren't. That doesn't make any sense.

    But in my opinion the major problem in this incident was the reaction of the officials, or should I say that there wasn't any reaction at all. These people weren't aware of what can happen.
    This isn't only an Italian problem. When the Munich car stoped with a smoking engine during the UK competition the marshalls didn't care either. How can they know that there isn't anything burning?
    The marshalls there also walked on the track to pick up thrown cones without watching for cars coming. Several times they were almost hit by cars.
    The officials always tell teams that safety is the most important thing of the whole thing. Noboudy doubts that this is absolutely true. But in fact they don't behave like that.

    Finally I'd like to add that during testing safety is up to the teams. That means that driver suits aren't just something you need for competitions. They are essential for driving. As Dart-CG already said, just imagine their driver would have worn only a normal shirt...

    In the past I've also seen teams testing without fire extinguishers with them. Please think about what you would do in such a case. Besides all possible rule changes. There will always be a risk that cars start to burn and everybody must be aware of that fact.
    Rennteam Uni Stuttgart
    2008: Seat and Bodywork
    2009: Team captain

    GreenTeam Uni Stuttgart
    2010: Seat and Bodywork / Lamination whore

    Formula Student Austria
    2012: Operative Team

  3. #3
    Concerning the pictures: I would like to add that on the first 4 pictures the driver is still trapped inside the car. On the second one you can see the gloves inside the fire.

    And on the ninth you can see the medical car only 50m away without doing anything. The fire engine arrives several minutes too late only to collect their extinguishers beneath the car

  4. #4
    Clenn, I feel really sorry for your team.

    And I hope that this incident will help to change the rules for better safety. I also hope that the organisers of any comp will be aware that this can happen and that the marshalls are prepared for such an accident.

    I really think that in every team there are members which are not able to extinguish a fire properly. I was one of them before I had a lesson at the company I was working for. If you never had an incident with fire (which is a good thing) I think you cannot be able to use a fire extinguisher properly.

    To your points:

    1. This is very expansive for teams with low budget because they will need it twice. Nomax is not so cheap. As you said motorsport is dangerous and something like your accident can happen. We must live with that. The drivers should get information about what can happen.
    And during test driving allowed is what the teams permit. So teams and especially drivers need to be aware of fire problems.

    2. I totally agree with that.

    3. I disagree. Why is our series more prone to technical failures? Not much "pro" motorsport teams put so much passion into their cars. How many real technical failure of student designed parts you see? I often see a problem with student assembled parts.

    4. I think that the organisers have to think of such incidents and be prepared!

  5. #5
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    To put it straightforward: A crash nose on the cars is a cool engineering task to design but the real gain in safety is marginal in FSAE. Or do you know a crash where these noses were a gain in safety?
    This is something I've always agreed with. From a crash standpoint, these cars are severely overbuilt. Where do we test and drive these cars? At race tracks, in parking lots, or on skidpads. Usually, very far away from anything that you can hit. This is easy to enforce: don't drive at places with obstacles and you don't have to worry about hitting stuff. If you take that risk you're being dumb and it's your own fault.

    Fire, on the other hand, seems to occur more often in FSAE, with (in my opinion) more damaging effects, while being harder to prevent than crashes. It scares me to see how little fire regulation there is. Whenever I see pictures of teams driving their cars in t-shirts and jeans, I yell "you F***ING retard!" at my computer every time.

    I'd drive without a crush box any day of the week. You couldn't pay me enough to get into an FSAE car without full fire gear.

  6. #6
    I agree with the positive locking of fuel related components (although you won't be able to do that with actual fittings like JIC, just the stuff that holds the fuel rail on) and fire suits but I can't see much benefit of car mounted fire extinguishers.

    If you put it in the cockpit the driver won't be able to reach it and if you put it outside you can't guarantee that the part of the car with the fire extinguisher won't be in flames.

    The only way is to have team members with extinguishers at testing and marshals at comps.

  7. #7
    Glad to hear everyone is alright.

    I've been a long time reader of this board and never bothered posting. The direction the competition took during my last year in school combined with incidents like this really bother me and not from a safety standpoint.

    FSAE always made rules to keep participants safe and I can respect and appreciate that; without them I wouldn't be where I am today. However, there is a point where you need to exercise good engineering practice and common sense and not expect someone to hold your hand (after all, that is part of the learning process involved in this competition). Yes motorsports are not the safest hobby but if they made rules for everything in this competition, there would be no learning and you would be building a car from their blueprint.

    I don't want to take the blame us in any way. All in all, it was our fault.
    But in both cases we didnt have any harsh design or safety errors. We had a sealing failing during driving on the intake system the first time allowing fuel to gas out and ignite. The second time a Loctite fastened screw loosened on the intake system and allowed fuel to leak out which gathered in the rear monocoque. I saw much worse design flaws in the last years on many cars which hopefully didnt end up in a disaster like here.
    I do not want to come off as a jerk but you had a fastener secured with threadlock in a blind hole and that fastener is all that kept fuel from leaking. You do not feel it was not bad design? If you tried that on any suspension component the FSAE tech inspectors would never have allowed the car to compete - what makes it acceptable for anything other critical components?

    Chalk it up as a learning experience; no one got seriously injured and you now know what not to do and can incorporate it into the next excellent car.

  8. #8
    Tks for the post, this remind us that suits and extinguishers are essential for competition and training.

  9. #9
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    G'day,

    While I agree that point number 3 is a good idea I'm tend to think that it isnt at all practical, and in fact could create a rather dangerous situation.

    Practically you have to consider the location of the extinguisher. It cant be in front of the driver in anyway due to the new templates, if you put it under the seat you couldnt get to it when it was needed, and if you put it on the back of the car its in the area that is most likely to burn and again poses problems with accessing it.

    From a safety point of view, look at the photos above, in this case the entire car was engulfed in flames before the driver got out. Would you really want a driver to go back into the car to get a fire extinguisher? Its not something that I would want any of my drivers to risk to try and save the car. To me the driver getting to safety is far more important than trying to save the car, while yes we do sign away years of our lives working on these things they are replaceable but your mate isnt.

    Just another minor aside, its not much evidence to base this point off but has anyone ever seen the mythbusters episode when they try and extinguish a fire by putting a fire extinguisher in it till it explodes? Its pretty cool to watch, but the point is they are a pressurised vessel which is just going to have pressure build up in it until it pops. If people are trying to fight the fire and an extinguisher goes bang because its in the middle of the fire there is huge potential for serious injury or fatality due to the extinguisher bottle or anything else that gets caught up in the blast.

    The only feasible way that I can see this working is a plumbed in extinguisher with the activation cable hooked to the steering wheel. That way when the driver realises that the car is on fire and tries to get out of there with the speed of a thousand startled gazelles and forgets to pull the extinguisher cable, it is attached to the wheel and gets pulled anyway. It does mean that you will have to disconnect and reconnect the system every time you do a driver change though. That idea is just spit balling and Im sure that someone has a better one.

    Personally if these cars catch on fire GET CLEAR OF IT. Let your team mates or marshals (the fact that they were not prepared for this, especially in a driver change area, is inexcusable) who should be constantly ready while the car is driving put the fire out with the extinguishers that they have prepared. And ensure that everyone knows how to use all the safety gear.

    Well thats my thoughts on the whole thing. Please feel free to tell me Im wrong.
    Matthew Chapman

    ADFA Racing
    UNSW@ADFA
    2006-2011

  10. #10
    That fire looks extremely intense. It was very lucky that nobody was seriously hurt.

    It is unfortunate that it takes accidents like these to initiate change, rather than people having the foresight to prevent it happening in the first place. When you look at safety changes to Formula One across its history they have all been in response to a serious (normally fatal) crash. It is, however, a reminder that Formula SAE is motor racing, and that all of the risks associated with motor racing are present (if not in higher doses).

    When I first got involved in FSAE I was kind of suprised that a fireproof balaclava was not mandatory. That has changed this year, and I feel like adding socks and underwear is not a bad suggestion.

    At Thomas, the argument of the cost of safety is complete rubbish. How much would it cost to get a driver's face reconstructed if he was trapped inside a burning car and his visor melted to his face (like Tetsuya Ota)? How would you feel if you were driving the car and because of one crash you looked like Nikki Lauda for the rest of your life? Our team owns the driving suits and arm restraints, but the rest of gear (helmet, gloves, boots, balaclava) the drivers have to buy/borrow themselves.

    I'm not sure whether I agree with the second point or not. If you introduce it, do you extend it include all oil related parts as well? How do you positively lock a hose clamp for a silicone hose connecting the intake to the head, which if it slipped off would spray fuel everywhere? What about a seal that wasn't checked and is leaking fuel? Your bolt was loctited in and it came loose. Bolts can snap, threads can strip, holes can develop in fuel tanks, amongst a whole load of other scenarios that can cause fuel to leak onto ignition sources. I feel like introducing a regulation like this is a knee-jerk reaction to this specific situation. (I am probably going to get shot down on this one).

    On the third point, I agree with Chapo. And who wants to rush into a fireball like the photos on this thread to retrieve a fire extinguisher that is mounted in the cockpit?

    I feel like one of the more important points of this discussion is the involvement of officials at events. I have heard stories from alum about fires at competitions where officials have just stood watching while cars burned. I know that they are volunteers: I have spent some time volunteering at the local kart club. We have to tread carefully when asking to much from them, but they need to understand that they need to be more alert in regards to safety (and not just fire safety, as Bemo pointed out). This is not just restricted to FSAE, there was an incident at Pukekohe (a race car track in Auckland) a couple of years ago where a car crashed and caught fire, and the fire crew drove around the entire track to extinguish the fire, but which time guys pride and joy was a pool of molten metal. If he was trapped in the car there would be no doubt that he would have been burned to death.

    Maybe all events should have a designated fire crew in the driver change area and on the track. At the local speedway there are two fire crews on standby at all times (wearing fireproof overalls + balaclava) on a track that is 400m long: rescue crew response times to a fire or crash are rarely more than 10 seconds. I feel like this is the thing that needs to be investigated more than introducing positive locking mechanism regulations to fuel systems when the teams should consider this when they build the car anyway.
    "He who dies with the most toys wins"

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