O Opinions & Commentary

The Next Step Episode 19

The Next Step Episode 19: One Hot Day in Florida

The importance of top line safety equipment, a reminder to all of us drivers to never cut corners on safety gear and a heartfelt thank you to my sponsors SafeRacer.com and Bell Helmets!

As a racer, I know firsthand how difficult it is just to get to the track. The list of expenses can be mind boggling: tires, fuel, entry fees, hotels, meals, travel, spare parts, crew, skipping a day of work, wear and tear on the equipment, maintenance costs - the list goes on and on. Whether you are simply driving a street car to the track for a lapping event or going racing, the costs add up fast. Often the very last thing we budget for is our own safety equipment, racing suits, nomex, helmets and so forth. This column is dedicated to encouraging us all to make it a priority. Recently I received a very clear reminder why it’s so important.

Back in March I drove in the opening rounds of the Pirelli World Challenge series at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The St. Pete GP is very similar to the Honda Indy Toronto. Both are street circuits lined with concrete walls, with no run offs and many low-speed, twisty corners. So you can imagine my distress when the power steering on my car failed on lap one. Hustling a race car through a twisty concrete canyon is a workout at the best of times – doing it while fighting a dead hydraulic system is equivalent to wrestling a 3,000 pound gorilla in a China shop while trying not to bump into anything.  Let’s just say you work up a sweat. A few laps latter something in my engine bay worked loose and started directing hot air (and a bit of exhaust gas) directly into the cabin. So now it’s the equivalent of wrestling a gorilla in a China shop inside a furnace. The cherry on top of this disastrous cake was having no drink bottle inside the car.

At this point, heat stroke and dehydration can become a very serious issue. When either of these things happens you are entering a very dangerous place where your alertness is impaired and your reactions slow down. Heat stroke sneaks up on you. The effects of dehydration are not something you are completely aware of when adrenaline is in the mix. In short, you might not realize you are no longer at 100%, and hence the danger creeping in. As an aside, it’s not very fun at all. In fact, it is the exact opposite of fun and extremely uncomfortable to drive in such conditions.

This is where the quality of your suit and helmet become make or break items. The lighter your helmet is the less fatigue it will cause your neck and you in general. The more high tech and breathable your suit, the lower your core temp will be and the longer you will be able to perform before losing focus and become dangerous to yourself and the others around you. Quite literally, a few degrees’ extra in your core body temp can be the difference between make or break.

As it was I ended up in the medical centre that afternoon for a check-up and the examining doctor made it very clear to me that I had been right on the edge of heat stroke and dehydration. I escaped that dangerous situation by the hair of my chin, and it was in large part to the safety equipment I was using that day. Since 1998, I have worn Bell Helmets because they make a quality helmet and have always worked on making them stronger and lighter. SafeRacer.com sent me a 2012 AlpineStars suit the day before the race, which is one of the coolest suits (temperature-wise) I have ever come across. I cannot thank both of these companies enough. That suit and helmet made all the difference in the world that afternoon. It made such an impact on my thinking that I’ve chosen to dedicate this column to it. As a fellow racer I wish to encourage everyone in the sport to get the absolute best safety equipment available, full stop!

The Next Step

2012 Racing Update:

On the racing side of things, I’d like to share with my friends at PRN what my 2012 season will look like. K-PAX Racing has hired me to be their official reserve driver for the Volvo S60 GT squad. Last year we won four races and six pole positions in the teams all new Volvo C30. Unfortunately the C30s will not be doing a full season this year, so I was honoured to be asked to remain a part of the team with the GT program.

In the meantime, I have finalized a deal to step up to the GTS category of Pirelli World Challenge with the GPS / Capaldi Racing team. I will be driving a 2012 Mustang Boss 302, and cannot wait to get my hands on it! At this writing, I am a few days away from our first race together at Laguna Seca. The Pirelli World Challenge series will be in Canada at Mosport International Raceway, June 22 – 24 and I encourage everyone to come out and see some of the best sports car racing in the world. I’d also like to make an official invitation to all readers and friend of PRN to come find me at the GSP / Capaldi trailer and say hi. I would be happy to give you a tour of the car and the team!

Yours in driving,

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