Safety before speed, and how a harness bar helps.

Many people think that the first modifications a car needs for the racetrack involve more power. Wrong, completely wrong. The priority for just about all roadcars – Porsche and Lotus tend to be honourable exceptions – is definitely brakes. Specifically, track/street brake pads, high-performance brake fluid and braided brake lines.
With the standard tyres it’s more about ensuring the brakes don’t overheat than increasing stopping power. A standard roadcar’s brakes are powerful enough to slow the car quickly enough for trackwork, but can’t handle doing so lap after lap. So brakes, and driver training, are two of the first investments you need to make if you’re going to track your car, not more power.
The other focus area is seating and safety. The 86 has a decent seat for a roadcar; wings to keep you from rolling around, low-set, angled upwards, reversible headrest so your helmet can fit comfortably. But there’s still room for the improvement:
That’s a four-point harness. Not as good as a five-pointer (missing the centre lower belt), but a big improvement over the stock seatbelt. With the harness in place I am held far more securely and comfortably as the harness is always tight over the chest, unlike a seatbelt which is designed to loosen if not under stress, and only tighten in the event of a sudden stop. The harness also has much more material holding you in than a seatbelt, and it’s symmetrical over the chest, not a single diagonal belt. 
The harness is hooked up to a harness bar at the back of the vehicle:
When not in use, the straps are folded away in the boot, and the factory seatbelt – which is entirely untouched – is used instead. The bar doesn’t really intrude on interior space, and it is still possible to slide a 215 section wheel under it to be stored behind the rear seats.
The harness is only used for circuit trackwork at high speeds. There’s no point for lower speed events like motorkhanas where you never really get out of first gear and there’s nothing to hit except for a cone.
There’s many advantages of the harness; better protection in the event of a crash, and less fatigue when driving as you don’t need to brace yourself so much in the corners or under brakes, and that also means it’s easier to feel what the car is doing. It’s not a massive difference, but it’s there, and while I don’t intend to get intimately acquainted with the Turn 12 pit wall at Philip Island, if I do, then I want every last bit of protection I can get.
The harness also allows me to run a HANS (Head And Neck Support) device, one of the most important safety devices of recent years.
When a vehicle comes to a sudden stop the occupant’s torso is well restrained, as it’s held by a seatbelt or harness. Not so the head, which continues forwards, and this causes all sorts of problems. Humans heads are heavy, around 9% of total body weight, so anywhere from 7-11kg for adults and then you can add the weight of the helmet, another 1.5kg or so. All this weight is supported by the neck, which is placed under massive stress in the event of a sudden stop. And the head does hold rather important parts of your body such as the brain, and then there’s the spine too. If the head slams forwards and the torso stops then you can get something called a basilar skull fracture which is just as nasty as it sounds. 
The HANS device itself is brilliantly simple, a restraint that allows limited forwards movement of the neck relative to the head.
Is it effective? Watch this:
So, yes it works and has been credited with saving many a motorsports life.
The HANS device requires dual shoulder straps to operate, as it slides under the straps. The setup I’ve got is not perfect as the harness straps should pull down on the driver’s shoulder – this is why racing seats have holes for harness straps. As it is, the straps go over the top of the 86’s seat which doesn’t angle them around and down over the shoulder as well as I’d like, although I do cross them over so they fit a little more snugly. But even if not perfect, the harness and HANS setup is a huge improvement over a plain old seatbelt.
Some people complain about the extra effort to get into the car and ready, or the restriction of head movement. Yes, it is true that a harness and a HANS device are more cumbersome to get into than just a plain seatbelt and no HANS.  However, it doesn’t restrict vision or ability to turn your head when out on the track, and with a bit of familiarity it doesn’t take much more time when you’re getting in the car…a certainly lot less than a visit to the hospital.


Toyota 86 Long-Term Tests

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