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HANS Helmet Yested by Andretti
Will be Mandatory CART Gear in '01

09/07/00
By JOHN JAY FOX

In a high-speed crash, the human body, and especially the neck and head, whip violently.
Sudden uncontrolled stops can be life threatening, if not fatal, at 200 mph.

While race car drivers are strapped snuggly into their seats, until recently little protection was available to secure a driver's head and neck. Crashes have been so violent that drivers have been nearly decapitated just by the force of the impact.

A new device, tested by Michael Andretti, the CART points leader and all-time CART race winner, will be mandatory for Champs Cars on ovals like Nazareth Speedway next season. Andretti is rumored to be joining Barry Green's Team Kool Green for 2001 with Motorola sponsorship.

The head and neck support device, known more by its acronym HANS, reduces head movement and neck loads that injure drivers during high-speed impacts. A yoke or bib is secured to the driver's chest by the shoulder harness, while tethers from the collar to the helmet provide support for the head and neck.

Designed by Dr. Bob Hubbard, a biomechanical engineer, the device was tested at Wayne State University in Michigan and at the General Motors Technical Institute. Hubert Gramling, a Mercedes engineer, then adapted the system for drivers who compete in a reclining position, such as in the CART FedEx Championship Series. McLaren has tested the device in Europe for Formula One last year and HANS will be mandatory in the circuit next year.

"The introduction of the HANS device for drivers in open-wheel racing is the most significant safety development since the introduction of the spec helmet," said CART Chief Steward J. Kirk Russell, a Wilson Borough native. "We are making the device optional for road-course competition because the drivers who have used it have felt that it's a bit confining and that it will take some getting used to at those events."

The device is not new. Andretti has experimented with the headgear since first learning of its invention in 1989. "We have been working with it for a while, and basically it keeps the head attached to the body," Andretti, a Nazareth native, said. "I've finally gotten to the point where I am comfortable with it in the car.

"It will make the sport safer, and that's what we were aiming for." Earlier models were difficult to wear because the angle of the collar restricted breathing.

A collar made of carbon fiber and Kevlar fits around the driver's neck and extends to his collarbones. The seat belts overlap the device, holding it to the body. The device extends upward about three inches to protect the back of the driver's neck. A pair of 1-inch thick nylon strips connect to the back of the helmet to restrict how far the neck and head are stretched forward, backward and side-to-side to lessen the possibility of serious injury.

"We're to the point where we're making it right," Andretti said. There are glitches, however, restricting the HANS to ovals. "If I can only get it to work on the road," Andretti said in frustration. "On the road courses, it restricts my breathing a little bit. Because of the pressure on the chest, I can not take a full breath.

"Road courses are much more physical. You are breathing a lot harder. That's what we have to work on next." Canadian Greg Moore was killed in a crash Oct. 30, 1999, at Fontana, Calif., and Marlboro Team Penske lost driver Gonzalo Rodriguez in a practice crash at Laguna Seca last year. "The last couple of fatalities were where the head actually pulled away from the body," Andretti said. "That is the reason for this."

Several NASCAR Winston Cup drivers have looked at the device, including points leader Bobby Labonte, Jerry Nadeau, Ricky Craven, Terry Labonte, Kyle Petty and Joe Nemechek. NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton has ordered a HANS device for himself and his son. When the senior Hamilton crashed at Michigan in June, his helmet hit and then bent the steering wheel.

"We're trying to help," Andretti said. "We're trying to learn more and more about the equipment so that we can be improving on safety all the time." Newman/Haas Racing did not pick up Andretti's option for 2001.

A 17-year CART veteran, Andretti has driven for Newman/Haas for 10 years overall and in six straight seasons, and is a winner of 40 races. Target Chip Ganassi Racing has made overtures for Andretti to return to Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. Andretti drove for Ganassi in 1994, winning twice.

"There is na lot of speculation out there," Andretti said. "That's what it is, all speculation."


Contact John Jay Fox
jay.fox@mcall.com

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