Safety gear is the one group of items that you hope you’ll never get a chance to find out how well they work. Unfortunately, many people buy it like they purchase car insurance. That is to say: They shop price on the faulty and dangerous assumption that they’ll never have to use it. We call it the “other guy” state of mind, where people just figure that the bad turns in life always happen to someone else. Well, when things go sideways and you find yourself upside down and on fire, do you want to be wishing you spent a few extra bucks for a fire resistant helmet or a better firesuit? Just like insurance, you should shop like you’re “gonna need it” and that your life depends on it….because it will.
Listed below is some information that may be helpful when making your suit decision.
1.Know the rules: Check with the organization that sets the rules where you are going to race about their requirements for driver safety equipment. Suits are typically specified to meet a minimum SFI Spec, or they may specify a minimum number of layers of a certain material, or both. You will need to know their rules before purchasing your suit. That information will help your salesperson determine what level of protection you should have.
2.SFI Foundation: The SFI Foundation is a non-profit organization that has developed standards for safety apparel. Manufacturers must have materials and components tested by independent labs to receive the SFI certification for a specific item, like a drivers suit. There are several categories of racing safety apparel, and related accessories, defined by the SFI Foundation. For driver’s suits, SFI standards focus on Thermal Protection Performance (TPP) and flammability, with the exception of kart racing suits which are rated for abrasion resistance and tear strength.
3.Thermal Protective Performance (TPP): TPP ratings are the result of specific lab tests at a certain temperature to estimate how long a given material will protect a person from a second degree burn. Remember, even though the suit material is flame retardant, heat will penetrate through the material and result in a burn. The more layers of protection, (or in this case – insulation), you have between you and the heat source, the more time you will have before experiencing a burn.
The SFI standards for suits are:
SFI 3.2A/1 and SFI 3.2A/5 suits are the most common in motorsports. 3.2A/1 suits are made with one layer of flame retardant material. 3.2A/5 rated suits consist of two or three layers of material in different combinations. SFI/10 suits are less common as sanctioning bodies that make safety rules usually require a 3.2A/1, 3.2A/5, 3.2A/15 or 3.2A/20 rating.
A multi layer suit provides three to four times more protection than a single layer suit based on SFI certified Thermal Protection Performance (TPP) testing. Take note of the amount of time you actually have with a single layer suit before you may experience a 2nd degree burn. How much time will it take for you to stop the vehicle and exit the cockpit? That should be enough to make you consider a suit that offers a higher SFI rating and better protection.
(Keep in mind that any area of your body that is not covered is exposed to the heat and flame. That is why flame retardant gloves, shoes, socks, hoods and underwear are also important.)
Costs of a suit vary; single layer suits are reasonably priced, but offer the least protection. Standard design multi-layer suits offer better protection at an affordable price. Custom suits are designed to fit you and feature the options, materials and design you specify. Custom suit prices are individually quoted based on your requirements and requests. They are more expensive and will require more information and time to deliver to you as it is being custom built to your specifications.
Check your equipment before each event. Keep this information in mind when it is time to replace your driving suit, or if you are investing in your first suit. Whether it is a standard design, or a custom design, the protection your suit provides could ensure that you stay on track.