Make TUSC pit stops safer: Engine off, fuel first, then tires
This petition had 713 supporters
The current IMSA pit stop regulations for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship creates a less safe environment for crew and drivers than comparable sports-car series. This is a petition to improve safety in TUSC by following the same FIA regulations used in the ELMS and WEC for pit stops.
The two primary problems with the current regulations:
1) Leaving the engine on during pit stops can easily lead to spinning rear wheels, due to driver mistake or mechanical issue.
Spinning rear wheels pose a danger to crew members working on the rear of the car, especially when they need to change the wheels.
The problem arises when the car is left in 1st gear, either because the driver didn't remember or couldn't shift into neutral coming to a stop. It can also happen when the car is up in the air, after the new driver enters the car, and may accidentally put it into gear.
Remedy: Engine must be turned off when the car is stopped in the pit box. It can only be started when the car is on the ground and fueling is completed.
2) Combining fueling and tire changes does not leave enough time for safe driver changes and belt fastening.
When both activities are done at the same time, the entire stop can be completed in less than 25 seconds on many cars. This is not enough time for the majority of drivers and crew to properly complete a driver change and ensure that the belts are securely fastened before leaving the pit box.
That in turn forces drivers and teams to chose between performance and safety, which invariably leads to drivers being released from their pit box with loose belts. They then scramble to tighten them going down the pit lane, or, if they're too close to pit-out, on track.
Drivers preoccupied with securing their belts have a harder time paying attention. This can easily lead to needless accidents in the pit lane, as evidenced by the accordion accident at the 2014 Petit Le Mans in GTLM, or, worse, on track.
Furthermore, it's not uncommon that the belts never get properly secured during the stint. A frequent issue is shoulder belts getting trapped under the HANS device, something that can be especially hard to rectify in a prototype car. It also often happens that the lap belts are not tight, leaving the driver too loose in the seat, and more likely to sustain injury in a crash. Again, this can be hard to rectify during the stint in the car (and dangerous to even attempt).
Remedy: Separate fueling and tire changes, so the whole procedure is longer (it'll be more like ~45 seconds), which leaves enough time for safe driver changes and belt fastening.
IMSA's current stance on these issues is that it's up to the teams and the drivers to be safe. This has historically been a poor way to improve safety standards across the board.
For example, you're allowed to turn off your car during stops, but doing so means accepting a disadvantage in speed-of-the-stop and incur the risk of the car not starting up again. When your competitors are not turning off their cars, there's strong pressure to follow suit in order to stay competitive.
The same is true for properly securing the driver belts. While it's technically in the rules that belts must be secure before leaving the pits, it's impossible to enforce the rule in most cases, and as a result it hasn't been enforced (and thus not followed). This means teams are again invited to choose between safety and losing multiple seconds per pit stop with driver changes. Many choose to let the driver sort it out down the pit lane or on track, with all the consequences as discussed above.
Forcing teams and drivers to chose between safety and performance just isn't a good idea. In 1969, Jacky Ickx protested the running starts at Le Mans by slowly walking to his car, and taking the time to properly secure his belts. Fellow competitor John Woolfe didn't. He rushed to his car, didn't secure his belts properly, and was rewarded in his disregard of safety by making up several positions on the start. Unfortunately, he crashed and died on lap 1 on that race. In 1970, the regulations were changed, and all drivers started the race already strapped into their cars. A big win for safety.
Motorsports is an inherently dangerous activity, but through improved regulations and progress in equipment design, it's become far less lethal since those early days. To regress and actively embrace pit stops that are less safe, risking crew member injury next to spinning wheels, and risking driver health and life due to improperly secured belts, is not in the best interest of anyone.
So, please, IMSA, make the pit stops safer: Engine off, fuel first, then tires.
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