V8s? It’s an in­side job

It looks so smooth at Bathurst. If only it was, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Motorsport -

IF YOU don’t get bruises you’re not try­ing hard enough.’’ That’s the pep talk from Ford Per­for­mance Racing driver Dean Canto as cars­Guide’s team of Neil McDon­ald and I tackle one of our most chal­leng­ing as­sign­ments — get­ting in and out of a car.

But this is no or­di­nary car. The ve­hi­cle McDon­ald and I will be swap­ping places in is the FPR Ford Fal­con Canto and Luke Youlden will race this week­end in the Su­percheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

V8 Su­per­cars may look like show­room cars (with a few wings added) but on the in­side they are more fighter plane than XR8.

As you watch driv­ers jump in an out of cars at pit­stops, have you ever won­dered how they do it?

The cabin is full of ex­posed metal and a rollcage snakes its way around the in­te­rior. It of­fers driver pro­tec­tion and stiff­ness to the car, help­ing to hold it to­gether as it tears around the pun­ish­ing Mount Panorama cir­cuit.

The seat is pushed back past the B-pil­lar so you al­most sit in the back seat, mak­ing ac­cess even more dif­fi­cult.

But that doesn’t mean you can stretch your legs. The steer­ing wheel and ped­als are much far­ther back than in your av­er­age Fal­con sedan.

As McDon­ald and I size up the small open­ing, FPR star driver Mark Win­ter­bot­tom ar­rives to of­fer ad­vice — then spends most of his time laugh­ing.

Once he is done gig­gling, he demon­strates the cor­rect way to climb aboard.

The first step is to grab hold of the rollcage bar — run­ning ver­ti­cally along­side the A-pil­lar — with your right hand. Then Win­ter­bot­tom places his left leg in­side the car and dives head first into the cock­pit, twist­ing his body around un­til he is seated, his right leg still hang­ing out of the car.

The whole mo­tion is seam­less, but as ‘‘Frosty’’ demon­strates, he still needs to put his left arm through one side of the seat­belts.

Fi­nally, he pulls his right leg in and stage one of a V8 Su­per­car driver change is over.

‘‘It’s all about the chore­og­ra­phy of it,’’ Youlden says. ‘‘It’s more that than the phys­i­cal train­ing. Once you have it to­gether it’s pretty smooth.’’

The next stage is get­ting buck­led in. There’s no lap-sash seat­belt, in­stead a five­point racing harness locks you in place.

That’s the ba­sics, but the re­al­ity is much more com­plex. There’s the win­dow net, ra­dio con­nec­tion, drink hose and air hose con­nec­tions to ne­go­ti­ate.

Driv­ers also wear a HANS de­vice — a car­bon-fi­bre col­lar con­nected to the hel­met, to pre­vent se­ri­ous neck in­juries. Though it is a bril­liant in­ven­tion that has saved lives, it makes get­ting in and out of the car dif­fi­cult be­cause it can catch on just about any­thing.

It also re­stricts the driver’s head move­ment, so he can’t see the seat­belts.

That’s why the V8 rule-mak­ers agreed a few years ago to give the driv­ers a hand. Driv­ers are al­lowed an ex­tra crew mem­ber at pit­stops to help them in and out of the car. Most teams also use elas­tic to hold the belts out of the way.

Now it’s our turn and, to make it in­ter­est­ing, McDon­ald and I have to race Win­ter­bot­tom and Richards. Teams aim at 12-sec­ond changes but 15 sec­onds is ac­cept­able. With those num­bers in mind, McDon­ald climbs into the car to start things off. Youlden acts as our driver as­sis­tant, Win­ter­bot­tom holds the stop­watch. O! McDon­ald pops the belts and be­gins con­tor­tions to squeeze out of the tiny rollcage open­ing as Youlden drops the win­dow net. It no time at all — well, it seemed like it — McDon­ald is out and it’s my turn to look silly slid­ing in.

All goes well, but as soon as I try to pop the crotch strap in I stuff it up.

In the rush to be fast I fum­ble the belt and cost Team cars­Guide plenty of time.

Once the first belt is done the oth­ers slip in eas­ily enough and Win­ter­bot­tom stops the clock at — wait for it — 46 sec­onds.

Un­daunted by our time but more com­fort-

Gable with the pro­ce­dures, McDon­ald and I try again and slash the time to 28 sec­onds. Now it’s the turn of Win­ter­bot­tom and Richards, and I take over the stop­watch.

Un­like us, they are a well-oiled ma­chine. Be­fore you know it they’re done. But they took a dis­ap­point­ing 20 sec­onds and are keen to show their true po­ten­tial. Sec­ond time round they are done in 15 sec­onds, good enough for a race.

Ex­cept in the race they would be wear­ing a driv­ing suit, hel­met and HANS. Throw in some driver fa­tigue and it be­comes in­ter­est­ing.

‘‘Plus you have to do it with your back in spasm af­ter a stint,’’ Win­ter­bot­tom says. ‘‘Adrenalin helps. You don’t care if you get bruised or any­thing.’’

McDon­ald and I may have been slow, but we did some­thing right. I have a cut on my fin­ger and a bruised el­bow.

Strug­gle: (clock­wise from above) Luke Youlden helps Stephen Ottley; checks on Neil McDon­ald; and Ja­son Win­ter­bot­tom en­cour­ages Ottley. Pic­tures: AN­DREW TAUBER

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