PUTTING A LID ON IT
How Scot Joe Tanner is forging a new career in motorsport. By Matt James
Crash helmets are more than an essential piece of safety equipment for a racing driver. In so many cases, it goes further than that. They are a driver’s calling card, their identity. And making sure helmets look special is something each driver will cherish.
And racer Joe Tanner knows that as well as anyone. The 2005 Scottish Formula Ford 1600 champion has created his own business, Rennat Design, to create distinctive lids. From humble beginnings, the design business has flourished to the point that he is taking some time away from the circuits himself to concentrate on making lids for others.
Being based at Knockhill circuit has its advantages – he has, among his roster of clients, countrymen Jonny Adam and Gordon Shedden.
“It wasn’t until Jonny pointed it out at the end of last year that I realised,” says Tanner. “He had taken the British GT Championship title and Sheds had won the British Touring Car Championship. That meant I had the two biggest UK titles… quite an achievement!”
But beyond that, there is a whole list of clients that Tanner works for. Over the closed season, he reckons he can create between 70 and 80 crash helmets – be they full-sized items or the smaller, bespoke designed helmet driers – for a variety of racing stars from world champion Lewis Hamilton to Isle of Man TT Supersports winner Ian Hutchinson.
Each lid design, which Tanner says costs on average £700, takes more than 40 hours of effort – but he says that it was originally seasonal work. “You know in the winter, you will be totally flat out – there will be many overnighters involved,” he explains. “Then, during the summer, you get time to sleep – it is almost like you hibernate.
“The week before the media days at the start of each season are real panic stations. You simply have to get everything done by then.”
But there will be no time for even a mid-year break as Tanner looks to ramp up his workload in 2016 now there are no racing distractions for him.
“I had stopped racing because I got married,” says Tanner. “I had been to art college and my wife got me a course in crash helmet design as a present, which teaches you the basics – the things like how to create a crash helmet in the safest way, because there are plenty of pitfalls. It was the dos and don’ts. My first job was to make a design for [Gordon Shedden’s brother-in-law and sportscar racer] Rory Butcher.
“I was working as an instructor at Knockhill during the day and on the crash helmets during the night, so something had to give,” says Tanner.
In the end, it was his burgeoning business that took precedence on the advice of Shedden’s wife Jillian. Tanner started off in 2010 and things have gone from there.
He says the craft that goes in to creating a bespoke helmet design comes as a surprise to many. Tanner explains: “Most people think that it is all done by computer these days, but it isn’t. With all the indents and periphery things that get bolted on to a helmet, getting the design absolutely right has to be done by hand. A computer could never do it totally accurately: helmets are non-symmetrical so they can’t be done by machine.”
That process means the individuality of each crash helmet is maintained and that is what makes them so important to the drivers.
The work that Tanner does is valuable to the competitors and is probably the most identifiable for all of the track stars that he works with. ■