PUTTING A LID ON IT

How Scot Joe Tan­ner is forg­ing a new ca­reer in mo­tor­sport. By Matt James

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Helmet Design -

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. ■

Shed­den’s hel­met de­sign

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