MSV: New track limits regulation has made racing safer and fairer
27th October 2015
The 2014 season brought about a major change to the regulation concerning track limits, prompting MotorSport Vision (MSV) to introduce a CCTV-based system to stringently enforce the new rules.
MSD explores why the changes were made and what impact they have had to date.
Pushing the limits is part and parcel of racing, whether you’re in the final throes of a wheel-to-wheel battle or taking part in your first track day. That said, the line has to be drawn somewhere to guarantee the safety of the drivers and the preservation of the circuit. In time for start of the 2014 season, the Motor Sports Association (MSA) revised its regulation on track limits, permitting drivers to drive on the track asphalt up to and including the white line, and on the full extent of any kerbs, but not permitting them to put a wheel beyond the white lines or kerbs. Previously, since 2010 in fact, the MSA had stipulated that provided one wheel was within the white line, the rest of the car could be beyond it, so the significant regulation change certainly grabbed the headlines.
Among those impacted by the new rules was MSV, owner and operator of Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Cadwell Park and Bedford Autodrome. While accepting that the previous regulation was suitable for Formula 1 with its wide kerbs and tarmac beyond, the company highlighted the rule’s unsuitability for most UK national circuits and welcomed the change. Speaking to MSD at Brands Hatch about the previous version of the regulation, MSV explains: “Some competitors soon realised that they could drive well off the track, beyond the kerb and on to the grass, and there was nothing in the rules to stop it. All circuit owners were very frustrated with this ridiculous situation, as it meant that either circuits had to continually repair grass and mud areas, or spend tens of thousands of pounds adding a two-metre or so concrete margin beyond all kerbs.”
“Most competitors are very happy with the new regulations and compliance has been very good”
MSV also highlights the fact that many of the competitors were upset too. “Most don’t want to crash their cars across bumpy stony ground to get a slightly faster time, nor do they want to get their cars peppered with mud and stone from those in front that do. In days of old, big kerbs would have put off most people from going wide, but with evermore focus on safety, particularly for motorbikes to protect fallen riders, kerbs have had to become very mild these days as stipulated by the regulatory bodies, and can readily be driven over, particularly by saloons and sports cars, without causing damage or even much upset.
The logical place where people should be permitted to drive is on the asphalt plus any kerbs, but not beyond, and this is the new rule.” When the MSA announced the regulation change, questions were immediately raised about how it would be policed. Cue an investment by MSV in a brand new system, which uses pressure sensors to detect when a car goes off beyond exit kerbs and triggers video footage to be recorded. When a car does infringe the rule, two pictures are taken – a close-up to show the wheel’s proximity to the kerb and a wide image to put the infringement into context. Having initially been rolled out at Brands Hatch, the system can now also be found at Snetterton and Oulton Park. “This system has been in operation all year and had proved very successful,” says
MSV. “The system is linked to screens in race control, which immediately flag up track limits transgressions, allowing the clerk of the course to decide on any action to take, and allowing the driver to be shown why any penalty has been applied.”
These penalties vary in severity: for a first infringement the driver gets a black/white flag warning and for a second infringement the driver gets a black flag and has to report to the control tower, but avoids a penalty. However, if the driver continues to ignore the rule, they receive a black flag and a 20-minute track time exclusion for the third and fourth offences.
As MSV explains, the current version of the regulation is the result of extensive fine-tuning. “The MSA brought out version one, which was too harsh, then they brought out version two, which didn’t do the job. So, they ended up with this once they got feedback from all the relevant departments.” So, one season on, what do the drivers think of the regulation? “Most competitors are very happy with the new regulations and compliance has been very good – far better than many predicted. Any breach of the many regulations can and does lead to results sometimes being influenced by stewards’ decisions, but track limits disputes have actually been very rare. Advanced monitoring technology, as used by MSV, helps enormously here – when a driver is presented with a clear image of his car off the track, argument tends to cease!” However, while the rules are strictly enforced, there are occasions where a wheel over the white line does not necessarily result in a warning. “If limits are breached because someone is genuinely forced off the circuit the penalties don’t apply – as was the case for the old regulation. The reason that MSV has invested heavily in track limit technology is to assist in the fair and consistent enforcement of the regulations.”
“When a driver is presented with a clear image of his car off the track, argument tends to cease”
It would be easy to assume that the reliance on new technology to highlight on-track foul play has impacted the number of marshals needed, or at least the level of weight given to human observation. But this is certainly not the case at the three tracks where the system has been installed. In fact, human observation and technology are proving to be perfectly complementary.
“The marshal’s role is very helpful in relation to track limits, but it is often quite hard for them alone, and their opinions can be disputed by competitors,” MSV explains. “The technology of track limits sensors and CCTV provide hard evidence. Marshals radio-in to race control if they believe a driver has gained an advantage by exceeding track limits. In race control, there is an observer watching the new system. The two work in tandem.” One year on from the introduction of the new regulation, it certainly appears to have already had a positive impact. Fairer racing conditions, improved safety for drivers, and better protection from damage for the cars and circuits are all evidence of this. MSV can take great satisfaction from the fact that its decision to invest in the new CCTV-based system has already been justified.
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