Finally, a safer wall system?

 by Mark Cipolloni
July 7, 2000

When we wrote our Safer walls, please! article back in 1996 we asked the racing community to respond to the challenge of designing an alternative to the rigid concrete walls that have killed or permanently injured many drivers.  We think Eurointernational may have come up with the best solution to date with its Impact Protection System (IPS).

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Our article titled 'Safer walls, please!' prompted Dr. Arturo Antonio Ferrari Ph.D.ME, former CART owner, to contact AutoRacing1.com regarding an Impact Protection System (IPS) his company (Eurointernational) has developed.  We decided to take a further look and were quite pleased with what we found.

The IPS comes in various sizes and various configurations for road courses,
oval tracks, motorcycle tracks, horse racing tracks and public roads

The IPS is the result of five years of research, studies, test and modifications.  This barrier has the official approval of the FIA and has just recently received authorization to be used experimentally at FIA approved tracks.  It is the only barrier to have received such approval.  To date a few other barrier systems have been tried, but they have had mixed results.  This barrier has also been approved by the FIK (Karting) and FIM (motorcycles). Because of these approvals the barrier is meeting with overnight acceptance from the racing community around the world:

  1. The IPS is the only barrier that meets FIA crash test requirements and has been approved (by Charlie Whiting, FIA Safety Director) to be used at Imola on the Rivazza corner (55 linear meters) and at the Variante Bassa corner (100 linear meters)

  2. 100 meters will be installed at the Estoril circuit in Spain

  3. It seems likely that Interlagos Brazil will have around 900 linear meters of barriers installed in time for the March 26th F-1 race.  Other tracks in Brazil have made inquiries now that the word is out.

  4. There is a proposal in to install the IPS barrier at Laguna Seca in the corkscrew in front of the wall where Gonzalo Rodriquez was killed last September.  As we go to press this project looks likely to move forward.

  5. They are currently in discussions with the Zolder circuit in Belgium and Monza in Italy.

  6. The barrier will likely be installed in critical areas at both the Sepang circuit in Malaysia and the Nurburgring in Germany.

  7. There have been some preliminary discussions with Road America officials to install the IPS there as well.

  8. At the Palio di Siena, a horse race inside the historical Siena city square

Facts about the IPS

  1. The barrier is constructed of layers of PVC material on a honeycomb structure and layers of rubber around its circumference. The barrier is able to receive three impacts at the same place without needing to be replaced and it returns to the original configuration after impacts with an equal amount of energy absorbed each time.

  2. The barrier for auto race tracks comes in two configurations, a 'standard' barrier and a 'reinforced' barrier.  The reinforced barrier is identical to the standard barrier except it is wrapped in a double layer of smooth rubber facing or conveyor belt type material instead of one.

  3. The cost of the barrier for small quantities is $875 FOB Indianapolis, Indiana.  If it is ordered with the front conveyor belt facing the cost is $1,100 per barrier.  That equates to $152 and $191 per linear foot respectively.  Installation adds about $50 per linear foot to the cost.  For large installations the cost is less.  For go-kart events the promoters can even rent the go-kart version of the barrier.

  4. Installation is quick and easy.  The barrier is tied to the existing concrete retaining wall (holes are drilled through) or guiderail.

  5. The IPS is available in several configurations for  road courses (IPS), oval tracks (IPSR where R= reinforced)), motorcycle tracks (IPSM where M= motorcycles), go-kart tracks (IPSK where K= karting) and public roads.

  6. For auto race tracks, each barrier is 1.8 meters or 5'-9" in length and 3'-9" high and 3'-9" wide.  Each weighs about 475 lbs and can be put in place with a forklift or a few strong men.  The barriers are smaller for go-kart tracks.  The elements form a continuous wall, and it is possible to join two or more layers to obtain a deeper barrier. Between the blocks there are simple connections, so it is rather easy to replace, during a race, a damaged element.  In any case, the two layer barrier is able to perform satisfactorily for up to three frontal impacts in exactly the same spot. The individual barriers are tied together with strong nylon seatbelt type straps to form a continuous wall.

Test Criteria
As you can imagine, the most difficult test for a safety barrier to pass is a head-on crash with the pointed nose of an open wheel car.  It is in this type of crash that the impact force is spread over a very small area, similar to a puncture wound you might receive from a nail or a bullet.  While being able to stand up to such a highly concentrated force, the barrier must, at the same time, be flexible enough to decelerate the car gradually so the driver does not experience extremely high g-force loadings and the front of the car's nose and monocoque don't crush the drivers lower extremities.  Tests for side impacts, and impacts on an angle, are much easier to meet because the load is distributed over a much larger area.

The FIA test criteria was developed with just this in mind.  It stipulates that the barrier perform in both 60 km/h (37.29 mph) and 80 km/h (50 mph) head-on impact tests with a 800 kg car.  Those speeds sound low for a race car, but in fact they are not. A head-on crash into an immovable barrier at 50 mph is usually lethal.  As a point of reference, in Jeff Andretti's horrifying accident at Indianapolis in the early 90's whereby the vehicle impacted the wall head-on, the speed of the car at the time of impact was under 60 mph.  Michael Schumacher's crash last year that broke both his legs was slower than that.  We have seen numerous severe neck and back injuries from rear impacts of IRL cars against concrete barriers at what appear to be relatively low speeds.  However, because the concrete barriers are immovable, the driver still experiences very high g-forces over a very short period of time, the worst case scenario.

Test Results - FIA Head-on impact test

Initial impact                                                      Full impact

Car begins to rebound                                       Car fully rebounded

Top view at full impact.  Note barriers stayed together

sequence photos 80 km/h

Left-side view

Front view

Right-side view

Top view


Left-side view after impact

Front view after impact

Right-side view after impact

Top view after impact



1st impact test at 80km/h. The blue line is the deceleration curve.  Note how relatively flat it is, signifying a very gradual slowing of the driver.  Also note that the g-forces never exceed 26 G.

2nd impact test at 80km/h to see if the barrier still performs as designed during repeated hits. Again note how relatively flat the blue deceleration curve is, signifying a very gradual slowing of the driver.  Also note that the g-forces never exceed 26 G even after a 2nd impact.  A third impact test showed similar results.  This is a significant point as during a race having to replace a barrier can cause an extended caution period, or even a red flag.

CART's position

We spoke with CART's Kirk Russell about this issue at length.  He told us that both CART and the FIA are looking at the various options available, including the IPS barrier.  They want to be certain that they don't fix one problem but create another one.  CART does not have any design or test criteria for safety barriers or deformable structures, deferring instead to the FIA standards.  Kirk was of the understanding that the FIA may have a new barrier recommendation later this year.

I'm of the opinion that should the IPS barrier perform well under real-life accidents this race season, it very well may be that the IPS barrier will become the barrier of choice by the FIA, at least until another company can develop something equal or better.

Kirk did admit that he had not yet had the chance to review the IPS test data in detail, but his initial impression was that it would be best used at the end of existing barriers.  That, however, is not the real intent of the IPS barrier.  It is meant to sit in front of the full length of a rigid concrete barrier....anywhere.

Safety is not only about cushioned concrete walls. It is a total package. The cars and equipment must be as safe as possible. Car, driverís clothing, and helmet manufacturers must continue to improve the safety of their products. Kirk also made mention that the driver must be preconditioned for impact.  He said CART was looking at the  Hanns Device used by Sprint car drivers to reduce the g-force loading on the drivers neck and spine when the cars flip violently.  It attaches the drivers helmet to a collar that attaches to the drivers seatbelts.  The collar is a carbon fiber appliance that rests between the seat belts and the drivers uniform.

CART is also following closely the research being done at Wayne State University.


When it comes to meeting current FIA criteria, right now the IPS may be the only game in town.  Lab testing is fine, but until the IPS is evaluated over a period of time in real life crashes, we won't know just how good this product will perform.  Eurointernational tells us their test results indicate that it will perform very well.  They base their opinion on the fact that the barrier passed the difficult FIA head-on crash test with flying colors, as well as other angle and glancing blow tests they conducted.  However, those 'other' tests were not to any specific FIA standard because, quite frankly, none exist.  CART or the FIA need to develop better test criteria for varying circumstances.

They also claim the wall will work just fine on oval tracks and they have solved the transition between the straight and the turn with tapered barrier segments.  Again, until funding can be provided to test this barrier on an oval, or until a track owner is willing to step up and install this barrier on their oval to see how it performs in real life crashes, we will withhold final judgment.  However, we feel confident this barrier may be what the racing community has been waiting on for a very long time.  Too long!

We urge CART to take a serious look at this barrier.  Either provide funding for further testing, develop their own test standards, or give their approval to install this barrier on tracks CART races on to see how well it performs.  If it's good enough for the FIA to approve it for use on their F-1 tracks, we suspect it should be good enough for CART.  The do-nothing alternative is unacceptable   We owe it to the fans, the teams, the drivers, and most of all the spouses and children who endure the grief of a lost or seriously injured driver, to do something about the inherent danger of our existing wall systems.

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