Engineers drive car and cannonball through fence

A race car crashes into a debris fence

Motor racing spectators may not think too much about the design of fencing between themselves and speeding vehicles, but these screens serve an important purpose: to protect people from debris in the event of an accident. Now the Swiss company Geobrugg has designed a new fence. The posts of this new design are spaced every 20 feet, instead of the usual 13, providing greater visibility of the racetrack without compromising public safety. To prove the courage of the fence, Geobrugg engineers even threw a car and a cannonball into their fence as a test. As a result, the company obtained certification from the International Automobile Federation (FIA) for their design.

“We guarantee total security in accordance with FIA guidelines and regulations,” says Peter Utz, Head of Technical Department Security Solutions at Geobrugg.

The purpose of debris fencing is to keep all debris from an accident to the side of the racetrack. This includes flying scrap metal, loose tires and, in the worst case scenario, the race car itself. Standard debris fences rise 11 feet above the ground, consisting of posts secured with concrete at the base. Between the posts are stretches of wire mesh supported by cables that run horizontally from post to post. Now with fewer posts further apart, Geobrugg’s new fence system is lighter and uses 50% less steel than the typical 13ft variety. As such, the new design results in lower transportation and installation costs, Utz explains.

Additionally, posts are usually the toughest places in the fence system, so they pose the greatest danger to race car drivers crashing into the fence. Fewer posts translate to a lower risk of injury on the driver’s side, as the design reduces the chance of them hitting the deadliest part of the fence in the first place in the event of an accident.

The innovation behind the fence lies in the way the mesh connects to the wires. Engineers fashioned the mesh from stronger high-tensile steel, then attached it to the cables using helical spiral connections.

To put their fence to the test, the engineers threw a race car into their fence as it took off from the ground at around 30 degrees at a speed of 93 miles per hour. According to Pieter Martens, Motorsport project manager at Geobrugg, the company went above and beyond FIA requirements to perform this test at 75 miles per hour. “We were so confident,” he says.

Additionally, to simulate a head-on collision, engineers used a 1,720-pound steel ball and catapulted it at 40 miles per hour into the fence.

The fence successfully contained all of the car wreckage and in both tests never moved or exceeded more than 10 feet from the original location. Utz does not recommend that a spectator take the risk and sneak up to the fence at this distance – there may be other ways for a car to wreck, such as, in an extreme case of bad luck, flipping the fence and clean it completely. .

Geobrugg’s advanced debris barrier system has already been used on several race tracks. Recent standardized tests are the final hurdle to installing the fence in top level racing: Formula One. The company says that while there are no concrete plans as to specific racetracks at this level to install them, the plan is to use these fences whenever an F1 facility needs to be upgraded. This makes the product now allowed to be launched in all motorsport races of all kinds across the world. Outside of F1 racing, the company is already attracting interest from other circuit customers in Japan and India.

Watch a video of the tests, below: