The Podium Club does not believe in using unexposed steel as race track safety barriers unless they are protected by energy-absorbing tires or other materials.
Due to cost advantages, several other private circuits in Arizona and all across the United States rely heavily on steel guardrails, commonly known as Armco, as part of their track barrier system. We believe those barriers are a mistake. Lives are too important. The money savings will never be worth the added risk. And history makes the case.
Former F1 driver Roman Grosjean hit an unprotected steel barrier at 137 mph last year. The front of his Haas/Ferrari split the barrier’s two rows of steel and stopped halfway through; the car itself split in half, with the driver and safety cell on one side of the barrier and the engine and rear of the car still trackside. There was a large fire but miraculously, Grosjean was able to climb out and run for safety with only minor injuries.
If he had been driving anything other than a Formula 1 car, that crash would have almost certainly resulted in a fatality.
In 1973, French F1 driver Francois Cevert crashed during the United States Grand Prix, his car landing upside down, on top of him, on a section of metal guard railing. He was literally cut in half. Two years later, also at the USGP, Helmuth Koinigg hit the steel barrier nearly head on. The bottom rail gave way but not the middle rail, resulting in death by decapitation.
In 1984, Rick Mears crashed during a practice session at a short oval in Quebec, hitting the steel barrier hard enough to completely rip off the front end of his car. His feet were mangled by the metal to an extent the medical people wanted to amputate. He survived and raced another eight years but still suffers from those injuries. Alan Simonson was a popular young sportscar racer who died in 2013, when he crashed directly into an unforgivable metal barrier at Le Mans. There were no injuries from blunt force trauma or penetration. He died from sudden deceleration, damaging either his brain or aorta.
Originally designed for low impact and low speed applications like residential areas, car parks and industrial sites, steel barriers at race tracks have been around since the 60’s, mainly installed to protect spectators, buildings, and property. They were not created to protect drivers or motorcycle riders in the event of off-course excursions.
The Podium Club tracks, with multiple configurations and the ability for cars and motorcycles to run both clockwise and counterclockwise, were designed to meet FIA 2 safety standards. That means more than generous runoff areas, and state-of-the-art, energy-dissipating safety barriers where there will be the greatest chance of high speed off-course excursions. The Club complex may have some type of corrugated beam barriers at far boundary locations, but any exposure to trackside activities will be fronted by stacks and stacks of tires, wrapped with an industrial conveyor belt, or some other material.
We want our members, guests, and competitors to not have to worry about hitting an immovable at best, fragmenting or splitting or separating at worst, solid steel object because the track decided to cut corners to save money.