Every race car bruises its driver in unique ways. It is sort of like a fingerprint: No two are exactly alike, and every one has them.
A day after completing a test in the Formula BMW FB2, I was assessing my new inventory of scrapes and bruises and contemplating what it would feel like to climb back into the car for a second day of testing, like the series participants were doing.
To be fair, my own contusions were exaggerated by the haste with which we did the seat fitting. I was at least partly to blame for the less than ideal fit, because I was anxious to get on track and was pretty cavalier about how well the seat needed to fit.
It was easy to be indifferent; other cars I've tested and raced didn't generate anything close to the huge cornering forces produced by the amazing FB2. The cars in my experience, like my own Swift Formula Ford and various other FFs and Formula Continentals, the Suzuki Formula Hayabusa and sports racers like the Radical SR3 simply don't corner anything like the FB2, which pulled 2.3g in the fast right-hander ending Mid-Ohio's backstraight. That additional cornering force magnified the deficiencies in the seat fitting, so I'll bite my tongue now when considering the dedication of F1 drivers when they complain about ill-fitting seats.
In my first session in the car, I made the mistake of bracing myself in right turns with my left elbow. By the time I came in, I'd worn a pretty decent hole in the skin on that elbow. The bruises developed more progressively over the course of the day.
Aside from haste, the other reason the seat didn't fit well was the difficulty imposed by the car's design. The cockpit is very wide so it can accommodate the FORS extractable seat used in F1, which lets rescue teams extract an injured driver while he or she is strapped to their seat so they can't move and worsen any injuries. But this requires a wide cockpit and doesn't easily permit side padding to help brace the driver for lateral forces.
The car is also pretty short, so I had to slide forward and recline my torso to fit my 6-ft frame inside properly. Unfortunately, that left my knees raised like I was driving a go-kart. The pedals felt too close even after adjusting them as far back as they would go, but again, more time spent in seat fitting might have helped.
Cockpits in modern race cars don't look as wide as they are, because the opening is narrowed by the helmet surround, which prevents the driver's head from moving too far to the side in the event of an impact.
A massive aluminum casting encircles the carbon tub vertically, providing a bulkhead midway between the dash and the front bulkhead. It boosts side impact protection and prevents suspension members-which attach to the tab at the same spot-from spearing through into the driver in the event of a crash. All good things. It also, however, provides an excellent spot to bang one's knees. If it were my car, I'd cover the casting with a thin layer of rollcage padding. Without it, after a day in the saddle my left knee looked and felt like I'd gotten on the bad side of Tony Soprano.
The cockpit tapers inward just ahead of the driver, and the sequential shifter is mounted on the tapered part, cocking it to the right by about 30 degrees. It is enough to be visibly obvious but not enough to be noticeable in action, as I thought it might be.
Just ahead of that is the brake bias adjuster. During the course of the day, I did twist it one click toward more front bias, but I decided later that the twitch I'd felt from the back end under braking was probably because of a premature downshift. The shifter is connected to the Hewland FTR 200 six-speed sequential gearbox by a cable rather than the conventional steel rod. Safer in a crash, you know. No one has ever had their femur impaled by a cable in a crash. So it seemed like a good idea, but the shift action did feel vague at times, and I had trouble making the rapid-fire downshifts fast enough to go from sixth to third or from fifth to second in the car's very short braking distances.
Of course, Oswaldo Negri, the team's test driver, had no such difficulties, so it may have been operator error. Looking at the overlay of my data with his, I saw much higher revs on his downshifts, so it also may have been a matter of his greater willingness to thrash the car.
The compact steering wheel carries a small LCD display and a button that lets the driver switch among three pages of information. I kept it on the page displaying the time of the last lap completed and the best lap; engine data is available on other pages. Across the top is a row of green, then yellow, then red shift LEDs. Negri chastised me for shifting when the yellow LEDs were on, telling me to wait until all three reds were lit.
To the left of the LCD panel is a bright red LED that indicates gear position, a critical piece of information with a sequential shifter. Remember Mika Hakkinen's one-gear-too-many downshift through the chicane at Monza that spun him out of a race he led easily?