Which Racewear? A Guide Of What Good Gear To Buy For Race And Rally
Author: Tom Magnay / Pictures: BlendLine
Note: This article is intended as a guide and BlendLine accepts no responsibility for errors or changes to the information or guidance provided.
So you've built a competition car, got your MSUK licence, it's time for your first race or rally.
Uncle Keith did a rally once in 1973, so you can just borrow his old helmet and overalls, right? Nope!
There are strict homologations in place for competing in the UK and around the world, and the equipment you have to wear is approved to keep you safe in the event of a large accident or fire while out competing. This guide is aimed at all areas of Motorsport UK governed competition, and states the generally approved standards for competing in rally, race, hillclimb and rallycross disciplines. We will also cover some aspects of the racewear now required by International racing standards too.
The FIA standards are put in place to ensure ultimate safety for competitors, and have been tested in the harshest environments for fire retardancy and head and neck safety. Standards set by the FIA are the ones taken on by governing bodies in the United Kingdom and Europe, competitors in the United States of America have to adhere to Snell and SFI ruling too.
Lets start at the top and work down:
Probably the most important bit - you only get one head, so its worth spending a few quid here.
UK minimum standard: FIA 8859-2015
Most national levels of motorsport require this standard as a minimum, and this is the helmet standard that you would need for a single venue rally right up to British Touring Cars. This includes helmets constructed from composite materials normally a kevlar type construction all the way to the awesome looking carbon fibre helmets you've probably seen. It's a common choice in rallying to use open face, and you need to consider communication with your co-driver here too, so it's worth going for a decent helmet with good intercom built in.
Open face helmet - our choice: Stilo Trophy Des Plus, a helmet boasting WRC electronics, noise cancelling ear cups and a high quality microphone, with the plug all integrated into the helmet, you can pimp these out with iridium sun visors too.
For tin-top racing, saloons and GTs etc, most folks choose full-face helmets but open-face is generally fine here too. You might want to consider radio if your championship allows you to communicate with the pit wall, you'll need to use "in-ear" plugs rather than speaker "cups" in the helmet for circuit racing. Bear in mind a full face helmet with a visor will protect your face from fire for far longer than an open face variant.
Full face helmet - our choice: Stilo ST5 GT Carbon, lightweight with an amazing carbon fibre weave, prepared for comms and a drinks kit, fitted with HANS posts and can be customised with different visors, spoilers and ear pieces.
As a general rule, this 8859-2015 standard of helmet is fine for all UK tarmac and gravel rallies including BRC and UK clubman racing and RX from stock hatch to British Rallycross.
Expiry of this homologation; none at time of writing
FIA standard 8860-2018
For international competition, more and more GT series such as Asian Lemans, Blancpain/Fanatec GT, European Endurance are opting for this homologation, and it is overruling the outgoing 8860-2010 standard (which has an expiry date of 31st December 2028). The higher standard is required here due to the more extreme speeds reached in these series. Helmets built to this standard are generally constructed from an even higher standard of carbon fibre and can withstand more impact and penetration from objects.
"Priority One" drivers and co-drivers in World Rally Championship will require an 8860-2018 helmet also, that is anybody in a WRC car or WRC2 P1 seeded car.
8860 helmet - our choice: Stilo ST5 F or R 8860, featuring all the features of the ST5 GT above, but with the higher spec homologation. The R has a larger visor aperture for rallying, and is supplied with rally comms (ear speakers and microphone) integrated into the helmet.
Expiry of this homologation: none at time of writing
Finally for single seater and open top racing, you will obviously need a full face helmet with a visor that clamps shut. Often space is at a premium in an open wheel car, so a narrower shell helmet is generally advised. This will also help with aerodynamics, and you can normally buy small helmet spoilers to improve aero too. A new standard brought in by the FIA for top level single seater racing in 2019 was the ABP (advanced ballistics protection) helmet. The ABP standard protects single seater drivers head in the event of a small projectile penetrating the visor aperture. Remember Felipe Massas F1 incident in Hungary 2009 where a suspension component came off another car and hit Massa right above the eyes whilst traveling at over 250kph in his Ferrari? This is in reaction to that accident, where the safety delegates realised more strength was needed at the very front of the helmet, just above the eyeline. So the ABP standard helmets haver very small visor openings for ultimate strength. ABP replaces the outgoing Zylon strip on the visor which was a temporary fix for this. The only companies who currently manufacture FIA 8860-2018 ABP helmets are Stilo, Bell, Arai and Scuberth.
ABP helmet - our choice: Stilo ST5 FN 8860 ABP Zero. Well OK if you need ABP you're probably doing F1 or an F1 support series, so helmet budget is likely to be a drop in the ocean in the grand scale of things. So the FN 8860 Zero ABP is the Rolls Royce of helmets, the price tag backs that up. But Stilo were the first helmet manufacturer to be recognised by the FIA for an ABP standard helmet, and Valtteri Bottas has been using one since 2019. It is also the lightest on the market, so what's not to like?!
Expiry of this homologation: none at the time of writing
Many drivers choose to customise their helmets with colours, designs and logos. It is important to have this done by someone who knows what they are doing. Use of ultra aggressive products could damage the outer shell of the helmet. Painters we have used with great results in the past, include Piers Dowell, Image Design Custom and JLF Designs.
Karting helmets are slightly different, and you can find out more about what racewear to buy for karting here.
Frontal Head Restraint
FIA and MSUK standard 8858-2010
Now mandatory in all levels of Motorsport UK governed competition, and indeed FIA motorsport around the world, is a frontal head restraint, otherwise known as a "HANS Device" or "FHR". A simple but clever device for preventing injury or death by severe twisting or stretching of the spine and/or neck. Got your attention? Yep.
All of the helmets in the above section are made to work directly with an FHR, the tethers of which connect to the posts on the helmet. Once fastened up, and buckled into the car, your movement of your neck and head should be restricted. FHRs have come on a long way in recent years, with sliding tethers now making lateral head movement better yet still supported.
20 degree options are for drivers who wit upright i.e rally, GT, saloon, rallycross racers etc. 30 degree variants are for drivers sat at a more slanted angle in a single seater or formula car. It is important you but the right one for your discipline, for example using a 30 degree in a rally car will be uncomfortable and not offer the correct protection.
These FHRs can be constructed from a resin based composite right up to the thinnest, most exotic carbon fibre and weighing no more than a few hundred grams. It's important to note that all are the same FIA strength standard, so the extra money you spend here is purely on aesthetics and comfort alone. Quick release FHR tethers and helmet posts are also available for most good FHRs to minimise time buckling up pre-race.
Frontal Head Restraint - our choice: The Stand 21 Club Series 3 is an impressive entry level FHR which has the same standard as ones 3 times the price. It is lighter and less bulky than the bottom-of-the-range Club Series 1 and only a little dearer. Supplied with pads and tethers with clips that work on all normal helmet HANS posts.
Stand 21 FHR vs Simpson Hybrid: Another option very common in off-road and rallying is the Simpson Hybrid which offers more comfort and practicality than a "HANS device", and advanced protection in the event of a lateral impact. Sizing with a Simpson Hybrid is crucial, there is lots of adjustment but you need to make sure the tethers are adjusted and you can't tilt your head and neck forward more than a few inches once strapped into the car. You can see more info on these here.
Finally, never try and use an FHR in a standard seat with a conventional seatbelt. If you're a trackday guy and want the advanced safety of an FHR, you will need the seat and harness too!
UK minimum standard: FIA 8856-2000 (soon to be 8856-2018)
So you bought a helmet and FHR, now you need a fireproof race suit. The current minimum standard here in Britain is FIA 8856-2000, but note that is gradually being phased out by 2028 in favour of FIA 8856-2018. If you want a suit that will last you a good amount of time, invest in the new standard. Whilst they have 10 years expiry from new, they have been developed to withstand epic fire for longer. Romain Grosjean's fiery crash at the end of the 2020 F1 season bears testimony to the new standard, he was able to escape a high speed fireball wreck with only minor burns thanks to the new homologation of racewear. (Grosjean was wearing an Alpinestars suit, in case you were wondering). The new standard is already mandatory in WRC, F1, Formula E and World Rallycross with other set to join between now and the full implementation in 2028.
The reason for the age limit on the new standard of racewear that the outgoing standard is around 20 years old, meaning you could in theory still be competing in a suit you bought in 2001. Imagine how many times you'd have washed that suit, over time the fire repellency breaks down and makes it less safe. And sure, the ten year expiry keeps these guys in business too...
8856-2000 overalls without an FIA hologram denote that they were produced prior to 2013 and will not be accepted for FIA use after 2022.
Naturally race suits start at 2-300 pounds for a reputable brand in nice fabric, you can spend well over a thousand for a lightweight suit with advanced breathability. Fabrics are compared in GSM (grams per square metre) to give any idea on weights and thickness. It is a common misconception that suits are approved by their thickness or layering, this is not normally the case, the FIA standard is what scrutineers look for!
There are off-the-peg overalls out there with added stretch panels for ladies, larger people and youths, but in our experience the only way to get a really good fit is a made to measure (MTM) suit, which may not be as expensive as you thought...
8856-2018 race suit - our choice: P1 Lap suit. A mid range, reasonably light and breathable racing suit with options of colour and customisation if required. Recently developed to the new standard, with more details on this suit available.
Darker base colours are a good shout, rally guys will back me up here, you've not really rallied 'til you've done a mucky repair at the side of the road in your best suit!
Suits can of course be embroidered or printed with your name and/or sponsor logos, be sure to have this done by the suit supplier or a reputable company using approved vinyl or thread. More info on this here.
Whilst not yet mandatory in rallying and club level racing, fireproof undergarments are definitely recommended to act as an additional layer of protection in the event of a fire in the car. Drivers in BTCC, British GT and top level UK racing are required to wear FIA underwear, as are rally drivers going overseas to compete in say Ireland or Belgium.
As with race suits, the FIA standard for underwear is being updated from 8856-2000 to 8856-2018 to improve safety, and they have achieved this by raising the undergarment fire retardancy standard to 5 seconds in direct contact, quite an achievement! (nb. For racing suits, the new standard is now a minimum of 12 seconds HTI (Heat Transmission Index).
Underwear is generally constructed from aramid, nomex or a modacrylic fibre. There are also garments that are designed to aid cooling of the skin and body temps, namely UK company Walero, who use a NASA developed Outlast technology.
A balaclava is a must as far as we are concerned. It will keep your helmet fresher by helping to absorb sweat before it reaches the lining of your helmet, and again give greater protection to your neck and lower part of your face in a fire.
Non FIA hologrammed undergarments (indicating they were produced prior to 2016) will not be accepted by the FIA after 2023.
8856-2018 undergarments - our choice: P1 Modacryclic underwear range. Lighter, softer and more breathable than other garments with a higher price tag. P1 also offer logo customisation service of their base layers too.
Gloves and Boots
Similar to undergarments, not strictly a requirement for some lower levels of competition here in Britain. But a good idea to invest in something to protect you. All FIA approved ones are fireproof and again the new 8856-2018 standard is being brought in here too, (boasting an 11 second HTI!) with non-hologram items not accepted after 2023 for FIA events and the rest outlawed in 2028. Something you're comfortable spending a day in, for the driver a thin sole is preferred with plenty of material on the areas where the shoe is likely to rub on the car floor. Being made generally of suede or synthetic leather, it is surprising how quick these can wear out if you're competing regularly!
Boots - our choice: P1 Prima Boot, a super sleek suede leather boot, narrow in width featuring a grippy sole and fluorescent P1 logos, with a choice of colours to suit your look too.
Rally co-drivers won't want gloves as it would be impossible to turn the pages in the pacenote book, and might want to consider a thicker soled boot for the extra walking/coffee runs/pushing the car out of a ditch...
Co-driver footwear - our choice: Alpinestars Radar Boot, which features a thicker sole, sturdier upper and decent tread-grip on the sole. Lets face it, you guys need a decent shoe for all the extra slogging about!
Hopefully all of this information has given you an insight into the best kit to buy for race or rally at any level. We know, because we use this kit ourselves and compete regularly. If you found this guide useful, share it with your friends on social media (links below) and let us know. We'll be doing more articles like this soon on car prep, seats, harnesses, fire suppression systems, kart wear and more, so check back on that soon!
Tom Magnay: @tommagnay01
BlendLine Apparel: @blend_line
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