Safety car

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In motorsport, a safety car or pace car is a car which limits the speed of competing cars on a racetrack in the case of a caution period such as an obstruction on the track. During a caution period the safety car enters the track ahead of the leader. Depending on the regulations in effect, competitors are not normally allowed to pass the safety car or other competitors during a caution period, and the safety car leads the field at a pre-determined safe speed, which may vary by series and circuit. At the end of the caution period, the safety car leaves the track and the competitors may resume racing. The first use of a pace car in automobile racing was at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911.[1]

In production automobiles, a "safety car" is one which highlights safety features (see automobile safety).


Two Superleague Formula safety cars in the paddock at Silverstone Circuit

The use of a safety car has the side effect of pushing all the competitors together, so any time advantage of one car over another that remains on the same lap is virtually eliminated. This "drawing together" effect can make racing more competitive; conversely, it can be viewed as preventing faster drivers and cars from receiving appropriate rewards for their efforts.

It is common in many forms of racing for drivers to make pitstops during the safety car situation. This way, they can form back up behind the back after refueling and changing tires (and perhaps making more advanced adjustments which would normally cost too much time to be practical in racing conditions). Any other drivers who have to pit within the next few laps would then fall behind this car when they make their pitstop under green flag conditions.

Cars use less fuel while running under safety car (usually approximately half as much as under racing conditions), which can allow drivers to run longer on a tank of fuel than expected, and in some cases means being able to make one fewer pitstop.

Formula One[edit]


Mercedes-Benz supplies its Mercedes-AMG models to the Formula One Championship as safety cars

In Formula One or other road racing events if an accident or heavy rain prevents normal racing from continuing safely, the Race Director or Clerk of Course will call for the marshalls to wave yellow flags and hold SC boards, warning drivers that the safety car has been deployed. From 2007, all Formula Cars must have LEDs fitted to the steering wheel, which inform the driver which flags are being waved. A yellow LED is illuminated when the safety car has been deployed.

Bernd Mayländer, the current safety car driver as of 2014.

The F1 safety car (SC) has both orange and green lights mounted on its roof in the form of a light bar. The green light allows the driver just behind the SC to pass. This is done so as to allow cars between the SC and the race leader to overtake the SC and continue at reduced speed and without overtaking until they reach the line of cars behind the SC.[2] Once the race leader is right behind the SC, the orange lights go on. This car is to be operated by a professional driver—currently Bernd Mayländer—and must maintain a good speed so that the tires on the racecars can stay as close as possible to operating temperature and at the same time avoid engine overheating. The driver of the safety car also has a co-driver.

In Formula One, during the one lap to green, the SC will have the lights on until it crosses the last intermediate of the race track and the lights will go out. That notifies the drivers that they will be racing in a few moments.

When required, the safety car will lead the field around the circuit at reduced speed.

For incidents during the first three laps, the safety car also has an advantage over the traditional red flag; with a red flag, it would take a minimum of fifteen minutes to restart the race, and the two-hour limit would not start until the cars were ready for a second formation lap. With regards to the time limit, the race is being scored and the time is also counting while the safety car is on the track, and the race resumes.


The first use of a Safety Car in Formula One is reported to have taken place at the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, where a yellow Porsche 914[3][4] was called for duty following various incidents under treacherous weather conditions. Controversially, on that occasion, it took several hours after the race to figure out the winner and final results since the Safety Car driver had placed his car in front of the wrong competitor thus causing part of the field to be one lap down incorrectly.[5] Between 1980 and 1983, the Monaco Grand Prix saw the involvement of a Lamborghini Countach in this role.[4][6][4]

The sport officially introduced Safety Cars in 1993, after trials were conducted at both the French and British Grands Prix during the preceding 1992 season.

From 2007, new procedures were applied for the first time during the Bahrain Grand Prix. The pit lane was closed immediately upon the deployment of the safety car. No car could enter the pits for the purpose of refuelling until all cars on the track had formed up in a line behind the safety car, they passed the pit entrance, and the message "pit lane open" was given. A ten second stop/go penalty (which must be taken when the race is green again) was imposed on any driver who entered the pit lane and whose car was refuelled before the pitlane open message is given. However, any car which was in the pit entry or pit lane when the safety car was deployed would not incur a penalty.

From 2009, however, this procedure has been dropped, and replaced by software that calculates where a car is on the track and a minimum laptime it should take the car to get to the pits. Cars that enter the pits before this time limit has expired are penalised.

When the safety car and the drivers behind it are on the start/finish straight, there is a red light at the exit of the pit lane. Drivers who go past the red light are disqualified from the race. This has happened to several drivers during the years, such as Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. At the same race a year later Lewis Hamilton failed to notice the red light and slammed into the back of the car of Kimi Räikkönen, who was waiting at the end of the pitlane alongside Robert Kubica.

As of the start of the 2010 season, once cars were lined up behind the SC, lapped cars were no longer allowed to unlap themselves before the race was restarted.[7] This rule was abandoned for from the 2012 season onwards, with cars now allowed to unlap themselves before the race resumes; however, since 2015, the safety car need not wait for the backmarkers to catch up with the leading pack before returning to the pits. From 2015, the intervention of a physical car is complemented by a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) system, which was tested during 2014 after the serious accident suffered by Jules Bianchi and has been officially used for the first time at the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix.

Indianapolis 500[edit]

The first use of a pace car in automobile racing was at the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911.[1] The officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been selecting a pace car and its driver for the Indy 500 each year since that first race. The first pace car was a Stoddard-Dayton driven by Carl G. Fisher. In recent years Chevrolet models have been chosen as the official pace car, owing to the ability for them to be used at both major automobile races at the Speedway (typically Corvette at the 500 and Impala at the 400). The pace car is selected two months before the race runs, allowing the manufacturer of the selected pace car to produce replicas of that year's car, which sell at a marked premium to collectors and race fans. Pace car replicas are often seen on the streets of Indianapolis weeks before the race is actually held, and a celebrity driver is usually used for the start of the race only.

Automakers compete for the prestige of having one of their models selected as the year's pace car for the publicity. In 1971, the move backfired as no automakers stepped up to provide a pace car. Instead, local Indianapolis-area Dodge dealers fulfilled the duty. Eldon Palmer, a local dealer, lost control of the Dodge Challenger pace car and crashed into a photography stand, injuring several people. The blame for the crash was never fully determined, as officials realized that an orange cone (or perhaps an orange flag), which was to identify Palmer's braking point, was accidentally removed.

In the last 50 years, the Pontiac Trans Am, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Corvette, Oldsmobile Cutlass, and Ford Mustang are the only models that have been selected as pace cars three or more times.

The pace car leads the field past an accident site at the 2007 Indianapolis 500.

During the IndyCar Series season, however, Johnny Rutherford is the normal driver of the IRL pace car for all events. The pace car is deployed for debris, collision, or weather reasons. Since 1993, upon the waving of the yellow flag, pit road is closed until the pace car picks up the leader and he passes the pit entrance the first time, unless track blockage forces the field to drive through pit lane. Another duty of the pace car is to lead the field around the course on parade laps prior to the start of the race. These increase in speed, allowing for a flying start of the race.

Furthermore, two other rule changes have been implemented. Since 2000, with one lap to go before going back to green, the pace car pulls off the track in turn one rather than in turn four. The current leader of the race is then assigned the task of pacing the field back to the green flag. After much consideration, this rule was added to prevent a situation much like the one that happened in the 1995 Indianapolis 500, when Scott Goodyear passed the pace car going back to green. In 2002, another rule was added. With one lap to go before the green, the pace car waves by all cars (if there are any) between the pace car and the actual leader of the race. This allows for the leader to control the restart without lapped cars being in front of him. It also creates a strategy for cars to gain laps back, loosely resembling the "Lucky dog" rule. However, the cars who get waved around are not allowed to pit until the green flag restarts the race (so they do not get the advantage of getting their lap back AND a free pit stop).


2001 Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) pace car - a modified 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP coupe

In all NASCAR series, if the caution is out for debris, accident, or inclement weather, the flagman will display the yellow caution flag and the pace car [8] will pull out of the pits and turn on the yellow strobes on top and/or behind the car. One lap before a green flag, the pace car will shut off its lights to signal drivers that a green flag is coming.

Unlike most series in motorsport, owing to NASCAR's short-track roots, each track usually offers their own safety car, typically from the manufacturer, but in recent years, it has been a local dealer or association of regional dealerships-provided safety car. Tracks that use Toyota safety cars will use a Toyota Camry Hybrid, while Ford tracks will use a Ford Mustang, while Chevrolet tracks use a Chevrolet Camaro and most Dodge tracks use a Dodge Challenger. If a manufacturer is promoting a new vehicle, they will often use the new car instead of the standard-specification safety car.

For the Camping World Truck Series, often the Safety Car is a pickup truck, as the series races pickup trucks. Tracks affiliated with a local or regional Chevrolet dealership will use a Chevrolet Silverado, while Chrysler dealership affiliated tracks will use a Ram 1500. Ford-affiliated tracks will often use the F-Series, but Toyota-affiliated tracks are less likely to use the Toyota Tundra, but prefer marketing the Camry Hybrid. However, Ford and Toyota manufacturer sponsored tracks will prefer the Mustang and Camry, respectively, instead of a truck.

Since NASCAR does not allow speedometers or electronic speed limiting devices, the pace car circles the track at pit road speed during the warm-up laps. This allows each driver to note the RPM at which pit road speed is maintained. Drivers exceeding that speed on pit road will be penalized, typically a "drive-through" or "stop and go" penalty, costing them valuable track position.

The pace car for the 2011 Daytona 500, a Chevrolet Camaro.

Since mid-2004, NASCAR official Brett Bodine has driven the vehicle during official race functions during Sprint Cup Series races. Other famous NASCAR pace car drivers include Robert "Buster" Auton, Elmo Langley and Jay Leno.

The Beneficiary Rule (informally known as the "Lucky dog" rule) states once the safety car is deployed, the first car not on the lead lap will regain a lap. The Beneficiary will regain his lap once pit road opens. Bodine will signal that car to pass him through radio contact between NASCAR and that team. The free pass car must pit with the lapped cars.

In 2009, NASCAR introduced a new "Double-file restart" rule that lines the field two cars on each row on every restart, similar to the start of the race, instead of lead-lap cars on the outside and lapped cars on the inside. Also, the "wave-around" rule, similar to what is enforced in the Indy Racing League was adopted to ensure the first car on the restart is the leader, and ensure there are no lapped cars ahead of the leader.

Incidents with safety cars and other course cars[edit]

2014 Sprint Unlimited[edit]

Before the start of the final segment of the Sprint Cup Series exhibition race at Daytona, the Chevrolet SS pace car caught fire and stopped off the track, delaying the restart. The fire was believed to have started in a trunk-mounted battery pack powering the lights.[9]

2012 Daytona 500[edit]

During a Safety Car situation on Lap 160 of the 2012 Daytona 500, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya's car had a suspension part failure, and it lost control on turn 3, sharply veering right into a safety truck and jet dryer trailer, causing a massive diesel/jet fuel fire. As it was seen on video, sparks were seen emanating from Montoya's car right before its hard collision with the jet dryer trailer and left drivers side of the truck. Montoya was treated at the infield care center and released. Montoya's report over the radio after the incident was "I left the pits and felt a really weird vibration and I came back in and checked the rear end and said it was okay and I got into the backstraight and we were are going fourth gear but wasn't going that fast. Every time I got on the gas I could feel the rear squeezing. When I was telling the spotter to have a look how the rear was moving the car just turned right." The driver of the Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab, Duane Barnes, was taken to a local hospital for observation and was resting comfortably. He is an employee at Michigan International Speedway, a sister track of Daytona. The tracks often share jet dryer equipment on race weekends to help in case of rain such as the case on Sunday, the original scheduled start time of the race. The entire incident took about two hours to clean up before the last 40 laps were able to be completed.

NASCAR subsequently added the use of the second Safety Car (used during race start situations) to protect the last jet dryer in other Safety Car situations.

2011 6 Hours of Castellet[edit]

The 2011 6 Hours of Castellet got off to a controversial start when the pace car did not return to the pits when the green lights came on. The front running LMPs slowed down but some of the GT cars could not react fast enough, resulting in heavy damage to all three GTE Pro class Porsches which caused them to retire. The GTE Am class IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche and GTE Pro JOTA Aston Martin were also caught up in the carnage.[10]

2009 WTCC Pau[edit]

An accident occurred during the 2009 FIA WTCC Race of France in Pau, France. A succession of first-lap accidents caused the safety car to be placed on standby, with yellow flags waving on the start-finish section of the track. The safety car driver then proceeded to drive onto the track at slow speed, without official approval,[11] moving across the pit exit line immediately after exiting the pits, instead of confining to the inside of it until the line ended. Race leader Franz Engstler came through the kink on the start-finish straight and was unable to avoid hitting the side of the pace car.[12] Engstler commented "I saw the safety car coming out from the right and realized that I had no chance to brake... I really do not understand why he was going out of the pits".[13] After this incident, the Portuguese Bruno Correia was appointed as the official Safety Car driver.[14]

2008 Dutch Supercar Challenge Spa[edit]

A safety car caused a crash during the 2008 Dutch Supercar Challenge race at Spa Francorchamps. The Seat Leon safety car was released too late, allowing the leading Marcos LM600 to pass while erroneously identifying the Audi TT DTM in 2nd and Mosler MT900R GT3 in 3rd as 'the leading pack.' Race officials immediately realized their mistake, and the safety car was instructed to slow down and let the entire field pass.

As the safety car was exiting turn 11, an approaching Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 drastically reduced its speed in response to the unusually slow safety car. However, a BMW a few seconds behind came around the blind turn at speed, colliding with the Gallardo and safety car. The collision destroyed the Gallardo and sent the BMW into a number of rolls. The safety car was sent off the track into the Armco at great speed. In the chaos, a Marcos LM600 coming around turn 11 locked up its brakes and spun into the wet grass on the inside of the track. Sliding back onto the track, it was hit from the side by a BMW Z3. Furthermore, two E46 BMW M3 GTRs were damaged: one on the outside line hit the rear of the Marcos, and the other, on the inside line, slightly damaged its front right. The second M3 continued around the track, while the first slid into the grass before turn 12. The race was stopped, and there were no serious injuries to any of the drivers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cavin, Curt (May 16, 2011). "Leaders of the Pack". AutoWeek (Crain Communications Inc.) 61 (10): 60–61. 
  2. ^ "Safety car". Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
  3. ^ Kathri, Tarun (2012-02-07). "First ever Safety Car in Formula 1 : Rewind to 1973". Retrieved 2015-04-03. 
  4. ^ a b c "The F1 Safety Car's Bumpy Ride". 22 December 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  5. ^ Lang, Mike (1982). Grand Prix! Vol 2. Haynes Publishing Group. p. 244. ISBN 0-85429-321-3. 
  6. ^ "Holy Ferruccio! A Lamborghini Countach Safety Car". Jalopnik. 2010-07-10. Retrieved 2015-03-03. 
  7. ^ "Cause and effect - the impact of 2010’s new rules". Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
  8. ^ David Caraviello (2007-10-01). "Rules aren't always what they appear in NASCAR". Retrieved 2011-04-04. 
  9. ^ "NASCAR Pace Car Catches Fire During Sprint Unlimited at Daytona". Sports Illustrated. 2014-02-16. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  10. ^ "Start Chaos 2011 Le Mans Series at Le Castellet". MT89Motorsport2. 2011-04-03. Retrieved 2011-04-03. 
  11. ^ "Safety car had no permission to exit pits". Retrieved 2011-04-04. 
  12. ^ "Menu opens account amongst Pau mayhem". 2009-05-17. Retrieved 2011-04-04. 
  13. ^ "Video of the Engstler - Safety Car crash". Retrieved 2011-04-04. 
  14. ^ "WTCC APPOINTS PERMANENT SAFETY CAR DRIVER". AutoSport. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 

External links[edit]

Formula One[edit]

Indianapolis 500[edit]