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Gravel Trapped No More
2002 Brazilian Grand Prix Proves Paved Runoff Areas Work

LIME ROCK, CT - April 25, 2002 -- At the Brazilian Grand Prix last month, several drivers inevitably left the track in the course of practice, qualifying and the race, some headed for heavy crashes if not worse.
Among them was Michael Schumacher, but no broken leg or out of contention for the championship this time.

Because the gravel traps had been paved over and traction restored, all recovered uneventfully or were able to brake and steer away from a certain crash.

In recognition, and in celebration of this enlightened policy, here follows the latest of periodic updates to the 22 prominent advocates of the racing safety devices proposed by John Fitch, a leading innovator in safety for the highway and racing circuits. In the quest for improved safety, the influence of these allies with the media and the decision makers in race management contributes authoritatively to the acceptance and future installation of new solutions.

This breakthrough in paving over counter-productive gravel traps, starting this season in the Brazil F1 race, may be seen on in addition to an original soft wall concept, an energy-absorbing guardrail and a driver protection system.

John Fitch Update on the State of Racing Safety

To august friends of the sport and allies in the quest for safety in racing,

As you know, Pave the Gravel Traps has been our message and battle cry for years past, and at long last it has been heard! A start was made last year when the gravel trap outside the mother of all the great curves that remain in Formula One, Eau Rouge at Spa, was paved over. Silverstone announced it planned to do the same but little was made in the press of the significance of these brave beginnings. The difference now is that the media has discovered this watershed event and said so, reporting at length on the consequences of the decision to pave the gravel traps for the recent F1 race in Brazil on March 31. It is a momentous date for those of us with an altruistic interest in the welfare of racing, present and future.

David Hobbs' commentary was loud and clear when Michael Schumacher spun off turn one onto the paved-over gravel trap in practice and was headed for a heavy crash. But with traction restored by the asphalt, he was able to brake and slow before backing gently into a tire wall.

Whereupon David announced to all the world "Schumacher slowed quickly and just (his emphasis) stopped in contact with the wall. He would have had a serious crash if the gravel had not been paved. It looks like they made the right decision to pave them over. If that had been gravel, the car would have been heavily damaged."

Then an Arrows ran wide across a narrow shoulder in a burst of dust but recovered on the paved-over gravel and continued the race with no damage. David Hobbs commented "That was gravel last year, so the pavement saved the car from a lot of damage and kept it out of the wall." And later "Several spun and stopped really quickly on the asphalt."

Schumacher's Ferrari went off again during the race at the same turn as in practice, and again was saved by the paved-over trap. Now such an excursion is a non-event, and he was able to continue unabated.

In contrast, when Kimi Rakkonen's McLaren slid into one of the unpaved gravel traps, he was eliminated from the race by "bulldozing" the gravel and damaging his car.

The significant thing about this change in safety measures is that the media is now specifically focused on it. It is now a part of the dialogue on safety in racing and won't go away. Contributing to that momentum is the counter-productive performance of gravel traps that is clearly shown in the over 100 videos that were circulated to the racing hierarchy here and in Europe more than two years ago.


An engineering report, USDOT Transportation Research Record #1233 was sent on 7/18/2000 to Max Mosely, President of the FIA. It established that gravel traps are ineffective at over 50 mph and decelerate vehicles at only 1/2 G below that speed. Accompanying the engineering report was the video depicting multiple scenes of actual racing events in which the failure of gravel traps was unmistakable. In his reply, the validity of neither was debated but an invitation to submit scientifically proven proposals for consideration was offered.

Brazil was not the scientific proof that Mr. Mosely requires to upgrade safety installations, but it was the indisputable empirical proof that paving the gravel is preferable in the opinion of participants, and most convincingly, that of the drivers.

Mario Andretti, one of the prominent race-wise advocates of our safety program, was delighted by the news from Brazil and that our message had finally gotten through. Though not normally given to superlatives, Mario was "overjoyed" by this not-so-small victory of common sense over mistaken policy.

Race physician Steve Olvey also heralds the breakthrough. He normally deals with post-crash injuries, but would infinitely prefer that the injuries did not occur in the first place, be it by paving gravel or any means whatsoever.

The Next Safety Issue

That video also clearly illustrates the counter-productive consequences of facing walls and guardrail with tire barriers where they can be hit at shallow angles. The inevitable result is either snagging and rejecting cars back into traffic or arresting them at life-threatening G-levels.Tire walls definitely have their uses, specifically in slow speed, high angle impacts, but their misuse as adjuncts to longitudinal barriers will be our next cause-célèbre.

Like Mario, Bill Milliken is very gratified (if not overjoyed) with the paving of the gravel because it represents another victory of reason over precedent. Few will remember, but 50 years ago haybales were the chosen delineator of track perimeters, especially on airport circuits. But because the CG of haybales is lower than that of race cars, they either trip and roll cars on lateral impact or lift them when hit head-on, often with the same result. By circulating a design guide published by the then Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory during Bill's watch, and no little preaching by Bill and me, we managed to put an end to a practice that caused untold serious crashes.

And so it's two down and one to go for Bill and the 20 other prominent advocates of our safety initiatives. Our release "Pave the Gravel Traps" remains on our web site . Significantly, the subtitle is "Rethink the Tire Walls". This and other new entries are posted there.

Congratulations to all - we are winning!

Very best regards,

John Fitch

John Fitch
(860) 435-2006
433 Salmon Kill RD
Lime Rock, CT 06039
Carl Goodwin
221 W.5th St. Box D
Palisade, CO 81526

Donn Gurney
(608) 237-1922
Race Legends, Inc.
5410 Highway 73
Marshall, WI 53559-9679

Copyright ©2016 by Race Safety, Inc. Portions copyright John Fitch. All Rights Reserved.