By far the most important piece of equipment for any motorsports enthusiast – apart from the vehicle itself – is definitely the crash helmet. It provides protection, must be comfortable to wear and, in professional sports, is often the only piece of equipment chosen by the rider. But what makes a good helmet and what to look for when choosing?
The basics: test standard
The requirements for helmets in automotive sports are extremely high and, interestingly, the testing standards are also much stricter than for motorcycle helmets, for example. There are also dedicated helmets for karting with properties specially adapted to them.
The first “real” standards for automotive helmets were created in the 1950s by the American Snell Memorial Foundation. This foundation was established after the accidental death of racing driver William Snell, whose helmet had failed to provide adequate protection. Since then, helmet development has been steadily advanced and improved Snell standards have been published at regular intervals. Until a few years ago, the FIA adopted these American testing standards unchanged for European motorsport.
In the meantime, however, there are separate FIA standards for both automobile and karting sports. It should be noted here that many international automotive sports series require higher test standards than those used in normal popular sports. In karting, on the other hand, there is a separate standard for children and teenagers, whose helmets are quite different from the adult helmets. Before buying a helmet, you should therefore find out exactly which regulations apply to the particular area of use.
Which helmet for which use?
Formula car or touring car? Rallying with Intercom? Trackday? Karting? Each area of application places its own requirements on the helmets used. It gets exciting when a rider competes in different categories and is looking for a helmet that is as universal as possible.
Helmets for open vehicles require good aerodynamic properties. Here, it’s not so much about getting the “last tenth” of lap time out, but rather helmets with poor aerodynamics provide an unpleasant suction on the chinstrap at higher speeds. In addition, the combination of ventilation system and visor technology is intended to ensure that, on the one hand, good ventilation is provided and, on the other hand, fogging of the visor is avoided.
Helmets for closed vehicles usually have a slightly larger visor cutout. Air supply and good all-round visibility are even more important here, which is why jet helmets are still frequently used. And in rallying, of course, everything revolves around the topic of intercom, i.e. communication between driver and co-driver.
Accessories and additional equipment
Of course, it is also very important that appropriate accessories are available for the respective area of application. Here, too, the requirements differ: in the case of open vehicles, aerodynamics can be further improved by means of retrofittable spoilers, which optimally direct the airflow over the helmet. Breakaway visors not only always bring clear vision but also extend the life of the visors. Keyword visors: here there is a huge selection of colors and tints to be able to optimally match them to the helmet design and the lighting conditions. By the way: there are now also retrofit visors for sun protection for many jet helmets!
Another important point is communication (in rallying between driver and co-driver, in lap racing between driver and pit). It is often overlooked that headphones installed in helmets are only permitted in rallying. For all other applications, there are communication solutions with microphones built into the helmet and separate earplugs (i.e. ear canal speakers that are inserted directly into the ears).
Customized design and painting
The painting of a helmet is the personal business card of every racer. Every motorsport fan remembers the legendary yellow-green of Ayrton Senna or the red-white-red of Niki Lauda. But what is the correct procedure for painting and what are the rules and regulations? Strictly speaking, any modification to the delivery condition of a helmet is prohibited. If you entrust your helmet to a bad painter, there is a risk of not inconsiderable damage to the helmet (for example, paint can penetrate the helmet through poorly taped vents and damage the absorption body, which is extremely important for safety). The various manufacturers offer different regulation-compliant solutions here: BELL has its own painting department directly in the factory. The Italian manufacturer STILO offers a special additional service: Helmet outer shells can be sent in advance to the painter of choice and go back to the factory for final assembly after painting.
The agony of choice
To find the optimal helmet, you should in any case try extensively before buying! We always offer a large selection here to try on and are also happy to answer questions about regulations, technology and application area. The correct fit of the helmet increases not only the wearing comfort but also the safety! And very important: after an accident, the helmet used should definitely be checked carefully: is the shell intact? Are there any cracks in the recordings of the HANS clips? Is the internal pressure body possibly compressed or even broken? If the worst comes to the worst, it is best to visit your trusted dealer for advice!