Jumpsuit. Helmet. Gloves and Shoes. You’ll need all of these to pilot a race car, but arguably just as important as any of these things you wear, is the thing you sit in: the seat itself.
This is why, as funny as it may sound, race car drivers have their own custom fitted car seats, which they swap out when taking on the task of operating their machines. Alpine shared the following video about this often overlooked but important tool in a racer’s kit:
A total of three drivers will operate the Alpine A480 at the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Man and the World Endurance Championship. Matthieu Vaxiviere, André Negrão and Nicolas Lapierre will all be driving for Alpine, which means that three different setups are necessary to fit the racers.
These custom setups are made by filling a plastic bag with polyurethane foam in its liquid state and placing it in the car. The individual drivers then take a seat inside and get into their racing positions. They hold there for the fifteen minutes it takes the liquid to harden. Once it solidifies, the foam is removed and honed to fit, then covered with a fireproof material and even given a handlebar!
I’m completely delighted by this. I would have thought that a race car is such a focused machine that there’s no room for idiosyncrasies such as custom seats, and that it would instead take a “One Size Fits All” kind of approach.
Of course, adjustments would be made for each racer, but overall it might seem easier to have the one seat that can be made to fit different drivers. This, however, is not conducive to good driving, and Alpine explains how the different forces at work in motorsport make a custom seat an essential part of the car, emphasis Alpine:
Moreover, [...] where races are punctuated by stints, a change of driver also implies a change of seat. With high deceleration rates under braking and up to 4 g of weight in the corners, the seat has to fit each driver’s body to the millimeter. As the only part of the car that is entirely made to measure, the seat is therefore a central object with which the drivers have a very special relationship.
As one of our own motorsport fanatics, Bradley Brownell, pointed out to me, these incredible race machines are often piloted by drivers of varying sizes. It’s less about about comfort at that point, and more about the safe operation of the race car. What’s more, the custom seat is also about the efficient operation of the car, per Alpine and Lapierre:
The moulded seat also optimises driving efficiency. Perfectly adjusted to the drivers’ morphology, it allows them to give the best of themselves: “being well installed in the car, helps us to make fewer mistakes, to be well concentrated focused only on the driving, to be at one with the car”.
Now I need to take a moment and scheme of a way to make my own custom bucket seat. Not at all because my seats are very, very worn, but because you can’t say you drive a race car if you don’t carry a custom seat.