A dangerous predicament in modern racing is when a car stalls on the grid during a standing start. The chaotic swarm of high-powered vehicles jockeying for position while accelerating towards the first corner can easily obscure a stationary car from drivers further back in the field. More often than not, this leads to a driver putting the structural integrity of their vehicle to the test and plowing directly into the back of the stalled car. After a heavy crash two weeks ago, the Supercars Championship in Australia is mandating further measures to prevent start-line collisions.
During the second of three races at Tailem Bend, Tickford Racing’s Thomas Randle stalled his Ford Mustang in the second-place starting spot on the grid. Four cars directly behind Randle were able to maneuver around his stalled Mustang. But the fifth car, a Brad Jones Racing Holden Commodore driven by Andre Heimgartner, collided with the stalled Mustang. The race was immediately red-flagged so safety personnel could attend to both drivers. Thankfully, both Randle and Heimgartner were able to walk away but were taken to the hospital for precautionary checks after the 38g impact.
After the incident, Andre Heimgartner said:
“I don’t think there was much more we could have done. I’ve watched the onboard from my camera a few times. When I was driving down there, I had Lee Holdsworth and [Winterbottom]... they both starting going in opposite directions. I couldn’t see through them, because they were overlapped. The car in front of Lee swerved last minute to avoid Randle, and then Lee luckily managed to get past him. It had the effect of appearing Tom Randle’s car in front of me. It was pretty scary. I was totally not expecting it.”
Like most major racing championships, marshals are stationed on the pit wall alongside each row of the grid during starts in the Supercars Championship. Marshals will wave yellow flags along the wall if there’s a stationary car or any incident on the grid. Since 2019, Supercars has used an in-car warning system to alert drivers of stalled cars on the grid to complement the marshals.
The in-car warning system uses the shift light module in the dash to warn drivers. Though this system isn’t designed by the series, each team configures its system individually. This led to a situation where the signal to shift up during acceleration at the start overrode the warning of an incident. Several drivers pointed out that they didn’t receive an alarm until the second corner. In response, the Supercars Championship has mandated a series-controlled configuration for the in-car alarm system. This change won’t be the definitive end of heavy start-line collisions, but it will certainly help prevent them.