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SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Seats Of Power An inside look at performance seating for desert racing By Larry Saavedra Photography courtesy of the manufacturers Finding the right combination of safety, ergonomics, and craftsmanship in a race seat can be difficult for some because you can’t always test drive several seats in the same way that you could test various suspension settings on a race vehicle. So how do racers and off-road enthusiasts select the best seats? The simplest answer is to sit in as many types of seats as possible before buying. If you look around the starting grid at any SCORE race, you’ll see that each vehicle, from SCORE Trophy Truck to Class 11, and UTVs, have a different seat and brand inside. For racers there is no shortcut, as race seats aren’t something you impulsively snag, or it can be an expensive mistake. Getting Started The retail price for entry-level performance seats is typically around $400 and can range higher into the thousands. This is why leading seat manufacturers, professional racers, and safety experts offer a variety of facts when it comes to the latest technologies and designs in seats for desert racing. The biggest takeaway is that race seats have one job to do, keeping racers securely contained. Comfort and good looks from their perspective is a bonus. But as off-road desert race cars get more sophisticated, manufacturers are also advancing seat designs. Some companies are looking to the aerospace industry to save weight. Others are turning their attention to 3D computer analysis programs to eliminate structural issues before they happen in a race. The idea is the same, a push towards increasing safety and reducing injury. Types of Seats Let’s start with the obvious; race seats don’t have adjustable headrests or reclining backs as some performance seats do, that are designed to be used in daily-driver cars and trucks. Race seats are fixed into position. Secondly, not all seat manufacturers label their seats as “race only,” but if it’s labeled SFI or FIA certified, it’s a real race seat. This can be confusing as not all manufacturers pay for these certifications for every seat. Some well-known and respected race seat manufacturers do their in-house testing to meet or exceed SFI or FIA standards. Because the testing procedures can vary, experts agree that any questions about certification, or racing application, should be addressed with the manufacturer or the seat supplier to see how they have been tested and which racers are currently using them. What race seats have in common are their pass-through slots that allow for 4, 5 and 6-point harnesses, and according to safety experts, must be large enough so as not to interfere with the operation of the belts and harness. Therefore, the style and size of these pass-throughs vary from one seat model to the next. Shell Seats Shell-backed seats have become popular in desert racing. Shell sizes and shapes vary, making it easy to fit smaller cockpits of vehicles. The shell itself can be made of a light-weight aluminum or heavier composite wrapped in non-slip fire-resistant fabrics and padded with dense foam. This type of seat is extremely rigid and can offer good shoulder support. With that said, you will feel every bump in the road. You’re “locked-in” tight with little room to move. Aluminum shell seats are more affordable than expensive composite shell seats made from carbon-fiber, Kevlar or fiberglass. Keep in mind, there can be completely different mounting requirements for aluminum vs. composite. In this category there are the “halo” seats and full containment shell seats. These particular seats are used in professional rally racing, and a variant of it is used for dirt oval racing because they offer additional head support. Both are typically FIA and SFI rated. The halo or full containment seat is the most expensive, but due to their size in-cab fitment might pose a problem where space is limited. Most are set up for HANS®/FHR. Also, be sure that you have maximum visibility at all times, and that there’s no chance for severe contact with your helmet, which will be intensified in races like Baja, according to safety experts. The halo or full containment design is much harder to get out of in case of an impact. Suspension Seats Most suspension seats are seen in UTV and other limited classes. While they are the minority in desert racing, comfort continues to be their big advantage for off-road enthusiasts. These seats feature a specially-made liner suspended between a steel frame that flexes with the weight of the driver. Suspension seats were extremely popular in the early days of desert racing, but they lost some of their appeal when shell seats were introduced as an alternative. The materials used to wrap suspension seats are similar to shell seating (i.e. fire-retardant materials). Typically, suspension seats don’t offer the same shoulder fitness as a shell seat. There are also “hybrid suspension seats” that offer some of the characteristics of both a shell and a suspension seat, both of which will likely require a custom mounting bracket. Shell vs. Suspension Debate The topic of shell seats versus suspension seats is worth a brief discussion. Currently there are no statistics to substantiate whether one seat design is safer than the other. There is, however, lots of conjecture on online forums. What seems to be acknowledged by those in favor of suspension seats and those against it, is that there are poorly made seats using either configuration. Most in favor of suspension seats say they are substantially more comfortable. Those against, say that the seat’s internal design allows for the belts to become loose during a race. Both camps agree that safety comes down to being contained and it’s a matter of personal choice. No matter which style you choose, ensuring the lap belts come across the “iliac crest” of the hips (45-degrees angle to the floor) and the shoulder harness is near parallel going back to the mounting point is most important. Understanding seat mounting best practices, proper seat angles, belt designs, and using head and neck restraints are more important than ever. SCORE Seat Rules Within the rules of desert racing, every vehicle requires a technical inspection before the event. The seats are carefully inspected for wear, build-quality and to ensure they are actual race seats, not recreation seats. “The seat must be manufactured for racing, said Dan Cornwell, SCORE Technical Director. “The belts are extremely important. Because the belt holds you and seat to the car. If the seat should come loose for any reason, the belts should still hold you in place. That’s what we look for at tech inspection. “You can use a suspension or a shell seat. It’s the preference of the team. There are a lot of recreation-only seats with adjustable headrests that fold in the middle and those will not pass tech inspection.” DIY Fitting for a Seat Before you break out a measuring tape, the best way to get fitted for a race seat is to head to your local race shop and try them out. The shop should be able to explain the details of each seat. If you can’t find the seat locally ordering online is an alternative. Ordering online requires exact measurements of your body in an upright, seated position. Most seat manufacturers offer step-by-step guides on their websites. Body measurements should be done by a friend to avoid any mistakes. There are only a handful of key measurements you’ll need to get right. Some seat manufacturers have a good return policy if you order online, and then decide to return it. Just don’t bolt it in the vehicle and expect them to take it back if the hardware gets scratched. Whether you walk into a shop or order online, experts agree that the seat should allow you almost no side-to-side movement at the hips and upper body. Your shoulders should not rest more than 10 to 15 degrees below or above the shoulder belt pass-through slots. If you are using any head and neck restraints consider that as well.  Seats for Multiple Drivers You won’t find many one-size-fits-all race seats for multiple drivers, and at events like the SCORE Baja 1000. That can pose a problem, however, companies like Sabelt claim, their GT-Pad containment shell seat is made exactly for that purpose. The GT-Pad has removable padding that can be rearranged depending on body type. Others believe a one-size-fits-all approach “gets a little tricky,” as Robbie Pierce of Jimco pointed out. “What I see some of the guys do is to start stacking booster cushions on their seats to accommodate multiple drivers,” he said. “It’s really hard to have a perfect seat in off-road racing. You have someone tall or short and the belts suddenly don’t line up properly during a driver change and they’re not sitting in the seat, but on the seat.” Pierce should know. He has successfully acquired and launched several racing aftermarket companies like Impact Racing and Mastercraft, and has spent years figuring out what is safe and what is not. He stressed that safety requires being properly contained in a seat and not sitting outside of the bolsters. Any added body movement in the seat that allows for the hips to rotate is what leads to injuries.  Others agree that improperly adding cushions to raise a driver or co-driver at a particular height can also offset the shoulders too far above or below the pass-through slots for the harness, which puts unwanted pressure on the chest area. “It’s never an ideal situation in off-road desert racing,” Pierce added. “Cushions change the angular position of the person seating in it. Then you’re no longer in the seat. What happens in a crash is that the body moves forward, it pushes you against the belt. If the belt is angled the wrong way (because of a cushion) it can compress the spine.” Luke Johnson of Johnson Off-Road and SCORE Trophy Truck racer agrees with Pierce but adds, “There are different ways to go about using a team seat. I have used an injected-molded foam cushion inserted in my shell seat when I was racing with Team C during the SCORE Baja 1000. It encapsulates the bottom and back up to the shoulders and has the firmness you need out of a composite style seat.  “The problem with just using cushions to adjust the height is you turn a shell seat into a suspension seat. What happens is when you recoil back into the seat after a jump with all that slack, because of the softer cushions you’re sitting on, the belts might readjust and tighten again and that’s how people get hurt.” Ergonomics  Advances have been made in the area of ergonomics, where manufacturers are continuing to also maximize comfort to reduce fatigue. “There are three elements of ergonomics people should know,” said Ben O’Connor, vice-president of sales and marketing for Impact Racing. “The safety aspect involves containment. In an impact event, you want to stay contained. The less movement the body has the better you’re going to be. Containment helps to reduce injuries. There’s also the performance aspect that allows you to focus better while driving the vehicle, and then there’s the comfort element. If you’re going to be in a race car for a long time you want to be comfortable. So proper fitment is very important, along with making sure the cushions are comfortable.” Seat Position in Cockpit O’Connor weighed in on seat positioning, another aspect of ergonomics. “Typically it is a driver preference,” he said. “But it is generally understood that a more upright seat position is better. That has to do with biomechanics and cockpit design. In an IndyCar, the driver is laid back and in Sprint cars they sit very upright. But in desert racing a very common seat-back angle is about 20 degrees.” Jason DeArmond, sales and marketing director at PRP has another opinion. “We consider how the race vehicle is built,” he said. “Anything from Class 1 to Trophy Trucks doesn’t have a lot of seat room in the cab so they tend to sit more upright. When we developed our Alpha seat that’s one of the things we looked at first.” DeArmond added that seats shouldn’t be mounted so they push the helmet down and thinks that an upright position works best in desert racing.  Weight Matters The overall weight of a race seat depends on its construction and the materials being used in manufacturing. According to Tilman Schafer of Recaro, “There are rules by the motorsports authorities that limit concepts of making seats any lighter than necessary. “Recaro looks for minimum weight with maximum safety,” says Schafer. “All our seats are crash-tested at our facility to make sure all regulations are reached or exceeded.” “Lighter isn’t necessarily safer, “adds DeArmond. “Many of our seats weigh under 20 pounds and are still constructed out of steel tubing. Other materials like aluminum may weigh less but it would be necessary to use thicker-walled tubing causing the frame to be too rigid and it may become brittle over time. The thicker material also negates most of the weight savings.” In-Cab Mounting There are plenty of seat choices to fit most SCORE classes, and some are FIA and SFI certified. It takes some investigation to check the in-cab fitment. “We have had a lot of success with the Sebring in the off-road market,” said Cobra technical director Billy Glavin. “We have sold a fair amount of Sebring Ultralite seats for Trophy Trucks. Similar to the larger trucks, FIA seats can fit in some UTVs too. It’s important customers look at seat sizing charts and compare those dimensions to their vehicle’s interior space.”  Research Desert racers are safer and more comfortable than ever before thanks to the evolution in race seats. By doing some research and browsing through the manufacturer’s websites you can gain a lot of knowledge before you sit in the seat. But as seat manufacturers recommend, there’s no substitute for a hands-on evaluation, especially for a safety product that is your closest connection to the ground flying past you at top speed. Sources Corbeau Cobra Impact Racing Mastercraft Safety PRP Racetech Recaro Sabelt Seat Guide  Cobra The Cobra Sebring Pro-Fit is a world-class professional competition seat with the shoulders and head restraint areas engineered for the tallest of drivers (up to 6ft 2in), while still retaining the correct geometry between shoulders, side head restraints and harness slots for the full functioning of a HANS®/FHR device. The Sebring Pro Ultralite is a professional competition seat fabricated in autoclave carbon. Incredibly rigid, but still the lightest seat in its class, it’s designed exclusively for ultimate lightweight and strength, (4.9 kg for the shell, and 6.1kg/15-lbs. fully trimmed). The Evolution Pro-Fit offers an open headrest specifically designed for HANS®/FHR use and ensures maximum visibility with side-impact safety. Featuring high-side containment shape and lateral support with the addition of an integrated head restraint. Corbeau The Baja XP off-road suspension seat is equipped with the Corbeau suspension system, to provide superior cushioning and absorb more energy upon impact. Its extra high side bolsters and deep base cushion will eliminate body shifting. It features four vertical mounting tabs for easy mounting to a cage but can also use Corbeau sliders with Baja Adapters, 5-point capable with plastic harness slots to prevent premature wear, and a removable base cushion for easier cleaning. The FX1 racing seat from Corbeau features composite fiberglass technology and three different sizes, the FX1 Pro, FX1, and FX1 Wide. Designed with an emphasis on comfort. The FX1 Pro can be bottom or side-mounted, giving it the ability to slide forward and back with the company’s brackets and sliders. The SXS Pro is a direct bolt-in (no extra brackets required) to the Polaris RZR and will fit in a variety of UTV’s with Cobeau vehicle-specific brackets. The key differences that set the SXS apart from other UTV seats include; injection molded foam, plastic harness grommets, seat base water drain, waterproof seam sealant, and strategically placed bolster support.  Impact Racing Impact’s HS-1 is a top-of-the-line performance seat purposely engineered to withstand torsional stress and abuses common to off-road competition. Constructed from 100 percent epoxy-reinforced carbon fiber, the Impact HS-1 features and embedded single-piece laser cut and drilled mounting bracket providing continuously connected support, strength, and rigidity.  Featuring an ultralight fiberglass monocoque construction, the Genesys racing seat by Impact is engineered to withstand extreme tensile and compressive forces common to extreme motorsports. It is specially constructed with integrated structural reinforcement panels in areas subjected to torsional stress to ensure strength under load.  Mastercraft Safety Originally developed to attenuate the high-speed and violent impacts common to short-course off-road racing, MasterCraft Safety’s 3G-4™ is the only race-proven suspension seating system constructed from laser-notched 4130 (Chromoly) tubing for superior structural integrity. Designed with input from champion racers, it offers improved lateral support while the 10-inch deep-sided bolster provides exceptional hip containment so important in today’s competition. Mastercraft Safety MasterCraft® Safety’s ProSeat™ has been the standard for reliability and comfort in competitive off-road race vehicles and luxury pre-runners for over a decade. Constructed from notched 4130 (Chromoly) tubing for superior structural integrity and offering a “flat strap” installation, MasterCraft’s ProSeat™ incorporates a higher-rise bolster for more than 9.5-inches of hip containment. PRP PRP Seats’ Alpha Composite Seat has been thought out and specifically built for off-road. The Alpha is customizable with more than 40 different colors and textures. It features high-density foam, a reclined headrest and shoulder area for HANS compatibility. The Podium Elite Series suspension seat features a redesigned look, added lateral leg support for better containment, a thinner split bottom cushion allowing for left leg support while the right leg is extended, and larger harness openings for easier adjustments. The bottom cushion is made with a top layer of memory foam to help the cushion form to your body.  PRP The Comp Elite features an all-new look for more customization options, a redesigned removable seat cushion for better leg support, and large harness openings allowing for a better fit and better adjustment. Racetech The RT4100 from Racetech is a standard-sized fiberglass race seat focused on achieving a lightweight with optimized geometry. It’s designed to be wide enough in the shoulders to suit the athletic build, but narrow enough to fit in most cockpits. Their patented back-mounted technology has trickled down from the 119 and 129 Series, giving you the option of fixing the seat to the roll cage at shoulder level. The RT4119W (Wide) and RT4119WT (Wide & Tall) seats are based on the existing RT4119WHR and RT4119WTHR, but with the head restraints removed for improved visibility. This seat retains the Racetech unique, patented, back mount design to give the driver ultimate support and a ‘feel’ of the chassis not available in basic floor-mounted seats.  Racetech The RT1000 Seat is a lightweight, no-frills FIA homologated race seat that does not require a seat back brace. The gloss gel-coated fiberglass shell has a fabric cover and is great for road and track usage. The RT1000 seat is popular with people who have back problems or difficulty sitting for long periods.  Recaro The Recaro Pro Racer HANS® seat provides optimal body support during high g-forces, plus great long-term driver comfort. Its ergonomic S-shaped fiberglass shell fits the natural curve of the spine, providing “built-in” structured lumbar support that protects against spinal compression in high-impact accidents. The RECARO Cross Sportster ORV is specially designed to address off-road vehicle requirements. Its snug, supportive seat structure, and side bolsters for excellent shoulder and torso support stabilize the body against lateral forces, cocooning it like a second skin. The highly-effective vibration-damping foam and the particularly robust cover materials are essential when pushing off-road vehicles to the limits. Sabelt This GT-PAD from Sabelt is based on the same shell design as the X-pad RallyCross, but this seat has a cover, and more padding, making it perfect for off-road applications that don’t get mud in the cockpit. This seat also boasts a very small shell size making it the ideal solution for small cockpits.  The GT3 is a very well-rounded seat for almost any application. It is a non-halo seat, with a small shell size, and a very affordable price tag. This seat can be used in anything from off-road to your daily driver, still keeping FIA homologation.  This seat from Sabelt was designed for vehicles that get super dirty and muddy inside the cockpit. Sabelt has redesigned a full containment style seat to remove all seat covering, leaving a gloss fiberglass finish with specially designed pads, in strategic positions, to still give comfort, but to take the headache out of washing your seats. Sparco The Sparco EVO QRT competition seat has been redesigned with all-new QRT Technology which results in an ultra-light shell. It’s been updated from the previous EVO seat with a reduced shoulder bolster dimension that allows fitment into smaller cockpits but can still accommodate a medium size driver. Also the shoulder harness belt openings have been raised to accommodate a taller driver, and the most back angle rake of all Sparco seats.   The GRID Q was designed to provide the ultimate lateral support, racing ergonomics, and safety. The padding design allows for ventilation channels and features a brand new shell design that has deep side bolsters and very supportive shoulder bolsters for excellent lateral hold. Made with Sparco QRT Technology which results in an ultra-light shell. The side cushion can be removed to give more room for a larger fit.  The QRT-C is touted as the lightest “large” size carbon fiber seat on the market. The QRT-C is constructed from “Pre-Preg” aerospace-grade carbon fiber, also known as Dry Carbon, and was specifically designed for a large driver (36” waist), but has excellent fitment into smaller cockpits.

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