When it comes to on-track safety, you should always have a plan. That’s particularly true for fire safety, and you absolutely must get to a point where your reactions are second nature, so there’s less chance for error in your speedy exit from a burning BMW (or any trackday or race car).
The video below is a very scary and teachable moment from the start of our race week at the 2016 Sebring 150 with IMSA/CTSC. It certainly didn’t feel like we were heading to the podium when a high-pressure fuel injector failed, spraying a red-hot turbo with fuel and igniting the engine bay. Our Lifeline 3M Novec-based fire system squashed the fire, even as it was being fed fuel while heading to our pit stall, which was our best chance to ensure we limited our damage. With well-calculated decision making and a fast crew, we turned what could have been a dangerous disaster into a solid race weekend.
Always Have a Plan!
From the perspective of James Clay, BimmerWorld president and driver of our #84 BMW F30 328i when things started to get hot:
“This is the first time I have been in a car fire, and I can tell you it is HOT! Instead of panicking, I made a few decisions in a row that weren’t necessarily standard process, but all led to bringing both myself and our car in safely.
If I hadn’t drilled in the standard process and contingency options in advance, I would have had much bigger problems. Fire is scary (I have had 3rd degree burns all over twice in my life – not fun), and it would be tremendous if how smoothly this can go with the proper equipment, installation, and processes is as widely discussed as the horror of what happens when it doesn’t go right, or the equipment is sub-par, or not installed or used correctly. You always hear about the guy that died on the track – maybe we need to hear more about the guy that came to a controlled stop in his pit box with a fuel fire raging without physical harm to any person, and minimal equipment damage. In a huge number of situations, this COULD be the reality with a little preparation.”
Here’s the in-car video, and make note of the fact that the electric fire button was pressed while entering pit lane, bringing the fire under control. What appears to be smoke in the cockpit is actually the atomized Novec, so James was still able to breathe comfortably while preparing the crew over the radio.
Also note that this was a test day, so stopping in another team’s box with no warning and expecting them to be prepared when there is no refueling on pit lane would be more than optimistic. Our team was ready with multiple bottles because James was on the radio talking through the situation since the entrance to pit lane. Remember, equipped doesn’t always mean ready, and our guys were both. This is also a strong reminder to drivers that don’t wear Nomex driving suits at HPDEs and track days: Fire doesn’t care what day it is!
Foam Versus Novec
Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) and other foam suppressants are good when it comes to suffocating a fire, but they work in 2D – if the foam doesn’t fully smother the fire, the problem isn’t solved. Foam has to “see” and touch the fire to work.
Novec is a 3D extinguishant – it lives in the full space, not just on the surface. This makes the the entire area unable to sustain a fire. Pound for pound, it takes more foam and many more nozzles to fully cover an area because you have to cover all surfaces. Think of it as though you were trying to paint your engine with pre-positioned paint nozzles… You have one chance to spray a full coat of paint on every surface, including the nooks and crannies. That’s not an issue with atomized Novec.
Powder is another agent with very good fire knock-down capabilities, but the vibration in a race environment compresses the powder in the cylinder, preventing it from discharging properly when you need it most. Consider that to be a warning to those who strap in a cheap hardware store handheld unit! The car environment is very unique compared to building or other applications.
Novec is also non-toxic and environmentally safe. It’s a 3D extinguishant, but it kills fire with a chemical reaction, so it is atomized in the air and allows you to breathe it with no side effects.
Want to know more about Lifeline, Novec, and fire safety? Give us a call at 877-639-9648 or email email@example.com – you don’t have to learn the hard way about how to properly protect both YOU and your track day or racing car.