The close-fitting cockpit of the modern Indy car single seat race car has the potential to provide a high level of head and neck impact protection in rear and side impacts. Crash investigation has shown that a wide variety of materials have been used as the padding for these cockpits and, as a result, produced varying outcomes in crashes. Additionally, these pads have not always been positioned for optimal performance. The purpose of this study was to investigate the head impact performance of a variety of energy-absorbing padding materials under impact conditions typical of Indy car rear impacts and to identify superior materials and methods of improving their performance as race car head pads.
An extensive series of tests with the helmeted Hybrid III test dummy head and neck on an impact mini-sled was conducted to explore head padding concepts. Following this, a performance specification for a simplified impact test using a rigid headform that simulates the helmeted head was developed and recommendations for performance levels of head padding based on biomechanical data on helmeted head impacts were made.
In 1997, during the time that the head pad research was being performed, the Indy Racing League introduced a new chassis specification for their cars. There were a number of rear- and side-impact crashes during that season that resulted in seven severe head injuries. Examples of the head padding in those cars were included in the experimental study. The results of the head pad research were used to specify new padding materials that met the new biomechanical criteria. The placement of the head pads was also changed for better location of the padding. These changes instituted in 1998 have reduced the number of head injuries in crashes similar to or more severe than those of 1997 and have resulted in only occasional moderate head injuries (concussions) in the 1998 and 1999 seasons.