Ringside Seat: to cage or not to cage


Putting a roll cage in your track car seems like a totally normal thing to do, right? Not something that you'd need to think twice about, really.

But actually, I have been thinking about this a lot recently.

Should Dale cage his new BMW?
Should Dale cage his new BMW?
My last 'ring tool lasted about a year and to be honest, I had no intentions of caging it at all. Hell, 90 per cent of the time I didn't even wear a helmet when driving it. It was far too nice inside to rip apart and cage up.

You see, on the one hand, you're driving the trickiest track in the world with average speeds faster than the UK's highest legal speed limit. There's no room for error and miles of steel barrier waiting for you. It's bloody dangerous. These are all sure-fire reasons to drive wearing body armour and nestling in a roll-cage that looks like a spider spinning 60mm chromoly-steel spent a week in your car.

But on the other hand, most of the time the Nordschleife is just a public road. You're out on track with buses, campervans and Harley Davidsons. Strapping yourself into a caged-up car and thinking you can go really fast on a Sunday afternoon is just an exercise in frustration. I honestly believe that squeezing into a six-point harness and full roll cage totally changes the driver's attitude - and it's this attitude that's just not compatible with driving in public traffic.

Some industry test cars are caged...
Some industry test cars are caged...
And that's before we consider that you look like a real plonker putting your fireproof underpants on in a car park full of tourists. The weight of the crowd's expectation settles on your shoulders heavier than any HANS device. At least 90 per cent of drivers on a public session will not be wearing a helmet. Probably fewer than one per cent have a roll cage in their car.

But this isn't just a question that I'm considering personally. Look at the rental car companies. Three major operations exist here with more than 20 rental cars each, and they all have different strategies. One company has full roll cages in nearly every car, one has mostly half cages and another has mostly none.

Then there's the industry testing. Where some of the most pedestrian cars (Mercedes B-Class, VW Polos, Range Rover Discoveries) are caged-up to the maximum, while supercars like Audi's R8 and Porsche's 911 are left standard.

...and some are very obviously not!
...and some are very obviously not!
There are so many variables that I honestly don't think there's a right or wrong answer. It's a personal choice. And this winter I've decided to cage up the Project 328i with a nice little six-point Wiechers item. Maybe it's because the interior is crying out to be stripped, or maybe it's because the carnage I've seen this year has left me feeling vulnerable. Rollover crashes are nothing new at the 'ring but sometimes it's easy to forget how quickly it all goes wrong. And what it looks like when it does.

The black lump of metal you can see here is actually my mate Karl's Golf 'ring tool after he hit oil at Wipperman on a public lap. And the doctor on the scene was pretty adamant that his survival chances in an old Golf without a cage wouldn't have been worth talking about.

Karl's Golf after that Wipperman roll
Karl's Golf after that Wipperman roll
When I'm out on track I'm dumb enough not to give this thing a second thought, as evidenced in the latest video below chasing race cars in my leather-seated and un-caged E36. But the second thoughts are here to stay now and I do too many laps a year to forget about them completely. The cage is ordered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (71) Join the discussion on the forum

  • trickymex 19 Oct 2012

    I think this is subject to the age of the vehicle in question.

    I'd argue that it's pretty unnecessary for more modern cars with good crash ratings but on something like a sierra cosworth or an original m5 I would say it is necessity as they are capable of serious speeds and don't crash all that well compared to modern metal

  • Lordbenny 19 Oct 2012

    How many people with after market cages in their tin-tops tell their insurance companies because getting cover on a road car is VERY hard in my experience!

  • Lightningman 19 Oct 2012

    trickymex said:
    I'd argue that it's pretty unnecessary for more modern cars with good crash ratings but on something like a sierra cosworth or an original m5 I would say it is necessity as they are capable of serious speeds and don't crash all that well compared to modern metal
    Crash ratings are primarily fixated on front, rear and side impact, as well as pedestrian safety - the core purpose is not to test for how well the car would hold up during a trackday roll. Yes, a modern car 'should' hold up better during an on-track smash BUT to assume it would be fine is a mistake imho.

  • Oddball RS 19 Oct 2012

    Lightningman said:
    trickymex said:
    I'd argue that it's pretty unnecessary for more modern cars with good crash ratings but on something like a sierra cosworth or an original m5 I would say it is necessity as they are capable of serious speeds and don't crash all that well compared to modern metal
    Crash ratings are primarily fixated on front, rear and side impact, as well as pedestrian safety - the core purpose is not to test for how well the car would hold up during a trackday roll. Yes, a modern car 'should' hold up better during an on-track smash BUT to assume it would be fine is a mistake imho.
    +1

  • AndyCowman 19 Oct 2012

    There is a basic rear roll bar in my old Porsche 944 turbo that I installed for the occasional track and ring trip. It was installed not so I can race but mostly just in case I get it wrong or someone else did! On an old car it seems sensible.

    As for insurance I am with a main stream company and have all medications including the cage listed. It was no drama to do at all.

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