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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