SPARCO-ing The Cobra Jet

SPARCO_edited-1With a no expenses spared track car build like the Factory Five Racing (FFR) Challenge Car, an equally bespoke interior is a requirement. Safety equipment has become fetishized like a fashion trend in motorsports, if you don’t have the best-rated, highest quality, lightest, most expensive stuff, you’re nobody. We made careful considerations when selecting the Sparco products for this open top racer. Here’s the goodie list, and why we chose the parts that will secure driver and passenger in this boisterous snake as it slithers around the track.

Harnesses

Obviously the most important safety equipment included in this build are the harnesses. Both driver and passenger will be strapped in with Sparco’s six-point belts. A HANS compatible belt system for the driver features 3-inch lap belt webbing, shoulders that blend from 3-inch down to 2-inch, and 2-inch anti-submarine belts. All six points converge into an aircraft quality aluminum cam lock for clean and easy latching.

With a cam lock latch system, engaging the hard-points of the belt system is a breeze. Unlike the old-school ‘latch and link’ arrangement, a cam lock system acts just like the traditional latch from your daily driver. Just plug in the terminal end until it clicks, and repeat … five times. One twist of the rotary latch and the captivity of the belts disintegrates, freeing the occupant from their security. This ease of escape can also be viewed as a safety feature — a speedy exit in the event of a fire is something to be practiced, so the muscle memory is there when you need it.

We talked to Warren Caswell of Sparco USA to get some background info on the harnesses and other products we used to finish the car. “The cam-locks are the newer generation, it’s a very light weight cam to make. Regarding the aluminum tightness adjusters — it’s a super-light weight adjuster. When it comes to the aluminum stuff, everything is designed to save weight — the less mass you have against your body, makes difference in the event of an impact,” explained Caswell.

Left, the belt links are individually inserted. Center, no confusing order of operations like latch-link. Right, double anti-submarine, aka crotch belts, to take the pressure off delicate areas.

“Compared to the old latch-link style belts, the ease of use is just wildly better. In reality the latch link systems don’t hold up as well — in an impact the latch has been known to come apart long before the cam-locks will,” concluded Caswell.

Mounting racing harnesses can not be taken lightly. It is not uncommon to see belts mounted incorrectly in such a way that it may injure the driver in the event of a crash. Examples of this incorrect mounting include placing the shoulder harness too low behind the seat, or the lap belts forward of the pelvis. Consulting the manufacturer and racing sanctioning body you will race under is the best way to determine what is considered the proper location.

For our shoulder harness mounting we employed clip-in harness hardware and round chassis-mounted eyelets, locating the terminating end of the shoulder harness about 4 inches below the occupants shoulder line. Using grade-eight hardware we bolted the lap belts at the appropriate rearward angle behind the seat, taking care to rotate the webbing tab so that it does not act like a shear or hook-knife on the belt as a load is applied.

With both sets fully installed in the Challenge Car all that remained was to adjust the belts for their respective passengers taking into account the usage of head and neck restraints, and the added thickness of a firesuit.

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One final consideration when buying a set of seat belts. It is important to note the date when they were certified. All racing harnesses have a so-called expiration date after which racing organizations will no-longer permit their use.

IMG_4244The reasoning behind this is that nylon webbing ages, as dirt, oil, fluids, UV (sunlight), and other factors like stretch after a crash takes a toll on the belts and they lose the ability to function at the certified rating. Even if the belts are brand new you will be expected to change them after the certification life-span has lapsed. All reputable harness manufacturers label their products with a punched tag to indicate the certification date.

“The fact that we have belts that are dual-homologated with both Sfi and FIA homologations means that they are more effective at meeting people’s needs,” pointed out Caswell.

 

Steering wheel:

IMG_4208Bolted to the 6-bolt Quick Release will be an R325 steering wheel. Leather wrapped in place of suede, this wheel will not suffer from the suede nap matting problems of continuous shuffling through the hands. The Sparco R325 is a 350 mm diameter wheel with 95 mm of dish. A classic yellow directional orientation band will remind the driver where “wheels straight” is, should things get unexpectedly exciting.

The leather wrap on the R325 is not stitched together the way most aftermarket steering wheels are constructed. Rather, the fine seams go almost unnoticed, and close together with precise fit and finish. This is a small consideration that will be appreciated as enthusiastic drivers flick the car from lock to lock.

“The leather is nice because it is durable such that it will hold up better in a road-going car, as opposed to the suede that’s designed as a race wheel not a steering wheel that’s going to be used without gloves,” Caswell elaborated.

Steering Wheel Quick Release:

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The weld on Quick Release will make entry and exit a breeze.

Getting in and out of the cramped cockpit of a race car can be like navigating a jungle-gym of roll cage tubing, body panels, and other obstacles. A quick release steering wheel makes the contortionist act a much easier task. The ability to remove the steering wheel not only makes entry and exit easier, it lends a few safety and security features as well; the ability to extract a driver in an emergency becomes a less disruptive procedure, and the obvious theft prevention of disabling the steering.

We selected Sparco’s aluminum, weld-on racing quick release. This beautifully CNC-milled and anodized chunk of aluminum is designed to mesh splines for a zero-play connection, keeping the steering positive and tight.

“One of the cool features of the quick release is the way the splines are put together — they’re hand-lapped together. One male and one female won’t interchange with each other. The reason they are like that is so they don’t rattle — a lot of times you see the quick releases that have much bigger splines versus the fine splines that are on ours. Fine splines can lapp together so it prevents them from rattling for a lot longer than most quick releases out there,” Caswell relayed.

In order to permanently affix the splined end of our steering shaft, some minor fabrication work was required. With the hollow tube cut to length we TIG-welded the splined insert and painted the assembly for corrosion resistance.

With the steering shaft supported by bearings at several points along its route the splined end protrudes just a few inches beyond the dash into the passenger compartment. With the wheel in hand all one must do to attach it is squeeze the gold-anodized locking ring, align the wheel, slide it onto the splines and release the pressure on the ring. It’s a one-second job to remove the wheel, and only marginally longer to install it.

With these additions to project FFR Cobra Jet Challenge the occupants will have an improved sense of security, and the driver will have a pleasant wheel to grip. Stay tuned for the continuing coverage of how our FFR Challenge car got to where it is. Additional interior and electronic mods to follow!

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About the author

Trevor Anderson

Trevor Anderson comes from an eclectic background of technical and creative disciplines. His first racing love can be found in the deserts of Baja California. In 2012 he won the SCORE Baja 1000 driving solo from Ensenada to La Paz in an aircooled VW. Trevor is engaged with hands-on skill sets such as fabrication and engine building, but also the theoretical discussion of design and technology. Trevor has a private pilot's license and is pursuing an MFA in fine art - specifically researching the aesthetics of machines, high performance materials and their social importance to enthusiast culture.
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