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Leading Supercars team calls for paddle shift switch

Triple Eight Race Engineering team manager Mark Dutton believes a switch to paddle shifts would improve cockpit safety in Supercars.

Leading Supercars team calls for paddle shift switch
Williams FW19 single gears paddle
Extra leg protection
Craig Lowndes, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden, crash
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Ferrari F1-90 (641) 1990 paddle gearshift operation
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Extra leg protection
Lotus Renault R31 Shifting paddles
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden, Craig Lowndes, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Craig Lowndes, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden

The category us currently putting stricter measures regarding cockpit safety in place, a process that started when Chaz Mostert broke his leg on the gearshift during his massive qualifying crash at Bathurst in 2015.

The issue was put back in the spotlight in Tasmania earlier this month when Rick Kelly injured his leg in a similar fashion after his Altima was struck by Will Davison’s Commodore.

Supercars responded almost immediately after Tasmania by mandating that approved leg protection will have to be fitted to all cars before the Sandown 500 in September.

NASCAR-style leg trays are rare in Supercars, with DJR Team Penske the only team to have a full-blown leg protection system in place on both of its cars. Prodrive Racing Australia now has trays fitted to both Mark Winterbottom and Mostert’s cars, and will continue to roll the system out across its other two cars when the hardware has been built in Queensland.

Currently crack squad Triple Eight runs a more basic leg protection system, which will need to be added to to meet the requirements before Sandown.

However, team manager Mark Dutton isn’t sold on the concept of the leg trays. While conceding that leg protection must be improved, he has concerns over driver extraction and the potential for the outcome of accidents to become more serious should drivers not be able to swiftly exit a wrecked car.

His suggestion is to do away with the gear shift all together and simply run paddle shifts, similar to what is used in most open-wheeler categories and in DTM cars.

“You have to be really careful with it. I haven't seen the DJR [system] but I’m always so mindful of trapping drivers in the car,” said Dutton.

“A broken leg is bad but it is not that bad. If you shunt at that speed but you get away with a broken leg it is next to nothing.

“We have to be mindful that we don't make the cars, for example in a roll over, too difficult to get out of the passenger side, with window nets getting in the way of steering and gear levers, and brake bias and anti-roll bars.

“I think the frontal area of the car needs a bit of re-work and it is really easy to do – paddle shift, job done.

“That is the solution because then they are not going to break their leg on something that doesn't exist there anymore.

“Then you have to tell the teams that you can't put your anti-roll bars there anymore or if you do they can be of a specific stiffness so if a leg hits then the lever bends.

“Paddle shift is the way forward.”

With Supercars already running a sequential gearbox, Dutton added that the transition would be simple – as has been highlighted by Triple Eight using a paddle shift in the Supercars-spec Sandman station wagon it built.

“[The Sandman version] is not as refined as a race package and it is not a light weight as you could do it. But it works and there are so many categories around the world that do paddle shift, so there are more and more off the shelf systems that people make,” he said.

“It won’t happen this year but I hope it happens really soon.”

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