Besides driver comfort, reclining the seat can also increase the safety factor. In the event of a head-on hit, if the driver is sitting straight up, the only thing keeping him in the seat is his restraints. This can be very hard on the chest, hips, and crotch, and is certainly unpleasant. By reclining the seat a few degrees, in the same head-on hit, the driver slides down into the bottom of the seat-which is angled up slightly because of the recline-and some of the force of impact that previously all went into the restraint system now is absorbed by the legs and buttocks. Just don't make the mistake of trying to recline the seat too much. Ideally, the driver should be able to see and drive comfortably with his head resting against the seatback. If the driver must raise his or her head off the seat to see, the seat is reclined too much.
One of the biggest mistakes drivers often make when choosing a seat, according to ButlerBuilt's Gary Platenberger, is selecting a model that is too large for them. ButlerBuilt is one of the leading manufacturers of racing seats and has performed an extensive testing program on how to make racing seats as safe as possible.
"We design our seats with full containment around the ribs," he says. "And in order for that to work the way it should, that seat should be tight. If you are sitting in the seat and I can fit my hand down between the seat and your ribs, it's not tight enough. We've found a lot of drivers want to use the seatbelts to hold them in place, but belts should only be for a crash. The seat should hold you tight enough on its own so that you can concentrate on driving. We don't want you to have trouble breathing, but it should be pretty tight.
"We've had drivers that we've put into smaller seats come back and tell us that they couldn't believe how much better they were on the racetrack. They didn't realize how much effort and energy they were using just to hold themselves in a position to drive. With the tighter fit on the seat, it held them in position so they could put all their energy into driving. Yes, the seat is primarily to keep you safe, but it is also a performance feature."
Cloce was the tallest driver...
Cloce was the tallest driver that has ever raced this particular car, so the head shoulder support portion of the seat rubbed his shoulder. This was raised with a few spacers..
When fitting a seat, don't...
When fitting a seat, don't forget to have everything in place to test how it all works together. This is especially true for the steering wheel. The center of the wheel usually is best when pointed at the center of the chest, but it's really a matter of preference. Make sure the driver can turn the wheel comfortably without hitting his elbows on anything.
If you have an open cockpit...
If you have an open cockpit area, you may want to consider a pair of leg protectors to keep the legs cocooned like the rest of the body.
Another consideration when fitting a seat into your race car is how the belts are mounted. You should consider the seat and belts as a cocoon to restrict as much driver movement as possible during a wreck. To be able to do that, seatbelts must not only be tight, against the driver, but properly mounted in order to keep him or her stable in the event of an impact from practically any angle.
"That's one of our biggest points of emphasis," Platenburger says, "helping racers get their belts mounted properly. If the belts aren't right, no seat or head-and-neck restraint is going to be able to do its job. First, the belt mounting points must be close to the seat. If the lap belts, for example, are mounted way away from the sides of the seat there is no way for them to hold you back. The shoulder belts going through the back of the seat-their mounting point should be no higher than level with the top of the driver's shoulders and no more than 10 degrees below the driver's shoulder. If they are too far down the belts will compress you in an accident, and if they are too high up, they can't hold you down in the seat."
Finally, an important safety note about mounting the seat in the race car. The seat should always be mounted to a seat hoop connected to the rollcage and not the chassis of the car itself. That way, if you take a hit in the side hard enough to shift the 'cage, you will move with it instead of possibly being crushed. You should have four bolts connecting the bottom of the seat to the seat hoop and at least two (but four is better) bolts connecting the seat back to a rollcage bar. The best and easiest way to do this is to use a seat-back bracket that runs the width of the seat.