Motorsport’s greatest safety cars

HomeMotorsportMotorsport's greatest safety cars

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They are piloted by a professional race car driver and often carry a doctor onboard, as well as the medical, fire-fighting, and communications kit to cope with any racing incident. The safety car is also used to control the pace of the racing pack during any period of a race run under warning flags. Here’s our pick of the most notable in alphabetical order, with a reminder at the end of why having a good safety car is so important.

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Alfa Romeo 4C

The Alfa Romeo 4C was used as the safety car for the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship, making its first appearance at the Moroccan round at the Moulay El Hassan Circuit. The 4C then toured the world alongside the racing series and was used at 12 race weekends.

However, this was not the first outing for the Alfa Romeo 4C as a safety, which is used to follow the race as it sets off from the start in case of an emergency requiring medical or rescue equipment. In 2013, a 4C was used as the safety car at the Silverstone round of the World Superbike Championship. This car was finished in white with red and green stripes to pick out the colours of the Italian flag.

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Audi R8

Audi’s R8 has become a popular safety car for several series ever since the German sports car made its debut back in 2007. One of the first appearances for the R8 as a safety car to sweep round after the racing cars on their warm-up and first laps was in the German DTM touring car championship. Two cars were prepared by Audi, with very few changes made to the standard spec other than adding a roll cage, fire extinguishers and roof-mounted lights in case the car had to be used to control the race during a safety car period.

The R8 made its safety car debut at the Norisring in 2007, but it has also seen service for the German ADAC GT Master series and at Le Mans. During a 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours qualifying session in a red flag period, safety car driver Yannick Dalmas earned global notoriety and praise. Dalmas not only saved the R8 from a huge slide in torrentially wet conditions but appeared to then drift the Audi perfectly back under control.

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BMW i8 Roadster

It’s fitting the BMW i8 Roadster is used as the safety car for the Formula E series given its electric power. Few other EVs would be able to follow the race cars as they head off on their first lap should the need arise for emergency help. This i8 has been specially modified for its job and is the first FIA-sanctioned safety car with an open cabin, which is achieved by lopping off the windscreen and replacing it with a stubby aero screen.

The i8 Roadster Safety Car also comes with a double hoop roll bar, rear spoiler and unique wheels shod with track-biased tyres. It works in tandem with an i8 Coupe at Formula E races.

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BMW has been supplying the MotoGP championship with safety cars for a long time and the current choice is the M2 Coupe. It sits on gold wheels with track tyres, and behind the rims are gold-coloured ceramic brake discs to cope with continual hard driving on track.

There’s also race-spec suspension, a roll cage, safety lighting and onboard fire extinguishing equipment. Best of all, as the M2 safety car is not used on the public road, BMW has removed the catalytic converters, silencers and exhaust flap system so the engine can be heard in its full, unadulterated voice.

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here have been many BMW safety cars over the years, going back to the Z8 and Z4M Coupe, but one of the fans’ favourites is the M4. It became the official safety car of the MotoGP championship in 2015 and made its debut at the opening round in Qatar.

The M4 was made ready for its safety role with the addition of a roll bar, race harnesses and seats, and onboard fire fighting equipment. It was the most powerful safety car used in MotoGP up to that point and worked alongside a BMW X5 M that carried the race doctor for the warm-up and first laps.

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Chevrolet Camaro

As well as taking the fight to its direct pony car rivals on the street, strip and track, the Chevrolet Camaro also fought for the honour of being the Indy Pace Car. This was the early days of the safety car and the main role for the Camaro at its 1967 Indianapolis 500 debut was to lead out the racing cars for the start.

The Camaro became a staple for safety car duties at the Indy 500 and other races in the US, and it’s still being used today in coupe and convertible forms. Chevrolet has also been one of the few car makers to offer replicas of its pace and safety cars for the public to buy. These are usually built in a limited edition run of 500 cars and are eagerly snapped up.

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Chevrolet Corvette Z06

A safety car has to be able to keep up with the racing pack and drive quickly when working as a pace car to keep the competition machines up to temperature. This is why the Corvette has proved popular for this role in the US, with several appearances in the job at the Indianapolis 500.

The Z06 version of the Corvette with its 485kW supercharged 6.2-litre V8 was a natural, especially when fitted out with stripped cabin, roll cage and safety gear. It can trace its ancestry back to the 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Six convertible that was the first Indy 500 pace car and was driven by three-time winner of the race Wilbur Shaw (1902-1954).

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Honda Civic Type R

Honda has a long association with racing at the Isle of Man TT motorcycle event, but it also has a lengthy history of supplying cars for travelling doctors during the race. Due to the size of the 60.72km track used for the TT, as many as eight Civic Type Rs can be found placed around the course and they are assisted by travelling marshals on Honda Fireblade motorcycles.

As well as the current Civic Type R, the Isle of Man TT has also used other fast Hondas, including the Accord Type R that was also popular with the island’s police force.

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Lamborghini Countach

If you were ever in doubt about Monaco being the epicentre of the jet set lifestyle, the Lamborghini Countach used as a course car for the principality’s Grand Prix settled the question. Just to be sure nobody doubted the Monaco Grand Prix’s status as the jewel in the crown of Formula 1 racing, there were several Countachs on hand as safety cars between 1981 and 1983.

In 1981, at least three Lamborghinis were used, finished in red, blue and gold, and all with light bars attached over the rear engine deck. For 1982, red, white and yellow cars were used. Regardless of the year, the race director had the difficult job of negotiating the Countach’s tiny window opening to wave the relevant flag to the following race drivers.

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Mercedes-AMG GT

Since 1997, Mercedes has supplied Formula 1’s safety cars and the Mercedes-AMG GT S has been on duty from 2015. The official Safety Car driver Bernd Maylander helped develop the car thanks to his experience racing in the German Touring Car series. As well as its performance that lets the race cars remain at a safe working temperature during a safety car period, the AMG also has purpose-made lightweight forged alloy wheels.

The engine for this safety car is standard, but it differs from roadgoing models with a carbon fibre scoop on the roof to carry the light bar. This scooper has been designed to minimise aero drag, while the light bar has a television camera mounted in it. It also has strobing headlights and tail lamps to make the safety car even more conspicuous on track.

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Volvo V60 Polestar

Volvo billed its V60 Polestar as the ‘safest ever Safety Car’ when it took up the job in 2016 for the World Touring Car Championship. The V60 was on duty from the first race that year at Circuit Paul Ricard in France. The driver and observer sat in race seats and held in by four-point harnesses, while communication kit and a roll cage were also installed.

The V60’s boot was filled with rescue and medical equipment, while four-wheel drive and a 270kW 2.0-litre engine took care of the performance side. It offered 0-100kph in 4.8 seconds and a 250kph top speed.

The engine for this safety car is standard, but it differs from roadgoing models with a carbon fibre scoop on the roof to carry the light bar. This scooper has been designed to minimise aero drag, while the light bar has a television camera mounted in it. It also has strobing headlights and tail lamps to make the safety car even more conspicuous on track.


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