By Andy Collins
Reprinted from Vintage Drift, February 2017
If you’ve been wearing your racing helmet for a few years, you might want to look inside and see the dating on your Snell certification sticker inside under the liner. If it says “SA 2005” you’ll need a new helmet before you race this season, unless SOVREN makes a rules change. The fuss is all about availability.
Most racing sanctioning bodies for sports cars racing, including SOVREN, require helmets to be certified by the Snell Memorial Foundation. This is indicated by a “Snell Sticker” inside that shows the year of the rating of this helmet. Every five years Snell creates a new specification based on increased safety, manufacturing techniques and new materials. The Federation International de Automobile, FIA, has two specifications for helmets as well as those of Snell. FIA 8859 which tests the integrity of the HANS anchor attach points and FIA 8860 which deals with increased strength above the visor area. Since the visor represents a large opening the helmet is weakest across the top of the visor. FIA 8860 helmets must be made of carbon fiber and are incredibly expensive. If you plan to race in Europe make sure you have a helmet that has an FIA 8859 rating otherwise, the FIA ratings aren’t required in the USA (unless you are racing Indy Cars and then you’ll need both the 8859 and 8860 spec helmets).
SOVREN follows most of the other road racing organizations in that they allow a racer to use a helmet for about 10 years before you must get a new helmet. For example, anyone who owns a helmet with an SA 2005 rating must acquire a newer helmet to race in 2017. Snell dictates that the helmet manufactures can’t sell a new SA2015 helmet until October of year preceding the new rating. This means SA2015 rated helmets weren’t available until October of 2015. Most clubs and sanctioning bodies including SOVREN, SCCA, and Conference gave racers a one- year grace period before requiring that SA 2005 helmet be replaced. With that said, in order to legally pass tech when racing in 2017, you must have a 2010 or newer helmet.
The Big Fuss
For various reasons, several of the major manufacturers have had problems building enough helmets to meet the demand. For example, the largest racing helmet manufacturer in the world, Bell Helmets, built a new manufacturing facility in Bahrain in late 2015. As that facility was coming on line, Bell closed its other facilities around the world to consolidate their manufacturing. The facility was slow in getting up to full capacity. Thus Bell is just now finally starting to fill helmet orders, many of which were placed over a year ago!
Simpson, another top manufacturer, also has had issues. Perhaps because of Bell’s troubles, Simpson couldn’t make up for the increased demand.
Arai, on the other hand, is committed to make the safest helmet in the world and thus insist that each Arai racing helmet meets not only the Snell 2015 standards, but the FIA 8859 standard as well. Thus Arai was slow to manufacture extra-large helmets because to do so would require extreme expense to meet the FIA standards.
HJC, the largest helmet manufacture in the world (mostly motorcycle helmets) decide not to make any SA2015 last year in 2016 and it will be spring time before they finally have SA 2015 helmets for sale.
In short, the pipe line of new SA 2015 helmet from the top manufactures, still are not fully available and won’t be until the spring of 2017 – and even that is just “hopeful” at this time.
Options and Solutions
Let’s be clear, there are plenty of helmets on the market that meet the new standard and many are being sold every day. Unfortunately, these are helmets from manufacturers that sell low end helmets that don’t have all the features of a Bell, Simpson or Arai. Simply put they may not be THE helmet you want. Many racers feel if they are going buy a new helmet every 10 years, they want the make, model and color that suits them, since a helmet represents a sizeable investment and will be worn for several years. And a further word of warning: counterfeit helmets are being sold on the Internet! Consult one of your friendly and supportive local dealers (the kind that advertise in Vintage Drift, ahem) when you buy your helmet to be sure you are getting what you paid for!
By the middle of 2017 it is believed that all the manufacturers will have good inventory to supply you with the exact helmet you desire. Helmets that fit the car you drive, fit your head, are the model you want in the material (fiberglass, carbon fiber, or composite which equates to weight), and the color you want. Certainly the change over to the new SA 2015 has been different than any other Snell rating change over year with this lack of full availability.
If you have been racing with a SA 2005 helmet, you must have a newer helmet to race with us this year. Availability a problem? We’ll let you race with your old helmet as long as you have an approved new one on order. Bring your paperwork with you, a backorder notice or similar document and you will be good to go. If you have an SA 2010 helmet you are not affected until 2021 so you are good to go racing. See you on the track!
Pix – Snell Helmet GP3 SA2015