The 2013 season was a particularly tough year in the sports car racing community, with the death of Allan Simonsen at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Sean Edwards losing his life four months later in a testing accident at Queensland Raceway in Australia.
It particularly hit close to home for NGT Motorsport’s Henrique Cisneros, a longtime friend of Edwards, who had co-driven with the British star for the past three ALMS seasons.
“After seeing Allan Simonsen die and meeting his family and going through the same thing with Sean, and looking around the motorsport community to see what the response is, and how were they addressing those facts…
“There was nothing really happening and no real driving force behind it to try and offer a solution to what happened,” Cisneros told Sportscar365.
“Just talking to all of the people who knew Sean, the general consensus is that something needs to change and someone needs to do something about it. Either we start it, we do it or nothing’s ever going to happen.”
Cisneros has taken measures into his own hands by launching the Motorsport Safety Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed to help improve safety standards through collaborative efforts from within the industry.
Announced during last weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the former IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge champion has teamed up with a number of movers and shakers in the paddock, including longtime race director Beaux Barfield, FIA track inspector and designer Martyn Thake and driver/neurosurgeon Dr. Jim Norman for the initiative, which honors the memory of Edwards.
“The thing that struck me the most when Sean died was people were saying, ‘Well, that’s racing.’ Absolutely not! Sean’s death, in our opinion, could and should have been avoided if that track would have had the proper barriers.
“It’s these standards we want to look at and help change. By no means do we want to be a whistle blower or taking offense against against tracks. We want to take the approach of that we’re here to help.”
The foundation’s first major initiative is “Adopt a Corner,” a concept spawning from the popular adopt-a-highway program that will see sponsors help fund the costs for new barriers and other safety improvements at tracks across North America.
“We think this program has a lot of potential,” Cisneros said. “There are a lot of legendary corners in motorsport that everyone knows, that are the scary corners. But there’s no reason they should be that scary.
“I know which ones we’re going to attack [first] because I’ve driven them and I’ve had my fair share of crashes.”
Companies that make tax-deductible donations for the cost of the custom-built F1-grade barriers, designed by Techpro, would get branding on the barriers, for a negotiated length by the circuit. The foundation collaborates directly with the circuit, which would receive tax credits for the advertising space.
One the major hurdles for tracks, particularly small and privately owned facilities, has been the costs of upgrades, with a 300-ft stretch of barriers costing $300,000. Cisneros hopes this initiative can help put an end to minimum-grade safety barriers.
“The truth of the matter is that the track owners don’t have the money to do these upgrades,” he said. “We’re focusing on IMSA because this is the world we know but there’s hundreds of tracks with single-family owners, etc and they all need help as well.
“The biggest issue in motorsport is that the costs keep going up. The cost of safety is going up, unfortunately, but the economics of the sport aren’t necessarily changing for the tracks.”
Central to the foundation’s efforts is its Web site, http://www.motorsport-safety.org, which serves as the hub for drivers, team owners, engineers, doctors and other industry professionals to collaborate and act on safety issues via crowdsourcing. Anyone, however, can register to become a member and make donations to the cause.
While initially focused on track safety at circuits on the IMSA calendar, Cisneros hopes to grow the foundation to additional series in North America and abroad, while also expanding its reach to address other safety related issues as well.
“Our biggest challenge will be to find a way to work with the sanctioning bodies and everyone in a positive manor,” he said. “We’re here to help. We’re not here to say your tracks are dangerous or these are the issues.
“We’re here to say, ‘Guys, this is what people are concerned with. How can we work together to come to a solution?’ Because in the end it’s the drivers who put themselves at risk.”