It is possible to have a reasonably economic solution provided the limitations are recognised and accommodated. The first step is to identify the risk, possible consequences and set a budget figure accordingly. In-car safety equipment has one primary function and that is to save life. Secondary to that, certainly as far as the extinguisher equipment is concerned, is to save property – the car - and as such should be considered in the same category as insurance. It therefore follows that the best available option should be used to save both life and car wherever possible.
Fortunately car fires in motor sport are a rare occurrence but when they happen can be quite spectacular. Understandably the majority of selections are made on obtaining the minimum necessary to meet the regulations and with the minimum expenditure. MSA and FIA regulations concentrate on ensuring that a minimum level of safety equipment is included in car preparation and which covers a broad variety of applications. A clubman car might only require an engine bay system whereas a WRC type of stage rally car with complex fuel and hydraulic systems should have a much more comprehensive fire fighting requirement.
Surprisingly the minimum historic race car requirements can specify a small hand held unit only and more surprisingly hillclimb and sprint cars have no mandatory requirement at all. Your own risk assessment should take these matters into account and the extinguisher selection adjusted accordingly. Zero 2000 foam or Zero 360 gas? It should be noted that the MSA does not permit powder extinguishers in cars and so for the purposes of this information they have been ignored. Contrary to some popular belief foam is a very efficient medium used by all fire fighting agencies around the world. The major difference is that fire engines can supply many hundreds of gallons of the stuff while motor sport vehicles carry as little as 1.75 litres! Zero 2000 foam is directionally sensitive which means that the nozzle pattern has to be aimed at the fire. It will not go round corners and this means that nozzle numbers and their position is critical as is having enough extinguishant to do the job required. Zero 360 gas alternatives are now available.
They are more expensive than foam but no more so than if Halon was still permitted in new build systems. These new gases are nearly as efficient as Halon, not so environmentally damaging and they will be here for some years to come. They are streaming/ flooding agents which means the nozzles do not have to be so directional and they do have good cooling qualities which reduces re-ignition possibilities, something which foam is also very good at.
While most extinguisher manufacturers have budget systems starting around the £100 mark we would always recommend adding that bit extra for safety’s sake and selecting a system homologated by the FIA. Typically this means for a single seat car at least 3.12 litres foam or 2.25kg Zero 360 gas, and for a rally car 4.0 litres Zero 2000 foam or 2.25kg Zero 360 gas. All FIA systems from Lifeline have been tested against the FIA specification and witnessed by British Standards and the MSA. For more information on regulatory minimum requirements and our recommended solution for each sport category please click on ‘Motorsport Extinguisher Regulations’.