Choosing a Racing Harness

We all know that harnesses are an important piece of safety equipment, but we’ve often heard the phrase “belts are belts” used when determining which harness to buy. Are all belts and harnesses the same?

In this post we will be looking at the main points to consider when selecting a motorsport harness and clear up any confusion on the regulations, too.

Understanding the regulations

If you are looking to compete at national level in the UK, you will need to refer to your chosen championships specific regulations for the type of harnesses that are suitable for use. However, it will most likely be that you will need to use a harness which carries an FIA homologation. For international events, an FIA approved harness is a requirement.

These homologations are a set of safety requirements and tests laid out by the FIA that harness manufacturers need to meet when creating a new harness. Due to the potential forces involved in motorsport, having a harness that is able to withstand them and protect the driver is essential.

The current FIA homologations are 8854-1998 (for 4 point harnesses) and 8853-2016 (for 6 point harnesses).  

All harnesses which carry the FIA 8853-2016 homologation have a specified lifespan which is 5 years plus the year of manufacture when used in FIA regulated events. For events in the UK governed by Motorsport UK, these harnesses are eligible for use for 10 years.

FIA 8854-1998 harnesses remain eligible for 5 years plus the year of manufacture.

Each strap of the harness carries a label that states the expiry date of the harness when used in FIA regulated events. For 8853-2016 homologated (6 point) harnesses used in Motorsport UK events, you will need to add 5 years onto this date. 

FIA-Approved harnesses

Harnesses that are approved for use by the FIA are either 4 or 6 point, which refers to the number of anchorage points on the car, not the number of connecting points into the harness buckle. Read on for more on these types of harnesses.  

4 point harnesses

Running a 4 point harness is the minimum requirement for cars running under FIA harness regulations. These harnesses feature two shoulder straps and two lap straps which, as part of the FIA homologation requirements, are secured in place using a quick release, twist type buckle.

These harnesses are mostly designed to be used in saloon or GT style cars due to the length of the shoulder straps but there are also specific harnesses to suit Caterham and Westfield type cars that feature a shorter shoulder strap length.

One drawback to running a 4 point harness is the threat of submarining. When an impact of an accident occurs, the weight of the body is thrown forwards due to the forces involved. With the shoulder and lap firmly secured, this prevents the body from moving forward, but without a crutch strap, the body slips (or submarines) underneath the belts which can cause serious injury and render the harness almost useless.

There are some 4 point harnesses, such as those from Schroth, that feature ASM (anti submarining) technology to help prevent this from happening. These harnesses feature a purpose made section on one of the shoulder straps that is designed to stretch slightly in an impact. This makes the drivers torso rotate slightly and prevent the body from sliding underneath the harness.

Despite 4 point harnesses carrying an FIA approval, we would recommend installing a 6 point harness on the grounds of a significant increase in safety.

6 point harnesses

For the very best in driver safety and security, you cannot look beyond a set of 6 point harnesses. Being the safest harness configuration currently available, a set of these harnesses will keep you fully in place in the seat. With the addition of a pair of crutch straps between the legs helps to prevent the driver from submarining, a 6 point harness offers a significant improvement over the 4 point harnesses.

Not all 6 point harnesses are the same, however. The webbing used is available in different widths, either 2 inch or 3 inch, some even have a combination of both. The reason for this is due to better integration with an FHR device, as a 2 inch harness belt fits better over the wings of the FHR device, helping to keep it firmly in place. A 3 inch belt can be used with an FHR device, but there will be a part of the belt that sits over the side of the device.

6 Point harnesses are suitable for use in most forms of race car, from saloons and GT cars through to single seaters and prototypes. However, as the requirements for these applications are different, there are more specific options available.

For saloon or GT racing cars, the shoulder straps are usually secured on either the floor of the car behind the seat or on a bulkhead. Either way, the shoulder straps need to have enough length to allow for this type of fitment as well as allowing enough adjustment for the driver when sat in the seat. As such, these harnesses tend to have a longer shoulder strap.

If you find that you have a lot of webbing left over once the shoulder straps are fitted to the car, you can tidy up the loose end by wrapping the end of the harness webbing around a cable tie and then secure in place once you are happy. This provides a neat appearance and prevents any excess webbing from flapping around inside the car.

In contrast, a single seater harness is often secured directly behind the driver to the chassis or tub. This means that the shoulder strap doesn’t have to have as much length for adjustment and are much shorter than the saloon harnesses.

The other main difference on the single seater harnesses is the layout of the crutch straps. Rather than connecting to the quick release buckle, they are threaded through a loop on the lap straps around the tang of the shoulder straps. This acts to improve the comfort for the driver by sending the crutch straps around the inner thigh.  

Non-FIA Approved harnesses

Although these belts use the same type of webbing and fixings as the FIA approved harnesses, these particular harnesses are not suitable for use in FIA or Motorsport UK governed championships. This is down to the type of buckles that are used not being homologated by the FIA.

However, they are suitable for use in track day cars or certain grass roots motorsport such as autograss or short track oval racing. 

3 and 4 point harnesses

These particular harnesses are mostly geared towards track day use and are a good choice for those cars which are also used as a daily driver. This is because the harnesses feature an ECE approved buckle that is similar to that found in a standard road car.

As these are suitable for use on the road, the harness webbing is 2 inches wide, with some harnesses featuring a load spreader on the lap belt to expand the width to 3 inches. This provides more protection around the lap in the event of an impact.

5 point harnesses

Before the advent of the 6 point harness, the 5 point harness used to be the way to go. The reason for this was the inclusion of the extra belt between the legs which was designed to prevent the driver from submarining during an accident.

This was a marked improvement over the 4 point which, at the time, was the most commonly used harness in motorsport. However, it quickly became clear that, although they did prevent submarining, they didn’t make having an accident any less painful. Those men reading this will know exactly what we mean!

Nowadays, the only harnesses which have a 5 point layout feature a lever latch style buckle, also known as a NASCAR style buckle. As with the 3 point harnesses, this type of buckle is not FIA approved.

These particular harnesses are quite popular for applications which may be subject to mud and dirt, such as autograss and off-road, as the buckle is easier to clean and any dirt ingress doesn’t cause the release mechanism to fail.

Harness fittings

Harnesses are supplied with a variety of different fittings to secure the belt to the car. Below are the various options that are available.

Clip-in / snap hook

This type of fixing makes use of a carabiner style fitting with a spring loaded gate as part of a solid metal plate. This simply clips onto an eyebolt fitting that screws into the floor of the car. The advantage of this type of fixing is that it allows for a greater amount of flexibility in the angle of the harness.    

Bolt-in

A bolt-in fitting is simply a flat plate with a single bolt hole. The bolt threads directly through to the body of the car below and into a load spreading plate. Once the bolt is fully tightened up, the angle of the plate will be fixed, so you will need to ensure that the harness is pointing in the desired direction before securing the bolt in place.

Carabiner

Some harnesses are equipped with carabiner fittings. Like the clip-in fittings above, this type of fitting is used in conjunction with an eyebolt that screws into the car.

To attach the carabiner onto the eyebolt, the gate section is on a thread. Simply unscrew the thread to open the gate until it is large enough to fit the eyebolt through. To secure the fitting in place, just tighten the thread until it is fully closed and tight.

Some harnesses feature these clips on just the lap straps, while others have carabiner fittings on each attachment point.

Roll cage

All harnesses, with the exception of single seater harnesses, are supplied without any metal fittings on the end of the shoulder straps. This is to allow the harness to be wrapped around the harness bar of a roll cage.  To secure the harness in place on the roll cage, the webbing is fed through either a two or three bar slide fitting, wrapped around the roll bar tube, then back through the slide fitting to tighten the belt and prevent it from slipping.

Vehicle specific

There are also some harnesses available that offer vehicle specific harness fittings such as those designed for use in Porsche race cars. These feature the specific type of fixing required to allow a direct fit to the car.

Adjusters

In order to ensure that you are securely strapped into the seat, every harness features a metal adjuster on both the shoulder and lap straps. These are also useful in endurance races where driver changes are required as they allow the driver to loosen the harnesses prior to vacating the car. This makes it easier for the new driver to jump in, connect the harness and secure themselves back in place.

However, there are a couple of types of adjuster that are available. For those that are located on the shoulder straps, these adjusters are available in either steel or aluminium materials. The steel adjusters are typically found on the entry level harnesses and offer a degree of adjustment, however, they do tend to be quite stiff to operate and are heavier.

Alloy adjusters, in contrast, are lighter and also provide a quick release operation. This means that it is much easier to loosen the straps when vacating the vehicle. This type of adjuster is most popular in endurance races but due to the ease of use, they are recommended for all forms of competition.

For the lap straps, these are available in either a pull-up or pull-down configuration depending on the particular harness. This is in reference to the direction that the adjustment is made on the lap strap. The type of adjuster that you go for depends on the preferences of the driver as well as the space requirements of the car. For example, cars that have a limited amount of space alongside the seat would benefit from a pull-up configuration.

Some adjusters also feature a tag attached to the release handle. This helps to provide a means of locating the adjuster as well as giving a larger area to get hold of when adjusting the belt.

Important safety information

Once you have selected your ideal harness, you will want to get to the point of installing them into your car.

When it comes to deciding where you are going to mount each strap of the harness inside the car, you will need to ensure that you will have the correct angles in relation to the seat and the driver. These angles are detailed in the MSA Yearbook, the collection of regulations for motorsport in the UK, and are shown in diagrammatical form.

Looking at the seat from a side on point of view, the shoulder straps should sit between 0° and 20° below the horizontal when used with an FHR device. For installations where an FHR device will not be used by the driver, shoulder straps can be mounted anywhere from 10° above the horizontal through to 45° below the horizontal.

Looking down on the seat, the shoulder straps should be mounted at no more than 20° from the vertical. Meaning that both left and right straps should remain as close as possible when proceeding back towards their mounting points.

For the lap straps, these should be mounted between 45° and 65° from the horizontal in a backwards direction from the seat when looking side on. The crutch straps should be mounted between plus or minus 20° from the vertical when looking at the side of the seat.

Be aware

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in non-genuine harnesses finding their way into the market. Often they have been manufactured to look very similar to existing FIA homologated harnesses, sometimes even carrying the logo of a well-known brand, and sold for substantially less than their genuine equivalent.

As much of a bargain that these harnesses may appear, they have not passed the FIA tests and can have disastrous consequences in the event of an accident – make sure that you purchase your harnesses from an authorised dealer.

All of our harnesses are genuine and sourced directly from the manufacturer, so you can have confidence that your safety is taken care of every time that you venture out on track.

In conclusion

So, there it is, your comprehensive guide to harnesses and what to look out for. If you still have any questions or would like to ask for some advice, our helpful sales team are on hand to assist you. Remember, it is always better to get the best harness that you can afford with your budget as it will keep you safe and secure.