Much has changed in the racing world since the first 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1923. Vehicle technology has evolved, and along with it, the special clothing worn by racing drivers. In this four-part series, we take a look at how outfits have adapted to requirements, from the first major races to the present day.
A new fibre revolutionised racewear in the late sixties. Even the smartest pale blue overalls could not rival with racewear made of Nomex, by Du Pont de Nemours. The synthetic fibre offered a safety aspect that had hitherto been set aside: it was flame-resistant. Protection levels were laboratory-tested and standards were set.
A whole new market opened, soon cornered by two or three suppliers. The excellent thermal (600°C), chemical and radiation resistance of Nomex made it an overnight success and the new fibre was adopted by fire brigades the world over.
Soon, Nomex was used in racing gloves, socks, helmet linings and boots. However, the added protection came with a heavier price tag and sponsors became a necessity.
The new trend was for blue all-in-one suits, less fitted, with zips. Increased protection meant relinquishing elegance and the vertical stripes could not disguise the fact that racewear had well and truly become workwear.
Helmets were included in the revolution, drawing inspiration from aviation. Full-face helmets became popular for single-seater racing, although the twin-window one sported by Jacky Ickx at the 24 Hours of Le Mans did not catch on. The drawback of the new generation of racing gear was the lack of breathability. Many drivers suffered from excessive sweating in the cockpit. Didier Pironi, for example, finished the 1978 24 Hours of Le Mans completely exhausted from dehydration.
However, safety had become the watchword in racing and remained the focus for several decades to come. In the last instalment in this series we look at the most recent innovations.
If you missed the beginning of the story, catch up here: