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. To end this four-part series, we examine the kit bag of today’s drivers, much of which is also worn by race team members around the track.
In some parts of the world, imprudent drivers attend test days in shorts and flip-flops, proof that there is still plenty of room for improvement. However, fire resistant clothing has been an FIA requirement for over twenty years now and a firesuit is a wardrobe staple for all drivers. Racewear is of a much thicker material than in the past and a complete kit bag includes leggings and a long-sleeved top, plus socks, gloves, boots, balaclava and helmet. Endurance drivers are required to have three complete sets of kit, with two or three helmets, so they can start the next stint with a dry outfit. France is proud to be home to world-class outfitters, such as Stand 21, founded by Yves Morizot, and Oreca, the well-known company headed by Hugues de Chaunac.
As stricter safety regulations are introduced, official race requirements change and racewear can therefore have a short life with drivers, although garments can be treasured for years by enthusiastic memorabilia collectors. Helmets are particularly sought-after in Japan and Italy.
Mechanics, who are just as exposed to fire risk as drivers, wear similar clothing, as do marshals and any other officials or journalists who come into close contact with cars, in the pitlane or garages. In bygone days, marshals at the 24 hours of Le Mans were nicknamed “glow worms” in reference to the high visibility reflective strips on the waterproof sailing jackets they wore. Nowadays, orange overalls are fast replacing the Dunlop-sponsored white kit for marshals at circuits all over the world.
Temperatures in today’s closed cockpits can be unbearable, to such an extent that the rules of the 24 Hours of Le Mans require cars to be fitted with air conditioning and some racing garments incorporate a liquid cooling system, which shows there’s more than one way to keep a cool head at the wheel.
If you missed the beginning of the story, catch up here: