Snell's Elite Automotive Sport standard was introduced in early 2016 as the next-generation helmet standard for top-level professional motorsport.
In February of 2016, Black Armor Helmets head engineer James Wilson began reviewing the new standard's testing requirements and was immediately drawn to the importance of improving impact and penetration protection as outlined in the new Snell documents. With the leap in potential driver injury reduction and protection provided by the improvement in helmet design to meet this new standard, Mr. Wilson put his other projects aside and focused on meeting this EA2016 standard.
With overall technological improvements in composite manufacturing as well as increased availability of exotic materials for different applications, Mr. Wilson found a lightweight material that surpassed Kevlar and carbon fiber in potential impact deflection and penetration resistance; offering extreme rigidity but also a flex resonance that translated force waves around the shell and dissipating through the EPS foam inner liners of the current Circuit Pro design. This material, a PBO (polyphenylene benzobisoxazole) fiber with trade name "Zylon", was being used in aerospace applications and as a ballistic fiber in military applications. While Zylon was superior in testing for both heat resistance, low weight, and application as a ballistic fiber; when left untreated, it would degrade with moisture and sunlight. When encapsulated in resin, however, the fibers retained their strength. Mr. Wilson also found in testing that when woven with carbon fiber and laid up in a pattern schedule that maximized stiffness, the helmet shell could be made far stiffer than with just carbon fiber or Kevlar blends, with significant reduction in overall weight and greatly improved fire resistance.
This was the key to improving shell rigidity and penetration strength without excessive weight or material waste. In fact, the same shell size and material layup that the current Circuit Pro helmet design utilizes could be reduced by over 200grams in shell weight alone to meet the Snell SA2015 homoligation standards in internal lab testing. With the proof of concept shown in a lab setting, the improved shells with high-density layering of the new Carbon-Zylon blend were sent to the Snell laboratories in October of 2016. To date, this design by James Wilson is the first and only helmet to pass Snell's highest motorsports standard. Not to be outdone even by himself, Mr. Wilson was also the first driver to crash while wearing the new EA2016 helmet (paired with the NecksGen Rev2 Lite SFI 38.1 head-and-neck restraint) in a terrifying head-on racing crash at Road America during the SCCA June Sprints in 2017. While he hit the newly constructed concrete Corvette Bridge at nearly 70mph, after a thorough examination by a team of IndyCar trauma doctors and his own physicians, there were no apparent signs of concussion, head, or spinal injury.
Always in an effort to provide maximum driver protection, Black Armor Helmets strives to trickle down the technologies that we develop into our more affordable lines of helmets. Our 3rd Generation Circuit Pro and Aero Pro helmets will feature Carbon-Zylon in place of heavier Kevlar frame reinforcements, increasing impact and penetration resistance. These improvements will also lead the way to meet the new Snell SA2020 standard, as well as open the door to the creation of the first Elite Motorcycle (EM) helmet in the near future.
This page was created to offer a very condensed history of the development by James Wilson of the first helmet in the world to pass the Snell EA2016 standard; in an industry that seems to pervade an ever-encroaching notion of whoever has the most product development or sales revenue dollars will be the first to market, or capitalize these technologies standing on the shoulders of those who put the detail and imagination into a conceptualization as it becomes a reality. While other companies may monetize this new technology, Mr. Wilson has chosen to make this story public so that the motorsports safety industry as a whole can design and produce better, safer products for one purpose...to help reduce risk of injury for racing drivers.
Black Armor Helmets "Elite Armor" line will be released to the public in 2018. Please contact us to Pre-Order!
Snell's EA2016 Standard information can be found here.