Thanks to our incredibly well-connected world, even if you have just a passing interest in the sport of drifting, you probably know that Speedhunters driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. had a serious crash at last weekend’s Texas round of Formula D. It was a brutal hit; the sort of car-meets-wall moment that makes you stop and say, ‘sh*t, I hope he’s going to walk away from this one.’ He did, thankfully.
We needed to know the whats, the whys and the hows, so after giving just enough time for the dust to settle, we sat down with Vaughn (virtually) and talked about the incident, the aftermath and what happens next.
SH: First of all, how are you feeling after that hit, both physically and mentally?
VGJr: Physically, my neck and back are a bit sore, which is to be expected. I had a MRI done and everything checked out great, so it’s just muscle and ligament related from the impact. Any fog has left my head rapidly. So overall, I’m in pretty awesome shape considering the hit. Mentally, I am totally fine. Well, as fine as I was before the hit. I am not thrilled it happened, but I understand the reality of the possibilities every time I dump the clutch. There is no nervousness on my end to ‘get back on the horse’ or anything like that.
SH: Could you please talk us through the crash? What happened and why?
VGJr: While wide open between inner clip one and two, the car felt like it was misfiring a bit and it was not accelerating like it should have. I went to change directions after inner clip two, and when I gave throttle input for the direction change, the car did not have enough response to change direction and suddenly my inner clip two angle and speed was heading straight for the wall. After looking at the data in the car, we were having rising and falling fuel pressure, which we believe to be from fuel being too hot from idling on grid for too long or a failing fuel system component.
SH: We’re curious to know what went through your mind at the point when you realized it had all gone pear-shaped?
VGJr: As soon as I knew the inevitable was coming, I remember thinking that going into the wall at that speed front-end first was a very bad idea. I yanked the wheel, grabbed the handbrake, and used the momentum I had to spin the car around and back it in. This in-the-moment processing is what likely saved me from being seriously hurt. Those couple seconds seemed more like half a minute in my brain.
SH: At what point did you figure out it was a serious incident for the car – before impact, during or not until you got out and took a look at the damage?
VGJr: I knew it was going to be real bad once I knew the wall was inevitable. When the dust settled I remember looking to the right and seeing through the roof that had separated and then looking at the windscreen that had split apart. It was not until a bit later in the day that I looked over the car in the pit and realized it was trash.
SH: Can you talk us through the kind of engineering involved in you being able to walk away virtually unscathed?
VGJr: Multiple things add up to being able to walk away virtually unscathed:
– A well thought out and safely-built race car.
– Most of our team have raced and crashed cars and motorcycles themselves so they understand safety comes first.
– ASD (Autosport Dynamics) designs the cars firstly to be as safe as possible, and then focuses on performance.
– Although they start with a unibody Mustang in drifting, the added tube structure serves two purposes. How the energy is transferred in a crash from any angle, and how that energy is transferred to the rest of the structure. And how that added structure also adds rigidity to the unibody in key areas for performance.
– The choice of materials during construction and a good understanding of metallurgy for material choice, yield strength, stress and load requirements, and welding and joining techniques. These four things make a massive difference.
– Not a single weld in the entire car broke or cracked during the impact with any part of the car built by the team. Tubes deformed as expected due to the size of the impact, but nothing broke. Because the structure built by the team stayed intact and didn’t break, it kept absorbing energy until the car stopped completely. The driver compartment area stayed completely intact.
– The rollcage structure and other parts attached to it are designed in CAD and tested in CAD with an FEA analysis program to make sure critical areas do what they are supposed to in a big crash from different angles. ASD has been doing that with drift car design for many years, and showed Formula Drift the FEA stress analysis results for the first time back in 2008.
– Proper safety equipment. In this instance my HJC Si-12R helmet and the halo on my Recaro seat saved my head and neck. Without the halo-style seat, I without question would have had a broken neck. (I highly suggest a safety net for anyone that does not have a halo seat).
– On the fly thinking. While I was put in the situation by the car not reacting when I gave it an input, I drove it till the end. Having the brain in the moment and backing it in saved me from serious injury. A lot of people’s default is to just freeze up and be along for the ride.
– Driver preparation. I take pretty good care of myself; I CrossFit, eat clean (most of the time), stretch, and mental train. All of those things came into play and paid off in this situation.
SH: We understand the car is a complete write-off, could you tell us about the damage and why it’s unsalvageable?
VGJr: I reached out to Ian Stewart, the owner of ASD and the brains behind our competition car builds, to give insight here. This is what he had to share on the topic.
– Because drift cars are built by starting with a unibody street car shell, the unibody shell was never designed to survive an impact of this size and be re-usable.
– Even with all of the added structure added by our team, the unibody shell will always break the OEM spot welds holding the unibody sheetmetal together and tear a lot of sheetmetal with a crash like this.
– Once the OEM unibody part of the car deforms to a certain point, it just can’t be repaired well enough to ensure the car will ever be as safe again. In this case, we don’t think it ever could be repaired even if safety wasn’t a priority, which for us it is of course.
SH: What will actually happen to what’s left of the car now?
VGJr: All of the salvageable parts will be taken off the car and the chassis will be cut up and dropped at a recycler.
SH: Lastly, with the chassis destroyed, do you plan on competing in the final round at Irwindale, and if so, could you tell us what you will be driving? Could this be our first look at the 2015 Mustang in FD competition?
VGJr: Competing at Irwindale is currently up in the air, as the timing really sucks to have totaled my FD car. The twin to the FD car that we built for international initiatives is now on its way to Japan. Irwindale will not be the debut of the 2015 Mustang Formula D car. My team is making awesome progress on our new Formula D car and the chassis should be to paint in about two weeks, however it is simply not possible to have the car completed in time to make Irwindale. The prototype competition 2015 Mustang everyone has seen me drive in demos this year was built for development purposes only, and it will not meet some of the rules of Formula Drift.
VGJr: All in all I am pretty gutted, however being the realist that I am, I accept what happened as ‘a part of it’, and I am just thrilled to have walked away pretty unscathed. This weekend, I will race in my first Trans-Am race, as well as perform some drift demos in front of the NASCAR/Trans-Am crowd at Road America. So I’m pretty pumped that I can handle that given last weekend’s hit.
I sincerely appreciate the well wishes from everyone. The outcome of this situation is truly the best it could be and I know it’s been a reality check for a lot of us. Many of us are talking and exploring what we can learn from the chassis and safety equipment to understand what we can improve on safety-wise for the future of drifting as a result.
Thanks for reading!