Mark Hinchelwood: Panic, driver error and big lessons to be learned

This article brought to you by:


Great news is that Mark Hinchelwood has returned home from hospital to begin a long recovery from injuries sustained in a testing accident just over a week ago. Mark has made a candid and brutally honest statement about the incident and his actions in hope others will learn from what happened.

“About a week and a half ago I was involved in an incident at Sydney Dragway when, following an engine failure and subsequent fire, I made the decision to bail out while my car was still moving. It turns out this was the wrong decision. I panicked, made a poor choice and am now paying the penalty for not keeping my cool.

“It is my intention that by telling this story from my own first-hand perspective, other drivers who find themselves in a similar situation might not suffer the same fate, and will be better equipped to stay calm even when it doesn’t seem possible.

“Not long after the launch on that pass the cylinder head gasket on the left-hand side of the engine failed, punching a hole in the firewall and causing an oil leak that soon became a fire. This fire was directed straight at my left leg through an hole in the car’s firewall and almost immediately my left leg was engulfed in flame.

“I hit the parachutes and activated the fire system. By this stage the car was traveling at almost 200km/h and was near half track. With the fire spreading to my right foot the fire supression system began to flow and do its job. From where I was sitting however, the clear mist hanging in the air in front of my visor and obscurring my vision looked for all money like methanol vapour, not the droplets from the fire system, and my first thought was that the whole car was about go boom. I made the split-second decision to leave by any means necessary.

“I undid the camlock on my safety harness and in just a couple of seconds I was out of the escape hatch on top of the car. I hit the ground fairly hard and it was then that I realised I was still traveling quite fast – certainly faster than I thought I was going when I jumped. Just a moment later I was hit hard by the parachute and dragged with the car for a distance. It was a big hit and at first I thought I’d been run over by another car.

“Soon after I was free of the parachutes and no longer sliding along the racing surface. The track safety and ambulance crews were with me a short time later and they all did their job very well. I was transported to Westmead Hospital and treated for a fractured skull and related injuries and after a bit over a week in their care came home yesterday to continue the rest of the healing process.

“Being able to trust in your gear, your crew, your car and the safety crew is vital. It means that no matter what happens you know you can rely on the people and processes that are in place to protect you if something unexpected happens. Unfortunately in this situation, when I was confronted with the prospect of an explosion I panicked and in that instant lost the trust I had for everything we’d put in place for just such a situation.

“My own safety and the safety of others around me is always my top priority and I equip myself accordingly. I was wearing a 3.2A/20 fire suit that gives me 40 sec burn time until suffering a second degree burn. Underneath that I had fire retardant underwear top and bottom as well as a balaclava and Nomex socks. I was also wearing 3.3A/20 boots and 3.3/15 gloves and a HANS Ultimate Carbon restraint and a Pyrotect helmet. With all of this top-level safety gear I should have trusted that they would do their job while I got the car stopped. As it turns out the left leg of my race suit only burnt through a single layer in the time I was on fire. It worked perfectly.

“I should also have trusted that the rest of my safety equipment would work perfectly. The Coldfire fire supression system deployed as it was supposed to and has left the inside of the car relatively damage-free. It was doing its job but as I had never sat in the car and activated the system before I didn’t know what it would look like when I did and so mistook it for methanol. I am now recommending to everyone with a fire system in their car to test it with them in the car strapped in and with their helmet on so they know what it looks like when it goes off.

“If anyone can learn from my mistakes then some good can come of it. Know your vehicle, know your procedures and trust that they will do their job. Also remember that the standards for safety equipment are the minimum, not a recommended level of protection. Not every class has to have a HANS device or fire system in the rules but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seriously investigate having both.

“Another huge thank you to everyone who has called, emailed, sent Facebook messages or visited. The support and love you’ve shown me has meant the world to myself and my family. Thank you to the Sydney Dragway track staff and safety crew and ANDRA officials for your tireless efforts in making us safe. Thanks also to the Sainty family and crew for everything you do.

“Now it is time to really concentrate on getting back on my feet and back to work. The MSCN team are still as ready as ever to take your orders and hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m back there with them.”


Aeroflow Performance Parts Catalogue

Drag News Magazine