9tro issue #5
Text and photos by Cheryl Tay
It often takes a mistake or a lesson learnt before people believe something is good for them. However, in situations such as motor racing, there is hardly any room for error as a mistake can turn fatal. Like any other sport, motorsports is no doubt dangerous but it is the responsibility of the driver to keep himself safe and well-protected.
Technology has gotten more advanced these days and one does not require huge amounts of money for the best car or equipment. In fact, it is absolutely pointless to invest tons of money to build the fastest car but yet not be in the best of conditions to race it due to natural reasons like heat-related issues experienced during the drive.
Keeping a driver alive and optimising his performance gets as simple as what he wears to race, but it’s amazing how many people overlook something as straightforward and logical as that. For example, a particular driver can have the most stylish racing suit but beneath it he wears his own nylon or cotton underwear. In the event of a fire, the first thing that will burn is his ass.
On my visit to French racewear manufacturer Stand21 in October, I was enlightened about the importance of a driver’s racing gear. Celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, Stand21 focuses solely on the driver, providing race gear for a driver from head to toe. This includes helmets, HANS® devices, suits, innerwear, gloves, socks and boots – all of which follow stringent FIA standards or FIA-approved ones (SNELL SA, SFI).
Based in the quiet town of Dijon, Stand21 runs on a very traditional business model. Headed by founder and president Yves Morizot, Stand21 sells on the quality of their products through word-of-mouth – No sponsorships, no advertisements, no commercial publicity.
That was the very reason why Stand21 pulled out of Formula 1. Stand21 was actively involved in F1 from 1975 to about 1991 and drivers like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Mika Hakkinen were all donning Stand21 gear. But they have since stopped as the sport became more commercialised.
“When you see anyone wearing anything from Stand21, you know they bought it because they believe in what they pay for and not because it is some kind of sponsorship obligation they have to fulfil. We will not supply free products to any driver, team or race series,” 64-year-old Yves told me.
Sitting in his office surrounded by racing suits and helmets of famous drivers, the first HANS® Device and lots of thank you mementoes (including an autographed one from Jenson Button when he was much younger), Yves shared the history and background of Stand21 and how they intend to progress from here.
The Stand21 headquarters and main production factory is not some state-of-the-art glamourous modern building. In fact, everything about their facilities is just like the way they run the business – functional, down-to-earth, with no desire to impress.
His eldest son Romain Morizot has been running the business alongside him for the last 10 years. 31 years of age this year and a proud father of a newborn baby girl, Romain holds the title of ‘General Manager’ and oversees the marketing, operations and overseas distribution. Second son 25-year-old Christopher Morizot is fresh out of university and has just started to help out with the business.
Most of the production is carried out within the Dijon factory and the rest is done in their India factory. Based in Chennai, their India presence started out as a sourcing office in 2002 before it later expanded to include in-house production facilities. There are plans in the pipeline to start a manufacturing plant in California in two years’ time as well.
Instead of intensive advertising or engaging in sponsorships, Stand21 pump their funds heavily into research and development to innovate new technologies to strengthen the safety of drivers in motorsports. Stand21 prides itself greatly on being the only racewear manufacturer to do full customisation and also on its innovations like the pAIRformance® fibre.
Heat Stress Control
The world’s first breathable racing suit was developed by Stand21 over two decades ago. Then in 2003, Stand21 entered a medical research programme with an international team of medical specialists, the Health Department of the French Army and major motorsports teams. The result was pAIRformance® – a unique breathable, stretchable and fireproof FIA 8856-2000 homologated fabric.
This fabric is used in Stand21 products, under the “Heat Stress Control” label. Basically, if perspiration is unable to escape through your clothing, body heat is contained and your core body temperature will keep increasing. Heart rate will increase and then things like hyperthermia, dehydration and heat exhaustion occurs, causing drivers to make errors.
But with a breathable suit, perspiration beneath the clothing evaporates faster and extends the time taken for the body’s temperature to reach critical levels where physiological performance starts deteriorating and hence allows the driver to achieve optimal performance.
In addition, Stand21 is also one of only two licensees in the world to manufacture the HANS® System. HANS® stands for Head and Neck Support, and it is a remarkable product that has greatly saved many lives and protected lots of drivers across the world of motorsports. The neck and skull are the most crucial areas in the event of a crash – once the neck snaps or skull cracks, it’s instant death.
FIA realised how important HANS® is and has since made it compulsory in several racing series. Stand21 is the only one that designs made-to-measure HANS® devices for Formula One and World Rally Championships (WRC), and all Stand21 helmets are FIA/HANS® approved and equipped with HANS® post anchors.
Every product that bears a Stand21 logo is made with genuine care and detail as it goes through various pairs of hands and not any form of machinery. I was taken round to the different production departments and I witnessed how each product is done by hand.
I watched how the ladies of the sewing and embroidery units meticulously work on suits, how the men in the helmet unit mould each helmet one by one and how the design team turn a customer’s desires into reality with detailed designs.
Other brands typically have mass-produced sizes sold off shelves which drivers have to fit in to, but Stand21 produces made-to-measure suits with full customisation of body measurements and design details down to the exact stitch colour and even different-coloured sleeves if you prefer. Hence, a Stand21 suit fits the driver and not the driver having to fit into a factory-produced standard size.
It has been four decades since Yves started his shop. He was only 22 years old and his shop sold mainly car parts and accessories then. To keep the shop going, he resorted to washing windows for other shops. Before that, he was merely a baker.
After going through so much to build the brand to where it is today, the Morizots ensure that the value of the Stand21 brand is highly retained. Stand21 products cannot be bought easily at any generic racing shops and its overseas distribution is via an exclusive dealer network where only one company in the country is appointed as the Stand21 factory representative and there are no resellers. As such, customers get direct support from the factory and the brand will not be diluted through discount battles.
Representing Stand21 in Singapore is Fong Mui Garage R Trading Pte Ltd, referred to as HKS Garage R. Managing director of HKS Garage R Lawrence Lee was keen on taking up the role of Stand21 in Singapore as he agreed with their notion of protecting the driver and promoting safety in motorsports to save lives.
“I can relate to what Stand21 strongly advocates: safety and quality in motorsports, and I’m proud to be part of Stand21 and helping to save the lives of drivers. Many gentlemen drivers think there is no need to spend too much on racing gear, but they fail to realise that their lives are just as important as any other professional racer,” said 31-year-old Lawrence.
“Both an F1 driver and someone who enjoys taking the car to the tracks for an adrenalin rush face similar risks behind the wheel. Sadly, some people only start to understand the importance of safety after experiencing the pain (physical and monetary) from an incident. Our motorsports arm Team HKS Garage R Racing is fully aware of things like heat stress as experienced from our endurance race outings, so we are able to identify with the values and mission of Stand21,” he added.