Throwback Thursday: Perth’s fireball

Crews rush to Reindler and Owen

Crews rush to Karl Reindler and Steve Owen at Barbagallo in 2011

It’s one of the most memorable and shocking scenes in Supercars history.

The magnificent fireball was like a comet hitting the rear of the Supercars field as it was led away for Race 8 in Perth, 2011. It wasn’t something interstellar that caused the massive flash of fire, but in fact Steve Owen’s VIP Pet Foods Holden ploughing into the back of the stationary #21 VE II Commodore of Karl Reindler.

Seconds after the 37g, 150km/h impact, Reindler’s Holden was, facing the wrong direction having been slammed into the infield, engulfed in flames which stretched across the track, followed by loads of white smoke as the marshals scrambled to the blazing Commodore.

It looked ominous.

Yet Reindler instantly jumped out of the wreck, recalling later that he simply wanted to “get the hell out”. Watching the footage back, you can see that he thought he was on fire, as he drops to the ground and rolls in an effort to extinguish any flames.

“I was pretty lucky in some respects to walk away from the incident at Barbagallo in 2011 relatively unscathed – I mean, quick trip to the hospital for some skin grafts later. It could have been a lot worse,” Reindler told Speedcafe in 2022.

“It’s pretty easy as a driver to think you’re invincible and think that nothing will ever happen to you. That kind of woke me up a bit on that day, and I started to take safety a bit more seriously.”

Reindler: I could feel my face burning.

The impact had a silver lining in that it helped inform the safety structure of today’s Supercars.

When Car of the Future (COTF) was unveiled in 2013, key among the changes to the control chassis – which saw a new Independent Rear Suspension added – was the location and type of fuel tank.

Racer Industries imported the new fuel cells from Premier Fuel Systems in the United Kingdom, which were positioned in a stronger box ahead of the rear axle in the VE II Commodore and FG Falcon COTF Supercars, which were joined by Nissan, Volvo and Erebus’ Mercedes-Benz rivals.

They could also be partitioned so that the same tank could be used for sprint rounds without the need to fit a larger cell for endurance races.

As COTF evolved into Gen2 in 2017, the 111-litre carbon fibre fuel cell was moved further forward to where the rear passenger would sit in the road-version Falcon FGX and Commodore VF II, again with safety in mind.

That effectiveness was tested in the real world on the start line at The Bend in Race 22 in 2022.

In an eerily similar incident to Reindler’s 2011 collision, Thomas Randle’s Castrol Mustang was a sitting duck on the front row – in the Tickford driver’s best Supercars grid position to date – after it failed to get off the line. In comparison to Reindler, who’d started 13th and was hit by Owen, who’d come from 25th; Randle had 23 cars behind him.

Randle survived what must’ve been an agonising four seconds after the green light as the field darted and weaved around the stricken Ford.

David Reynolds skilfully went left, between Randle and the pit wall; but when Nick Percat tried to follow, he was tagged the instant Andre Heimgartner in the R&J Batteries Brad Jones Racing ZB Commodore slammed into the back of the Castrol Mustang.

Again, like the crash in Perth a decade earlier, the impact speed was around 150km/h.

Heimgartner – who’d won his first Supercars race at the South Australia venue on his previous visit – was left facing the wrong direction in a smoking Commodore, its front-end obliterated.

Randle and his Mustang, meanwhile, had been catapulted from his grid box into the wall, the suspension broken in what was a sorry sight, the passenger door flung open as medical and rescue teams charged over the track, strewn with twisted panels, parts and fluids from both cars, to both he and Heimgarter’s aid.

This time, there was no fireball – neither driver having to stop, drop and roll – and while still a horrific collision, the fuel cell position of the Gen2 cars was demonstrably better than in Perth with the previous generation Supercars.

WATCH: Gen3 Supercars fuel cell compared to Gen2.

For the 2023 Gen3 Supercars, the larger 133L fuel cell again is located behind the driver but sits higher – running to the height of seats – as the driving position and mass was centralised. It sits within the roll-cage, separate from the removable rear clip.

The knowledge gained from both crashes has been employed to help avoid such wild incidents, with Randle lining up this weekend in his #55 Castrol Racing Tickford Gen3 Ford Mustang.

Reindler, though, won’t be at this weekend’s Bosch Power Tools Perth SuperSprint.

Instead, he’ll be preparing to drive the Medical Car – an Aston Martin DBX707 – for next weekend’s Miami Formula 1 Grand Prix, making sure that the drivers are responded to as well as he was that day in Barbagallo 2011.

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