In production automobiles, a safety car is one which highlights safety features (see automobile safety).
It is common in many forms of racing for drivers to make pitstops during the safety car situation. This way, they can form back up behind the back after refueling and changing tires (and perhaps making more advanced adjustments which would normally cost too much time to be practical in racing conditions). Any other drivers who have to pit within the next few laps would then fall behind this car when they make their pitstop under green-flag conditions.
Cars use less fuel while running under safety car (usually approximately half as much as under racing conditions), which can allow drivers to run longer on a tank of fuel than expected, and in some cases means being able to make one pitstop less.
In Formula One or other road racing events if an accident or heavy rain prevents normal racing from continuing safely, the Race Director or Clerk of Course will call for the marshalls to wave yellow flags and hold SC boards, warning drivers that the safety car has been deployed. For 2007, all Formula Cars must have LEDs fitted to the steering wheel, which inform the driver which flags are being waved. A yellow LED is illuminated when the safety car has been deployed.
The F1 Safety Car (SC) has both yellow and green lights mounted on its roof in the form of a light bar; the green light allows the driver just behind the SC to pass. Once the race leader is right behind the SC, the yellow lights go on. This car is to be operated by a professional driver—currently Bernd Mayländer—and must maintain a good speed so that the tires on the racecars can stay at operating temperature and at the same time avoid engine overheating.
The first use of the Safety Car in Formula One was at the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix. However, the Safety Car took its place in front of the wrong driver, which placed part of the field incorrectly one lap down. It took several hours after the end of the race to straighten out who the winner actually was. Starting from the 1993 season, safety car was introduced to official rules. It was used in Brazilian and British Grand Prix's that year.
To date, the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix is the only Formula One race to finish behind the Safety Car.
The race has been started under safety car five times due to wet conditions: 1997 Belgian Grand Prix, 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix and the 2008 Italian Grand Prix. The same procedure was also used in the restart of 1994 Japanese Grand Prix and of the 2007 European Grand Prix. When this happens, there is no warm-up lap - the race is considered to be underway as soon as the cars leave the grid, so any driver who can't get away before the safety car returns will go a lap down.
In Formula One, during the one lap to green, the SC will have the lights on until it is a few turns away from the pits and the lights will go out. That notifies the drivers that they will be racing in a few moments.
For incidents during the first three laps, the safety car also has an advantage over the traditional red flag; in a red flag, it would take a minimum of fifteen minutes to restart the race, and the two-hour limit would not start until the cars are ready for a second reconnaissance or formation lap. With regards to the time limit, the race is being scored and the time is also counting while a Safety Car period happens, and the race resumes.
For 2007, two new procedures have been instituted, which were applied for the first time during the Canadian Grand Prix.
The pit lane is closed immediately upon the deployment of the safety car. No car may enter the pits for the purpose of refuelling until all cars on the track have formed up in a line behind the safety car, they pass the pit entrance, and the message "pit lane open" is given. A ten second stop/go penalty (which must be taken when the race is green again) is imposed on any driver who enters the pit lane and whose car is refuelled before the pitlane open message is given; effectively these drivers are penalised for choosing to remain in the race, rather than running out of fuel. However, any car which was in the pit entry or pit lane when the safety car was deployed will not incur a penalty.
When the safety car and the drivers behind it are on the start/finish straight, there is a red light at the exit of the pit lane. Drivers who go past the red light are disqualified from the race. This has happened to several drivers during the years, such as Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. At the same race a year later Lewis Hamilton failed to notice the red light and slammed into the back of the car of Kimi Räikkönen, who was waiting at the end of the pitlane alongside Robert Kubica.
When the circuit has been cleared of the incident that caused the safety car to be deployed, the message "lapped cars may now overtake" is given. Any lapped cars which are between the cars running on the lead lap at the time the safety car was deployed are required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car. They must then proceed around the track at an appropriate speed, without overtaking, and take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car. This change ensures that all cars on the lead lap run consecutive to each other, eliminating any advantage a driver may have had in having lapped cars between himself and a rival. This was introduced after a backmarker failed to get out of the way on a restart at 2006 Australian Grand Prix, thus extending the leader's advantage.
For the 2004 and 2005 seasons, the safety car was a (tuned) Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG. For the 2006 and 2007 seasons the newer Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG was used. For the 2008 season, the safety car is based on the SL 63. It has a 220 kg weight reduction and the same V8 engine as the CLK63, but tuned to produce 525bhp. This is the eighth Mercedes-Benz - AMG model used as the Safety Car in Formula 1.
The officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been selecting a pace car and its driver for the Indy 500 each year the race has been held since 1911. The first pace car was a Stoddard-Dayton driven by Carl G. Fisher. Chevrolet models have been chosen as the official pace car numerous times. The pace car is selected two months before the race runs, allowing the manufacturer of the selected pace car to produce replicas of that year's car, which sell at a marked premium to collectors and race fans. Pace car replicas are often seen on the streets of Indianapolis weeks before the race is actually held, and a celebrity driver is usually used for the start of the race only. For the 2008 Indy 500, the Chevrolet Corvette was chosen as the Official Pace Car yet again, with Emerson Fittipaldi driving the pace car at the start.
Automakers compete for the prestige of having one of their models selected as the year's pace car for the publicity. In 1971 it backfired for Chrysler Corporation and local Indianapolis-area Dodge dealers. Eldon Palmer lost control of the Dodge Challenger pace car and crashed into a photography stand, injuring several people. The blame for the crash was never fully determined, as officials realized that an orange cone (or perhaps an orange flag), which was to identify Palmer's braking point, was accidentally removed.
During the Indy Racing League season, however, Johnny Rutherford is the normal driver of the IRL pace car for all series events. The pace car is deployed for debris, collision, or weather reasons. Since 1993, upon the waving of the yellow flag, pit road is closed until the pace car picks up the leader and he passes the pit entrance the first time, unless track blockage forces the field to drive through pit lane.
Furthermore, two other rule changes have been implemented. Since 2000, with one lap to go before going back to green, the pace car pulls off the track in turn one rather than in turn four. The current leader of the race is then assigned the task of pacing the field back to the green flag. After much consideration, this rule was added to prevent a situation much like the one that happened in the 1995 Indianapolis 500, when Scott Goodyear passed the pace car going back to green. In 2002, another rule was added. With one lap to go before the green, the pace car waves by all cars (if there are any) between the pace car and the actual leader of the race. This allows for the leader to control the restart without lapped cars being in front of him. It also creates a strategy for cars to gain laps back, loosely resembling the "Lucky dog" rule.
In all NASCAR series, if the caution is out for debris, accident, or inclement weather, the flagman will display the yellow caution flag and the pace car will pull out of the pits and turn on the yellow strobes on top and/or behind the car. One lap before a green flag, the pace car will shut off its lights to signal drivers that a green flag is coming.
Since NASCAR does not allow speedometers or electronic speed limiting devices, the pace car circles the track at pit road speed during the warm-up laps. This allows each driver to note the RPM at which pit road speed is maintained. Drivers exceeding that speed on pit road will be penalized, typically a "drive-through" or "stop and go" penalty, costing them valuable track position.
Since mid-2004, NASCAR official Brett Bodine has driven the vehicle during official race functions during Sprint Cup Series races. Other famous NASCAR pace car drivers include Robert "Buster" Auton and Elmo Langley.
The Beneficiary Rule (informally known as the"Lucky dog" rule) states once the safety car is deployed, the first car not on the lead lap will regain a lap. Initially, the free pass was deployed on the one lap to go signal, then on two laps to go signal, but after that controversy, the current rule was applied so the free pass car will regain his lap once pit road opens. Bodine will signal that car to pass him through radio contact between NASCAR and that team. The free pass car must pit with the lapped cars.