Since 1970, Stand 21 has been a pioneer of race suits, boots, gloves, helmets, and pretty much anything else designed to keep a driver safe in the cockpit. It’s no different in the 24H SERIES either…
Portugal, 1986. Lotus’ Ayrton Senna, McLaren’s Alain Prost, and Williams teammates Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet pose for a photograph in the Circuito do Estoril pit lane. Each is perched on the pitwall overlooking the start-finish straight, an arm placed around the shoulders of his neighbour in a ‘friendly’ embrace. It’s a moment in time for Formula 1 that continues to furrow eyebrows more than three decades later, given the historic rivalry brewing beneath the surface that would soon reach critical mass.
For Yves Morizot though, the photo is a treasured memory, as the eventual 11-time World Championship-winning quartet are all wearing a race suit bearing his company’s name: Stand 21.
It’s a business, founded by the former baker in 1970, that has thrived on innovation and quality for close to five decades, and is based on a passion for motorsport that existed long before that. Indeed, Morizot’s own racing aspirations started with a privately-owned Renault 12 Gordini he would hustle around the neighbouring Dijon-Prenois circuit in his mid-20s. Aspirations that were quickly dashed when his close friend – and future Citroën World Rally Team principal – Guy Fréquelin casually lapped the former home of the Formula 1 French Grand Prix more than five seconds quicker on his first time behind the Renault’s wheel (“don’t try to be a World Champion if you just want to play with your toys,” Yves would admit in later years).
It was, however, a scary accident for French Formula 3 driver Jean-Pierre Cassegrain at the same circuit in 1970 that sparked the affable Frenchman’s soon-to-be lifelong devotion to motorsport safety (Yves was on-hand to help pull an injured Cassegrain free of the wreckage). That same year, a facility was purchased and Stand 21 – ‘Stand’ as in the French for ‘pits’ – was officially established. By 1972, and while the company was continuing to develop its fireproof suits, overseas orders were starting to mount up. Two years later, thanks to both superior craftsmanship and a few doors being carefully creaked open by long-time friend Jacques Laffite, Stand 21 was on the back of the soon-to-be European Formula 2 champion, Jean-Pierre Beltoise during his farewell season with BRM, and Emerson Fittipaldi in the Formula 1 paddock, the latter going on to win the ’74 World Championship in Stand 21 garb.
And this was only the beginning. In the 1980s, Stand 21 established a thriving worldwide distribution network, was kitting out drivers in their thousands across F1, IndyCar, sports cars and Group B rally among many others, and was also at the forefront of re-designed race suits. ‘Floating sleeves’ for example, introduced with the ST021 in 1985, gave drivers greater freedom of movement in increasingly-tight cockpits, while flat, outer seams on both suits and gloves reduced the risk of drivers blistering their hands during a race. Together with designer Tim Halsmer, Stand 21 had moved into helmet design come the early ‘90s, debuting its first Snell-certified model in 1992, a few years before the company’s first ‘Air Force’-vented race suits hit the market. By 2003, a second Stand 21 facility had been opened in India dedicated to the production of racing boots and gloves, and a medical program analyzing the core effects of heat stress on drivers was gearing up to be launched in 2004. Moving into its fourth decade of business, drivers bearing the ‘Stand 21’ logo on their kit had already amassed more than 10 F1 titles, five Indy 500 wins, 15 24 Hours of Le Mans wins, and a couple of National Hot Rod Association championships, to name but a few.
The sheer presence of Stand 21 products in any race paddock in the world should come as no surprise then. Take Spa-Francorchamps, for example. Despite the grid for the 2019 Hankook 12H SPA boasting 45 cars and more than 140 drivers, the vast majority are wearing Stand 21 products, something that clearly pleases commercial representative Maarten Vranckx as he walks us through the company’s presence here this weekend.
“We offer everything from boots, gloves and helmets to racing suits and HANS devices,” Maarten explains with a grin. “We always say we’re here to provide everything you’ll need from head-to-toe, so alongside the race suits, we also provide drinking systems and radio communications. There isn’t much we don’t offer.”
As we talk, fans in the paddock and a couple of team personnel are casually browsing the gloves, race boots and fireproof (ahem) undergarments, as well as the nearby mannequin fitted with a T121 race suit and VOS Global Air Force helmet. It’s mainly window-shopping though, or sneaky peaks at future purchases. Turns out drivers in the 24H SERIES – forgive our blushes – are pretty organised when it comes to their kit (“in our experience, drivers are more and more organised, and it’s lot better than a few years ago.”)
We’re curious though: say a driver is called upon at the 11th hour (not literally of course) to take an open spot in a team’s line-up, but hasn’t brought any of their gear. How would Stand 21’s representatives at a race weekend be able to help?
“We always have everything with us, so we can help our drivers with pretty much anything. Obviously the price depends on how far a person wants to go, but you could probably be ready to go for about 2000 euros. Of course, if you want true top of the line, that’s going to cost a little extra.
“But with that, you get the full Stand 21 service. Our head office is in Dijon, France, and we have a dozen suppliers all over the world. If anything needs to be repaired, or if there is an issue with one of our products – it’s rare but it does happen occasionally – we ship everything back to Dijon for a thorough examination. And every dealer provides the same service: if there are clients from American who are racing in Europe, and they have a problem, it makes no difference. We don’t hide, so if there’s a problem, you’ll find us anywhere in the paddock where we can help you. We want to make sure drivers are passionate about our products, and first class service goes a long way towards that.”
Okay. So the driver has forked over 2000 euros, or a little extra if he’s gone for true top of the line. What about customization for a later event?
“We get all kinds of crazy questions regarding how drivers can customize their race suits! There is always a limit – there’s only so many colours – and it’s quite a complex process because it’s not like when you print something or paint a design. But we always try to find the best solution. We get a lot of requests for full race suits, for example, drivers who want a picture of their wife for good luck! It’s possible, but it’s very difficult, and you don’t have always have a comfortable race suit afterwards. But we do our best to send everyone away happy.
Unsurprisingly, much like the company’s worldwide expansion, their internal R&D shows no signs of slowing down either. Since 1970, and with the dangers of motorsport still ever-present – it’s somehow been 25 years to the month since Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger’s tragic demise at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix – a pillar of the Stand 21 business model has been keeping up with the speed of technological development in motorsport. Faster cars need heightened safety standards, after all.
Take the Head and Neck Safety device – or, HANS – for instance, mandated in NASCAR shortly after the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 and improvements to which continue apace. Or the very real danger of heat exhaustion in the cockpit…
“Stand21 is actually working on a lighter version of the HANS device – we started development two years ago – and we are currently testing a model for F1. It takes quite a while from product research to development to getting everything homologated, but after that, we’ll be looking at the World Endurance Championship and sports cars. We’re quite excited about that.
“Vented race suits are a speciality for Stand21 too. They are very well made for this problem – we call it heat stress – because once a driver gets too hot in the car, he loses a lot of concentration, and that can lead to mistakes and possible accidents.” 24H SERIES fans may still remember JM Littman half-collapsing out of the Red Camel-Jordans.nl SEAT Leon at last year’s Hankook 24H PORTIMAO after a 90-minute stint in close to 50-degree temperatures. “We’ve also made new boots, which are very breathable, and underwear which has been designed to keep the drivers as cool as possible. We want to eliminate that possibility as much as we can.”
“Stand21 is always looking, together with doctors and organisations, to make racing as safe as possible. Always looking to see what we can improve upon, what could be better, what we could build next. That’s why we’re still here.”
This is why Stand 21 remains a key partner of the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook. Safety remains an absolute priority for both companies, and it’s the purpose – even a calling – that’s driven Yves Morizot since the doors to his company opened nearly half a century ago, and will, no doubt, continue to do so.
You need only look at a pretty famous photograph taken at the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix for proof of that.