It was an idea that came to motorsport engineer Mirko De Rosa while he was watching the latest news coming out of the coronavirus-stricken city of Milan, in Italy.
- In mid-March, Supercars responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by postponing three races and suspending the season
- Erebus Motorsport and Triple Eight Race Engineering have used their Supercars downtime to work on medical equipment for use in the fight against coronavirus
- In Europe, Formula 1 team Mercedes has taken a similar approach, building a special breathing aid for use by the UK’s National Health Service
De Rosa, who has family in isolation in the region, thought there had to be a way to use his team’s garage, engineering skills and resources to somehow support the medical response to the pandemic.
With the Supercars season currently in hiatus, like the rest of Australian sport, De Rosa decided to approach team management with his thoughts on what could be done in his team’s downtime.
Less than a week later, his team Erebus Motorsport is shipping its first products to medical health professionals for testing.
“We thought, yeah, let’s give it a crack,” Erebus Motorsport chief executive Barry Ryan said.
“We are not trying to save the world. We are just trying to have some options there.”
The team has been liaising with Karl Le, a doctor at Supercars headquarters, to refine its medical products and help fill an unmet demand for equipment to protect medical staff from the virus.
The team has developed two prototypes; a face mask that has been adapted from its original use as a snorkel, and a perspex patient cover to stop others being exposed to coronavirus in hospitals.
An Erebus Motorsport team member shows of the medical equipment being shipped from Melbourne. (Supplied)
“[Dr Karl] suggested to use the mask for the healthcare staff,” De Rosa explained.
Some Supercars teams are now mobilising to support the manufacturing process and others are experimenting with their own approach to supporting the medical response to COVID-19.
Australian team Triple Eight Race Engineering has developed a ventilator ready for testing.
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Supercars chief executive Sean Seamer said his sport’s response to the coronavirus pandemic had been uplifting.
“They have done an amazing job to work with Dr Karl, who is also the Supercars doctor, to understand what the problem is and how they might be able to help,” he said.
Supercars said it was now encouraging other teams to support them on the Erebus Motorsport project.
“For them if they have the capacity, if they have the talent and the hardware to support, they should jump in and give them a hand because everybody needs good news right now,” Seamer said.
At Erebus Motorsport, Ryan also paid tribute to team owner Betty Klimenko, saying her commitment to fund the experimental research gave the team every chance of success.
“We would like to thank Betty because without her this project would not be possible,” Ryan said.
Dr Le said there has been extensive collaboration already between Supercars and Erebus Motorsport, which had helped improve both products.
Pat Galloway tweet: An amazing example of a sport adapting to meet demand. This perspex cover now being produced by @supercars team @PenriteRacing is designed to protect vulnerable front-line medical staff. @abcnews #coronavirus
In the case of the e-Aerosol Box, which is a perspex cover which sits above patients, Dr Le combined some of his own knowledge of hospital wards into the design.
“When Barry made the first one, I saw there was an opportunity to add some suction into the box, on the walls behind patients, and what we have done is drilled a hole,” he said.
“We can connect that straight into the wall suction.”
This is designed to stop the virus being transmitted by an airborne route, which can often be the case when medical staff are in vulnerable positions administering respirators or breathing aids.
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The Australian motorsport scene not the only one chipping in.
PETRONAS Motorsports tweet: Proud partners @MercedesAMGF1 engineering will be helping to keep #COVID19 patients out of intensive care, as they work with @UCL and @UCLH to develop an @NSHuk – approved breathing aid #StayAtHome
In Europe, Formula 1 team Mercedes has also used its engineers and resources to develop medical equipment for the fight against coronavirus.
In conjunction with London University, as well as leading clinicians, Mercedes has built a special breathing aid which has since been approved by the UK’s National Health Service.
It helps some coronavirus patients maintain their oxygen level, without them necessarily needing to have tubes or other devices inserted into their skin or mouths to survive.
Seamer said many motorsport engineers around the world would be thinking about how they could get involved because it was the way they worked in garages and teams.
“It’s like a broken car or any other engineering problem,” he said. “They see a problem and they have a need to fix it.”
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
Fittingly, automotive parts distribution business CoolDrive is helping Erebus Motorsport ship its first a-Aerosol boxes to medical facilities in Ballarat, Hobart and Adelaide from today.
Two of the mask prototypes are going to Supercars medical staff for review.
Representatives of Australian healthcare organisations can request a trial of the Erebus Motorsport products by emailing on email@example.com