Crashes a concern as speeds rise at Indianapolis

2015 Indianapolis 500 preview

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IndyCar’s new aero kits had been a divisive subject long before the championship arrived at Indianapolis for its sixth round and most famous race.

But a pair of crashes in practice have raised urgent questions about the safety of the cars. Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden were fortunate to escape injury in separate, solo accidents in which their cars took off and flipped after making contact with the barrier.

In practice speeds were already approaching the level seen last year, when Ed Carpenter took pole position at an average of 371.866kph (231.067mph). Greater performance was expected this year as teams are allowed to run new aerodynamic kits produced for engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda.

After five races using the road and street course versions the jury was still out over whether they represented an improvement. The first race in St. Petersburg saw a spate of debris-related caution period after parts broke off the new wings. Since then some components have been strengthened, others removed, and the on-track action as generally improved – especially at Barber Motorsport Park, where Newgarden scored his breakthrough victory in a cracker of a race.

Indianapolis is the first test for the superspeedway versions of the aero kits. As one of the three great races of motor racing along with the Monaco Grand Prix (held earlier on the same day) and Le Mans 24 Hours, the Indy 500 had for too long been a race contested by identical cars.

The return of aerodynamic competition this years follows the revival of engine development three years ago. IndyCar had set a target of seeing Arie Luyendyk’s 19-year-old record qualifying lap speed fall by next year, the 100th running of the race. Luyendyk set a single-lap record of 382.216kph (237.498mph) and record qualifying four-lap qualifying run of 381.398kph (236.986mph).

But the pursuit of performance has always come with a safety risk and the first sign IndyCar might have a problem on its hands came when Helio Castroneves spun his Penske into the wall on Wednesday and the car took off.

The solo crash for the number three Penske showed that despite changes to the floor of the cars enforced by IndyCar, aerial accidents are still possible. A second crash involving Josef Newgarden on Thursday in which his car also flipped will surely increase calls for this to be examined again.

Helio Castroneves Indy 500 practice crash

Josef Newgarden Indy 500 practice crash

Front runners

Having emerged unscathed from his crash, three-times winner Castroneves and the other three members of Penske’s stellar line-up are strong contenders for victory in the first oval race of the year. On the road and street courses which held the first five rounds of the championship, Chevrolet’s engine and aerodynamics was the package to beat. Honda only managed to inflict a defeat on its rival once, in the rain-hit race at NOLA Motorsport Park in Louisiana.

At Indianapolis teams are using the superspeedway versions of their aerodynamic kits for the first time. While Chevrolet appear to still have an edge on one-lap performance, that is a small part of the game in a race which lasts 200 laps. If Honda can eke out better fuel mileage their drivers will be very much in contention.

Since Chevrolet’s entry in 2012 their Japanese rivals have taken two wins to the Bowtie’s one in the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet may have enjoyed more championship success, but it’s this race which really grabs the interest of the American public.

Nonetheless, arriving at the sixth round of the championship it is Chevrolet drivers who occupy the top four positions. Juan Pablo Montoya leads reigning champion Will Power by five points. Ganassi’s Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are well up in the points as well and also part of the Chevrolet vanguard.

But the one to watch could be a man who hasn’t started a single race so far this year. Ed Carpenter is only starting the oval races in his own car, Luca Filippi has been on duty for the road and street courses. But Carpenter has put his Chevrolet-powered car on pole for the last two years at the circuit which is just a few blocks from Butler University, where he studied.

Honda’s line-up includes a quintet of Andretti cars for defending Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay alongside fellow regulars Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, and occasional drivers Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro. Schmidt racer James Hinchcliffe – Honda’s only race-winner so far this year – and the still-rapid-but-wild Takuma Sato.

2015 Indianapolis 500 entry list

1Will PowerAustraliaPenskeChevroletReigning champion, won on the Indy GP track earlier this month, now needs a 500 win
2Juan Pablo MontoyaColombiaPenskeChevroletThe 2000 Indy 500 winner began the second year of his IndyCar comeback with a victory
3Helio CastronevesBrazilPenskeChevroletThree-times a winner at Indianapolis, most recently in 2009 which was Penske’s last win
4Stefano ColettiMonacoKVChevroletGP2 graduate was stunned by Indianapolis speeds on his first day of running
5James HinchcliffeCanadaSchmidtHondaLost Andretti seat but won second start with new team in rain-affected race in Louisiana
6JR HildebrandUSACFHChevroletOnly a win could erase the memory of his heartbreak 2011 last-lap crash and defeat
7James JakesGreat BritainSchmidtHondaLouisiana podium was a surprise, dependable if not quick in previous 500s
8Sage KaramUSAGanassiChevroletThe 2013 Indy lights champion scored a solid ninth on his Indy 500 debut last year
9Scott DixonNew ZealandGanassiChevroletWinner of the 2008 500 and three-times champion. Was taken out at start of GP race
10Tony KanaanBrazilGanassiChevroletScored an overdue and popular Indy 500 win in 2013, gearbox trouble intervened last year
11Sebastien BourdaisFranceKVSHChevroletHas started 2015 well, Louisiana aside. Not the best on ovals but came seventh last time
14Takuma SatoJapanFoytHondaCame within a risky last-lap pass of beating Dario Franchitti to victory in 2012
15Graham RahalUSARLLHondaReinvigorated in 2015, finished second in the last two races and is Honda’s top points scorer
17Sebastian SaavedraColombiaGanassiChevroletPerennial seat-filler no longer has a full-time drive but has aligned with top squad Ganassi
18Carlos HuertasColombiaCoyneHondaArrived from Formula Renault 3.5 and took a shock, if somewhat lucky, 2014 win in Houston
19James DavisonAustraliaCoyneHondaSports car racer takes over the car normally piloted by lacklustre Francesco Dracone
20Ed CarpenterUSACFHChevroletCould take a record third pole in a row but craves a win after last year’s crash with Hinchcliffe
21Josef NewgardenUSACFHChevroletTook breakthrough victory at Barber last month but never had a strong Indy 500 result
22Simon PagenaudFrancePenskeChevroletStrong in 2014, looking for his first win since joining Penske’s four-car super-team
24Townsend BellUSAD&RChevroletThe part-timer worked his way up to second place last year before crashing out
25Justin WilsonGreat BritainAndrettiHondaEx-F1 racer lost his full-time seat but was immediately on the pace in practice
26Carlos MunozColombiaAndrettiHondaConverted his speed into top four finishes in his first two Indy 500s. One to watch
27Marco AndrettiUSAAndrettiHondaThe ‘Andretti curse’ lives on for a third generation, but Marco was a stong third last year
28Ryan Hunter-ReayUSAAndrettiHondaHis victory in last year’s race was the main highlight of his unsuccessful title defence
29Simona de SilvestroSwitzerlandAndrettiHondaBack in IndyCar after failing to land a Sauber F1 seat, had a fiery drama during practice
32Oriol ServiaSpainRLLHondaFourth in 2011, the US open wheel racing veteran only did four races last year
41Jack HawksworthGreat BritainFoytHondaImpressed in his IndyCar debut last season but has had a quiet start to 2015 at Foyt
43Conor DalyUSASchmidtHondaThe former GP2 driver is looking to improve on 22nd on his sole prior start in 2013
48Alex TaglianiCanadaFoytHondaThe 2011 pole sitter has never finished higher than tenth at the Brickyard
63Pippa MannGreat BritainCoyneHondaMaking her fourth Indy 500 start. Also crashed in practice but didn’t flip
83Charlie KimballUSAGanassiChevroletWas the first driver to crash out of last year’s race – albeit at the 149-lap mark
88Bryan ClausonUSAKVSHChevroletSole Indy 500 start in 2012 lasted 46 laps
91Buddy LazierUSALazierChevroletWon the first post-split 500 in 1996, makes his 23rd start in the race this year aged 47
98Gabby ChavesColombiaBHAHondaThe Indy Lights champion won last year’s support race by 0.005s over Matthew Brabham

2015 Indianapolis Spotters’ Guide

2015 Indianapolis 500 schedule

Saturday: Practice session six and preliminary qualifying
Sunday: Practice session seven, qualifying knockout rounds and ‘fast nine’ shoot-out
Monday: Practice session eight
Friday: Final practice
Sunday: 99th Indianapolis 500

Watch and follow the 2015 Indianapolis 500

For those in the UK the Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on BT Sport. The race starts at 5pm BST.

As with every round of the IndyCar championship we’ll be following all the action on F1 Fanatic Live as well.

Over to you

Who’s your tip for victory in this year’s Indianapolis 500? Have your say in the comments.


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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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35 comments on “Crashes a concern as speeds rise at Indianapolis”

  1. im not sure there is much difference between 231mph and 237mph, the cars are safer now, so i see no problems for the speed to increase. single seater oval racign is one one form of motorsport that still has a danger factor. ive often heard f1 fans claim f1 has becomes too safe, all danger taken out for drivers, too many runoffs, that is where indycar comes in.

    1. the problem is not the speed the problem is that cars go flying

  2. The motives for implementing aero-kits make it no vanity project: visually, they secure the interests of fans, and they allow manufacturers a broader platform for competition, and represent a crucial step in trying to reshape IndyCar’s future so that is more closely aligned with Formula 1 and single seater racing than NASCAR. But with IndyCar facing a lawsuit from an injured fan, and facing the prospect of crashes in the proceeding series of oval events, the anticipated result has not been achieved. Change is required, and IndyCar is now in the process of learning the consequences of such a marked increase in speed. Put simply, F1-style speed requires F1-style levels of safety.

    F1 can learn lessons from IndyCar in the perils of allowing cars to be faster than the tracks allow. Coulthard recently argued that a key to improving F1 lies in ensuring laptimes improve annually, however maths and physics deem this not achievable without seismic cultural changes to safety and track layouts. Suzuka and Silverstone especially would impose intolerable levels of G-force on a driver, so unless G-suits are implemented, a 6-G apex remains the boundary. But such demands do not equally take into account the eventual impact on fan safety. As long as F1 remains the markedly fastest series in the world, in is entitled to be dubbed the pinnacle of motorsport, and simply because laptimes are a few seconds slower than 2004 does not actually detract from the sporting experience.

    1. The track record was set in 1996, and the two crashes of Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden occured when they had started their first flying lap out of the pits (Helio was logged at 219mph average before he crashed, Josef less than 210).

  3. At times like this I am reminded of what Paul Page said in the intro to the 1991 Indianapolis 500.

  4. That 1991 into is awesome. The Indy 500 is a great sporting event built on skill and daring. It’s always been dangerous and in my opinion should always be dangerous. tn needs an element of danger.

    I get why some people don’t like that, and I get that some people think all things in life should be safe. I just have no idea why those people would want to watch or be part of the Indy 500.

    1. It’s not that we want all things to be safe. Motorsport will always inherently include some amount of danger. What we don’t want is to see people die during a race, whether they be marshals, crew members, spectators or drivers. I think that’s a goal worth striving for.

  5. They have to follow the WEC with the “anti-flip” devices they derived. Put slots and blockers behind the rear wheels.

  6. Yeah these flips are rather concerning but in general I am very excited for the event. Having F1, GP2 and FR3.5 at Monaco and then the 500 is going to keep me very much entertained on that day!

  7. Pippa Mann’s crash was much more alarming than these two, in my opinion. Airborne accidents get commentators very excited, but although spectacular, are usually much less dangerous than a hard hit with a solid object.

    1. Just so you know, there is an impact-absorbing barrier in front of the pit wall there (I think the correct name is impact attenuator). The pit entrance needs to be somewhere, and it needs to have a dividing wall. Putting it further back exposes it to turn 3/4 crashes. Putting tyres in front of it results in tyres getting dislodged when someone hits it, in turn providing an additional source of debris.

      1. @jb001

        Fair points. I am glad she is okay.

    2. In this case, they’re right to be alarmed by airborne cars. At high speed ovals, it can go wrong FAST. Look up Kenny Brack’s infamous crash at the Texas oval to see what I mean. Being airborne at 200+ mph right next to fencing and fans isn’t exactly “safe.”

      1. Newgarden’s crash was caused by a tyre failure, as per telemetry being discussed in the video I posted below.

      2. @joey-poey

        Fair point. I saw Brack’s crash live and truly shocked.

    3. Btw, here’s a link to Pippa’s crash:

      One of the replay’s is from a camera above the pit wall.

      I know people don’t take too fond to Indy’s full course cautions, (and obviously this was only practice) but in terms of responding to an accident, they’ve got one of the best teams in the business. On one of the slow motion replays you can see one of the medical cars / responders is on the case within seconds of her crash.


    Tony Kanaan’s take on the accidents.

  9. Marc Schechter
    15th May 2015, 17:43

    Hi @Keith Collantine

    Friendly correction. Graham Rahal does not drive a Chevy, nor is he a Ganassi driver. He drives a Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing!

    Just a friendly heads up on that one. Love your website.


  10. The new aero kits seem to be a step in the wrong direction. I would love to be proven wrong.

    1. Wrong direction? You can’t get much more wrong than spec for a top level series.

    2. wrong direction is too harsh, but something should be done to not let cars take-off that easily on ovals.

      1. @f1007

        something should be done to not let cars take-off that easily on ovals


  11. If there is one thing Indycar does well is on board footage. Why can’t we have the same in F1 instead of stupid, costly and dangerous in race refuelling????

  12. Carlos Huertas is not from Brazil, he’s from Colombia.

  13. There are two fairly obvious problems here. Firstly, the fans sit far too close to the racing, something which no longer happens in F1. Secondly, them “take offs” are clearly due to the sealed floors – the aero kits are ahead of the rear wing. They may indirectly cause the takeoffs by the faster speeds they allow, but the problem looks to clearly be the sealed floor acting as a giant wing when the car travels backwards.

    1. @djdaveyp87 – Are you saying the regs for sealed floors are now different than previous years? And that is the sole cause of this issue at Indy this season?

  14. I’m enjoying the bonkers aero solutions they’re trying today (different sidepods on either side)…
    but if the car gets backwards, and airborne – won’t that make it corkscrew?

  15. Looked like the Aero kits did there job to me. Kept the car relatively low and landed soft. Much better than the Airplane like take offs of a few years ago.

  16. Cars flip every year. But its a couple flips out of a couple dozen crashes. So far this is a flip every couple of crashes or so. And, it’s not the flips, it’s going airborne. They have some high fences there, but it’s obvious that if these things hit the wind the wrong way, they will go like a kite. And even if they don’t go over the fence, they will inevitably land on another car. Some are saying it’s ok cause cars do flip every year, but I don’t remember them going airborne this easy. And that’s not ok. I noticed Indy is downplaying it, but they seen what we saw, and there is no way they are not worried about these cars going airborne.

    1. As a long time Indy fan that’s the way it looks to me too. Something has changed. It appears to be much easier to achieve flight than in recent years. Seems when the cars get turned around there is a higher chance they will become airborne. Can’t help but think the new aero packages are a factor. Somebody please prove me wrong. We want to see racing and speed, not extraordinary flight danger.

  17. Meanwhile, Carpenter took it up to three of a kind with his crash earlier today.

    It gets to a point where I feel someone should push Chevrolet into taking a look at those aero kits before the race. The imminent danger specific to the Indianapolis 500 is one thing, the imminence of going airborne into the cheese graters on the side of the track in full race traffic at 230mph, right next to a full grandstand is another thing altogether.

    Remember what was the last time the paddock expressed worries about something that might go wrong during a race?


    IndyCar has reacted to the three practice flips with changes to the Indy 500 qualifying format and technical regulations for the cars.

    Guess we’ll find out if this makes a difference. If it makes things safer, it’s the right way to go.

    1. Just listened to James Jakes during practice, he says the car feels way better under this new setup “even though you are going 5 or 6 miles an hour slower.” still they are averaging 225-227 mph which is pretty fast.

      1. Qualifying starting in 5 minutes from now.

  19. Oh no, now Hinchcliffe has had a really bad one. Looked like a suspension failure.

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