How can Indycar prevent another tragedy?

Viewing 8 posts - 16 through 23 (of 23 total)
  • Author
  • #183134
    Fer no.65

    I’ve always been very critical about oval racing, partly because I think it’s not really worth the risk and partly because I just don’t like/understand it.

    I wrote this in a facebook group I’m in with a couple of other friends last night – I think the whole idea of oval racing is flawed, and the posibilities of having a terrible accident will always exist (a lot more than in other disciplines), specially with open wheelers.

    In my opinion, there’s no way to improve safety as vastly as F1 did 15 years ago. They race on very short tracks, doing incredible speeds, and with NO CHANCE to recover from a mistake. Really, NO CHANCE. If you lose the car, you just either crash or spin, unlike in other racing series. That’s the way it is. And the chances of someone else braking and avoid you, are slim. Cars are not agile, because they are designed to be stable at high speeds, not braking and changing directions quickly enough .

    The cars and the tracks are the biggest factors in my opinion.

    First the cars – not only they reach incredibly high speeds, they also have open wheels. So even attempting to have a 34-car field all packed up, doing 360 kph already raises the danger to unimagined levels. And when an incident happens, the chances of avoiding it are very low – Wheldon was 24th at the time of his crash, with 23 cars in front deflecting air from his car, the draft tunnel created must’ve been something unbelivable. Saavedra said the other day that they were hitting the limiters on 6th gear for more than 15 seconds.

    So the speed (which already gives you no chance to react), along with the nature of the cars, and the aerodynamic effect the whole field creates, makes it almost impossible to avoid accidents in front of you. They might be able to hit the brakes (without blocking the tyres) and slow down a couple of kph, but barely enough to avoid a massive crash… like Paul Dana’s a couple of years ago. And the shape of the cars could be improved, but open wheelers will always be shaped with aerodynamics in mind, so a crash from the back and cars easily go airborne, increasing the danger even more.

    And now the tracks themselves. The bankings make it particularly dangerous, as you crash against the barrier and come down, because of the high angle. So you come back straight into the pack. Cars will never be safe enough, not even halfway through what should be considered safe, to witstand such blows. Paul Dana’s accident could happen every single weekend.

    They’ve done a lot since Dale Earnhardt fatal accident a couple of years ago in terms of safety, both for the tracks and the cars. But in open wheelers it’s very difficult to employ those technologies NASCAR developed. Leaving ovals for good would be terrible for the spirit of the series, but at this point, none of the changes they’ll have to do to improve the standards of the series will be following any tradition, I guess.


    People seem quick to write off oval racing for Indy Cars, but I must remind you that they’ve raced on ovals with much less banking for many years with much better results. Tracks such as Vegas and Texas are extreme for these cars and more of a problem than ovals as a whole. I don’t know how many recall, but CART even called off a race in Texas many years ago after drivers and teams felt it unsafe (drivers said they were nearly blacking out due to constant g-forces from the speeds). Before we knee-jerk, look at the circumstances and history more closely. And for what it’s worth, @fer-no65 it IS possible to recover from mistakes on ovals. Danny Sullivan not only recovered from his spin in the Indy 500 in 1985, but he went on to win the race. You might be speaking in hyperbole, but this is not the place for hyperbole. Oval racing is dangerous, yes and I would like to see it move back to some of the plethora of shallow ovals as it once was to help alleviate this some. Places like Nazareth and Pocono were wonderfully unique ovals that the series once raced on. If we really want to talk danger, think of Mark Webber’s Valencia crash in ’10 and ponder what it would have looked like if he were closer to the edge and caught the catch fencing. Or what if he continued to tumble and ran into the fence above the tire barrier at the end of the straight? His accident was the same as Wheldons, except on a road course and not an oval. Racing accidents will ALWAYS be what-ifs and to prevent every eventuality would be near impossible. As has been said, it’s better to look at the cause carefully than simply react. Though I’m not a fan of the aesthetic, the rear tire guards on the new cars are a great step towards preventing these sorts of fly-overs.

    And @polishboy808 just because fans mispronounce names, does not mean they are enjoying it any less. Nor does drinking beer from pickup trucks and blaring music mean they enjoy it less. If you want to continue talking about endurance racing, most of what I’ve read about LeMans paints it as a similar “giant party” atmosphere with lots of drinking and blaring music in the infield. Racing doesn’t have to be enjoyed one way. And endurance racing are not the only examples of road course racing in the states. Look at the SCCA runoffs in Elkhart lake which is a HUGE event. Look at the big events Laguna Seca puts on around the year drawing in sports car enthusiasts. Hell, even look at the fact that Indy IS moving more towards road courses. If they weren’t bringing in money, they wouldn’t be expanding to more of them. And this is from a series (when it was still the IRL) that was once ONLY ovals. Obviously there is some kind of demand from fans of road course racing in the states.


    I offer the view I just posted in the discussion about using canopies
    In my opinion, the series has to look at the wisdom of racing on 1.5 mile ovals with such a big field, a one off field and at an oval with extreme banking to allow for high speeds without getting on the brakes or lifting at any time in the lap. With such a field, and a 20 second lap time, it really makes for hardly any opportunity to react if your in the wrong place.
    The track itself might also be looked at to improve safety, but that is a secondary issue.

    The fact Indianapolis has a limit of 33 cars for its 50% bigger oval says a lot for me. It also means these should be the factors (which tracks, how strong a field) the series should be looking at first.


    While I agree that oval racing, just like every other form of racing, is inherently dangerous, I don’t currently see a need for canopies or drastic reductions in speed. Most of the IRL cars, when in oval configuration, generate VERY little down force due to the nature of drag reducing the top speed of the car. It’s likely that less well funded teams have problems reaching the low drag requirements while maintaining stability on the cars, just like in F1. Honestly, that was probably one of the worst accidents to happen in a very long time at a top teir racing event with 1 driver being killed and 3 others going to the hospital. The specific issue that killed Dan, which was confirmed from the autopsy, is the car getting airborne after bouncing off a tire and flying, drivers head first, into the catch fencing. The best way to tackle this problem is probably 3 fold:
    1) A restrictor plate to limit the cars slightly (al-la the NASCAR 500) or enhanced drag on the car to lower maximum speed (5-10% at most, 30-40% is ridiculous and would be obvious to the fans) at selected tracks like Vegas and Texas.
    2) Limiting the ability for the car to go airborne. This solution is already being introduced for next year. It’s a shame it couldn’t have been taken care of during the previous 6-7 years when it became an obvious problem…
    3) A change to the catch fencing to make it safer for drivers to get in it without endangering the fans.

    Joel Holland

    It is indeed not the time for knee-jerk reactions. Serious time and thought needs to go in to what it is we’ve learned from this. The event is still far too recent and the feelings over Dan’s loss too raw to make any sensible judgements.

    I have to say that I don’t agree with talk that the car count was to blame. If you had 20 cars out there on Sunday and the guys in first and second got together you end up with exactly the same scenario: close to two dozen cars heading for an accident.

    Suggestions that they drop ovals are also ludicrous and largely come from people who don’t watch the series. Anyone who saw Kentucky two weeks prior to Vegas will know oval racing can be safe (one crash all day, and a minor one) and thrilling (what a finish – that’s the Indycar I love).

    Not many people are more qualified to talk about this than IndyStar veteran reporter Curt Cavin. Here’s his take from his excellent and educated daily Q&A:

    “This was the perfect storm that took Dan’s life. I’ve seen about every frame of video, and it’s clear to me that a half-dozen things combined to take him. It’s unfathomable, really.”

    I’m inclined to side with him rather than those who don’t even watch Indycar (to the extent that they call it the IRL) who’ve voiced their own misguided opinions. (FYI I’m not talking about anyone on this thread – it’s a few names in the media who’ve upset me with this).


    How to prevent another tragedy?

    You can’t prevent one but you can spread out the time in between them for sure. Wheldon’s crash was a series of bad events like Joel Holland cited from Cavin’s article. Sure there are steps to be made and the series is making some big changes with the new chassis next year. More head protection, more cushioning to the driver’s back, read wheel covers, extended side pods to help prevent wheel locking, and many more. All of this before Dan’s death.

    Auto racing is a dangerous sport. F1 is not necessarily safer than Indycar is in my mind. Sure there has not been a fatality in a much longer time but F1 doesn’t race on high speed ovals. Every driver knows the risks of going out there and racing side by side at 220+ MPH and they still are lining up to do so.

    The biggest thing Indycar can do next year is to prevent the pack racing that has plagued this Dallara since it’s inception. IMO best thing you can do is up the HP and lower the downforce. Get drivers to lift into corners and make it harder for them to go side by side lap after lap. If the cars were more spread out maybe more drivers could’ve taken evasive action to the incident but they were too close together that if one braked you had no time to react.

    Just my thoughts from a long time Indycar fan.

    Prisoner Monkeys

    Indycar will not race in Las Vegas in 2012:

    Hardly surprising.


    I think we can close this thread now as there’s a similar discussion going on here following the publication of the official report:

    Dan Wheldon

Viewing 8 posts - 16 through 23 (of 23 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.