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.