How can Indycar prevent another tragedy?
17th October 2011, 3:00 at 3:00 am #130375
Once the shock and the horror from the events in Las Vegas begin to wear off, there are some difficult questions that need to be asked: how did this ever happen? And what can be done to prevent it from happening again?
If there is one positive that can be taken from this tragedy, it is that the race at Las Vegas was the final event of the Indycar season. There are some six months before the next race in St. Petersburg, so Indycar is not under any pressure to rush in changes to the sport. They can make it safer, they can do it properly, and they will not necessarily have to do it in such a way that compromises the speed of the series – because I believe that slowing everyone down for the sake of it is a poor way to remember someone who dedicated their life to going faster.
I believe there were several factors that led to the pile-up. Taken in isolation, they are innocuous enough, but when combined, I think they played a significant role in the accident:
1) Las Vegas Motor Speedway – LVMS is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. It is a 1.5-mile superspeedway with a tri-oval format. The banking in the corners is some twenty degrees (second only to Texas Motorspeedway, which has twenty-four degree banking). The entire circuit is designed to be as fast as possible; teams are able to run lower-downforce configurations than they would otherwise, and the lower G-forces mean there is less stress on the drivers. It is, quite possibly, too fast.
2) The $5 million bounty on the race – in an effort to promote the final race of the season, promoters offered an additional $5 million in prize money to any part-time driver who could win the race. Dan Wheldon was one of these drivers. I do not know exactly how many drivers took up a wildcard entry, but there were thirty-five drivers on the grid in Las Vegas, up from the usual twenty-five (Wheldon raced in the place of Alex Tagliani). That means that the grid at LVMS was 40% larger than it would normally be.
3) The decline of oval races – ever since CART and the IRL merged, the series has gradually gravitated towards road and street circuits, and this trend will only continue into 2012. Of the seventeen events on the 2011 calendar, only seven were on ovals. Eight of the seventeen races in 2010 were on ovals. In fact, the last time oval races out-numbered road and street races was in 2009. So even the drivers who have been in the sport for two years have less experience on ovals than some of the other drivers (ie Castroneves, Franchitti, Dixon, Power).
The question now naturally becomes what Indycar can do in order to prevent something like this from ever happening again. I believe the ICONIC cars – developed with Wheldon’s input – are a step in the right direction; large sections of bodywork have been placed behind the rear wheels in particular, which I think will prevent cars from launching off one another.17th October 2011, 3:42 at 3:42 am #183120
The new cars are definitely a step in the right direction. The new bodywork behind the rear wheels has garnered criticism, but it will remain and rightly so, it will prevent the cars from launching off one another and that would have likely saved Dan’s life today.17th October 2011, 16:11 at 4:11 pm #183121
The important thing for Indycar is to not launch into a knee-jerk reaction in the wake of this tragedy. This is an emotional period and the eyes of the world will be on it for sure, but its best to allow the mourning and then take stock of whats happened and work to ensure the chances of a repeat of yesterday are eliminated.
They wont however, stop racing Ovals. Itsbuilt into the fabric of the American lifestyle and is part of their culture. The series is named after one after all. But, they should look into doing something & Ovals are clearly where the improvments should start. I dont know enough about track construction or Oval types, but what ive read in recent hours suggests that limiting how many cars can race abreast of eachother would help. Also, people are mentioning that the high banks are contributing as it allows faster speeds to be maintained, where as lower banks like in Indianapolis are shallow and wide giving more space for the drivers. From what I gather, these high banked ovals are to NASCAR specific specifications, can anyone either clarify or explain this?
Agree with PM however, fewer cars on the grid would help lower the chance of big crashes. I know the Indy500 has lots of cars too, but its a bigger track and more accomadating.
Edit: I was going to comment on racers that entered for the prize money and not part of the series. Whilst this is something to note, they clearly were good enough to get into the race so would have some racing ability to them. Even places like Le Man has had, and still does, Gentleman racers who race (typically in GT categories) yearly there.17th October 2011, 20:25 at 8:25 pm #183122
Better cars could have saved Dan Wheldon
Maybe there were too many cars for the track
Safety will improve with the new cars
Deaths are still extremily rare, a knee jerk reaction shouldn’t happen.17th October 2011, 21:01 at 9:01 pm #183123
I think the number of cars in the race was one of the biggest factors in the fifteen car crash, so if IndyCar revisit Vegas, they most certainly should have much less cars in the race.17th October 2011, 21:02 at 9:02 pm #183124
I think it’s a long shot to think that Indycars will stop racing Ovals, but I think they have to start looking at the 1.5 milers and making some sensible bloody decisions. 34 cars was WAY to many, but we have to bear in mind it was a one off. Kentucky Speedway was the same – although the banking was six degrees less – and there wasn’t anywhere near this amount of trouble. Someone made the point somewhere (sorry, my head hasn’t been in this all day) – Would we really be enjoying the race so much less if it was at 160mph rather than 225mph? Simply lowering the speed by a relatively small amount could have done so much.17th October 2011, 21:22 at 9:22 pm #183125
@bendana Sorry but I dont see reducing the speed as an option, if F1 was suddenly reduced to F3 speeds would it still be the same series? Changing the cars to reduce the risk of them getting airbourne is the best thing they can do, and they seem to have attempted that with next year’s design, although we’ll need to see how that goes.
I’m not particularly knowledgable when it comes to oval racing, but having guest drivers in the final of a premier event doesn’t make much sense to me, whether or not they affected the outcome. It sounds like the organisers were willing to do anything to increase their ratings, which in a sport like this isn’t a good thing.
I dont think the bounty was an issue here, Wheldon’s crash wasn’t influenced by it in any way other than the fact he started at the back, and there could easily have been someone else in his place.17th October 2011, 22:36 at 10:36 pm #183126
To be honest, to leave ovals completely would be to forget the whole idea of IndyCar. Remember it was based on ovals, and has to stay that way if it plans on keeping any kind of interest here in the U.S. To get rid of ovals would be the death of IndyCar, as Americans have only the slightest interest in road racing. Now, how to make it safer. Getting rid of Super Tri-Ovals like LVMS is a good start, but I think the main reason Dan died was because of IndyCar’s attempts at creating a “Show”. In all fairness, they would have succeeded, if LVMS wasn’t as fast as it was. It was a great idea, and it should have brought in more drivers then it did, but due to the fact that it didn’t, they ended up squeezing 16 pros, 8 rookies and about 10 pay drivers. At 225 mph, pay drivers tend to lose their appeal (or at least they should have). But since this was a show, they ended up racing anyway, and thats what caused the crash. Indy needs to get its ass back on track, back to the pre Cart/Indy days. That way, they have a good showing of great talent, great tracks, and an honestly good show.
Although I think there may be an even greater problem with Indy. The American Public. They like big 800hp stock cars driving round in circles and wrecking left and right, and IndyCar just doesn’t offer that fender rubbing racing that is offered by NASCAR. Its like comparing the BTCC to F1. Sure, F1 has great racing, but which is more exciting? F1, where overtakes happen cleanly and easily, or the BTCC, where drivers muscle their way through impossibly small openings and bang wheels lap after lap. This is why IndyCar will, sooner rather than later, meet its demise.
I love Indy, and would hate to see it go, but it just has no place in the U.S. I know this wasn’t the exact topic, but I just had to share.18th October 2011, 3:02 at 3:02 am #183127
I don’t think it’s in it’s death throes yet. And keep in mind, just because popular perception says that Americans don’t like road racing doesn’t mean it’s actually the case. From my experience, road racing still has a very good following here, there just simply isn’t the same amount of money in it at the moment.18th October 2011, 3:23 at 3:23 am #183128
I dont think the bounty was an issue here, Wheldon’s crash wasn’t influenced by it in any way other than the fact he started at the back, and there could easily have been someone else in his place.
Anthony Davidson doesn’t think it was an issue – he says that racing drivers by their very nature will try and win a race, whether they start first or last or anywhere in between. And that tallies with Ayrton Senna’s belief that as soon as a racing driver does not go for a gap, he or she stops being a racing driver.
I was under the impression that all of the part-time entries who ran at Las Vegas were chasing the prize moeny. However, I’ve since learned that Wheldon was the only driver gunning for it.18th October 2011, 13:04 at 1:04 pm #183129
“But what has really stayed the same [saftey improvements] is the catch fencing along the walls. Once the cars get in there it just starts ripping the cars apart. So maybe that is the next thing that needs to happen in terms of safety for race events.”
Quote from Paul Tracy 2003 Champ Car Champion. You’ve got to say, he’s absolutley right, the way catch fencing is designed keeps the cars from going through into the crowds or leaving the stadiums however, many narrow contact points will concentrate the preassure exerted on the cars enourmously and with the speeds the cars are going at, disintergration is inevitable and extremley dangerous.
I’ve got no idea what the alternative is though, apart from rethinking the design. In oval racing some sort of catch on the outside of the track is vital, but as has been proved, making it safer is equally important.18th October 2011, 14:02 at 2:02 pm #183130
One of the major problems with the Ovals, as Jody Schekter said last night on sky news, is that the wing angle is limited. This causes all drivers to end up running the same set up, which makes the cars ‘easier’ to drive completely flat out, foot to the floor. It leaves no variation in set up and as a result the cars are all aiming at the same piece of tarmac at the same time. This creates ‘pack racing’ Something that has unfortunately come across from NASCAR.
If the drivers were given more freedom on setup, the ‘better’ drivers could run less wing as they can handle it, and the drivers of ‘less talent’ would have to run more wing as their handling skills are not at the same level. This will create set up variation, and asa a result field spread, something that was not going to happen on sunday regardless of how long the race went on for.
I genuinely dont think the number of cars on the track would have mattered if they were not pack racing, the field spread would have taken care of it.
This foot to the floor stragegy is also componded by the angle of the banking, 20 degrees is far too steep for open wheel racing as it makes it possible to run the full lap flat out.
The car is being replaced, albeit years too late. The current chassis is 9 years old! Ironically it was Dan that was working on the new car for next year.
Jackie Stewart made the point yesterday that shaving 30mph off the top speed would not be noticed by the fans, i completely agree, it is time to consider if 225mph laps are really necessary especially if we want to continue racing on ovals.
Oval racing has its place, it is incredibly exciting, and the races are far more watchable than many of the road and street courses the series goes too. But to ensure we keep racing on them, and more importantly to ensure this doesnt happen again, changes need to be made beyond the introduction of the new car.
RIP Dan, it was a pleasure to be a fan over the years, you will be missed hugely by everyone who knew of you. Thanks for the memories.18th October 2011, 18:52 at 6:52 pm #183131
less wing = less downforce = more probs of going airborne. i think they where too many cars for that track.
2 abreast start and restart doesnt help also18th October 2011, 20:07 at 8:07 pm #183132
But less wing also mean lower cornering speeds, so lower initial speed if launched. But it does also mean less drag and potentially as high straight-line speed.18th October 2011, 21:13 at 9:13 pm #183133
@joey-poey Well down here in Florida theres almost no following of road racing at all. Sure, we have the 24 hours of Daytona, but when I went there, it was a whole bunch of NASCAR fans that could barely figure out what country that “Maa-sda” is from. And I’ve went to the last 4 12 hours of Sebring, and its really no better there. Actually, its worse. You have people pronouncing peugeot “pyo-gee-aht” and audi “odi”. And the drivers names were tragic. Its really just a bunch of 20 year olds riding lifted trucks drinking beer and blaring rock music till 2 in the morning, and then waking up to blare more rock music and drink more beer. Sure, we have some dedicated fans (The weird cow people are one example) but its mostly teens and old people.
Thats not to say I don’t like going to the 12 hours every year, I love the atmosphere and the people dressed in cow costumes give the race character that most F1 races lack. But there aren’t many real dedicated fans that love it for the history and exciting racing that it provides. I think that most Americans prefer oval racing to road racing because its a great spectator sport, and they would rather blare rock music and drink beer while sitting down all day than walk from corner to corner for 12 hours only to see one or two crashes. Thats why there isn’t any real interest here.
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