IndyCar officials choose driver safety over speed
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IndyCar officials chose safety over speed Sunday.
A few hours after Ed Carpenter hit a wall, got twisted backward and flipped through the air at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the series announced changes to reduce speeds in hopes of keeping all four wheels on the ground.
Carpenter was the third driver in the past week to go airborne on the 2.5-mile oval.
They worked during a one-hour practice session that was split into two groups. Defending series champion Will Power, who posted the fastest lap at 227.377 mph, noted that the wheels stuck to the ground “like glue.”
“When we’re talking about an event here, we’re talking about safety,” said Derrick Walker, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations. “It’s not about a manufacturer, one versus the other. It’s about how can we grab ahold of this situation and reduce the speed in the interest of safety and safety is going to be our guiding light.”
Series officials responded to the series of crashes by taking a more cautious approach, rather than pushing pole speeds into the 233 to 234 mph range by giving the cars a boost of about 50 horsepower for qualifying weekend.
Instead, they took away the power boost and instructed all 34 cars to run in the same setups they plan to use in next Sunday’s race. Series CEO Mark Miles also acknowledged points would not be awarded for qualifying this weekend.
All of the cars trying to make the 33-car starting grid for next Sunday’s race are using new aero kit packages from the two engine manufacturers, Chevrolet and Honda.The kits were tested on ovals during the offseason, but are making their debut at the season’s first oval race, which happens to be on the fastest track in the series, too.
The three cars involved in the frightening crashes were Chevys. None of the drivers — three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, American Josef Newgarden and Carpenter, who won the past two Indy poles — were seriously injured.
Each returned to the track without missing a day of work, and Castroneves and Carpenter actually made it back on the track on the same day.But that didn’t make drivers feel much safer.
“It caught me by surprise,” Carpenter said. “I wasn’t expecting to swap ends. The car was actually feeling pretty good, better than it did yesterday. Things are a little unpredictable right now.”
Honda drivers weren’t happy, either.
Chevy has dominated the early part of the season, winning all five poles and four of the first five races. And just when it seemed Honda had closed the gap and maybe even had an advantage heading into qualifying, the rules changes potentially put them back at a disadvantage.
“I just feel like it’s playing into Chevy’s hands. Chevy’s really, because of their problems with the aero kits lifting, that’s really what forced this issue in the first place,” Graham Rahal said.
“So I don’t fully understand why the Hondas should be penalized.”
Art St. Syr, president of Honda Performance Development, issued a statement saying that the company supported series officials in their pursuit of making qualifying safer.
Jim Campbell, the U.S. vice president for Chevy’s performance vehicles and motorsports also issued a statement.
“Chevrolet met with IndyCar this morning and the decision was made to run race-level aerodynamics and engine boost during qualifying in an effort to reduce speeds and increase downforce,” he said.
“We continue to review all available data from the crashes. Safety is our priority.”
Many are now asking whether enough testing was done before coming to Indy.
Series spokesman Mike Kitchel said earlier this week that extensive testing was conducted on ovals during the off season, but no other track on the circuit is quite like Indianapolis, which produces the highest speeds with long straightaways and four distinctly different corners.
Walker insisted the problems they have seen can be fixed, though nobody in the series was ready to push speeds up at the expense of safety.
“The ultimate test is when you get on the racetrack and that, somewhat, is where we are now,” Walker said.
“We’ve got a situation and we’re trying to learn as quickly as we can while, at the same time, put on a competitive race with basically two different configurations.”On Wednesday, Castroneves went airborne after hitting the first turn wall and getting spun around.
On Thursday, Newgarden went airborne after hitting the first turn wall and was flipped up after his car started rolling backward. Newgarden’s car skidded to a stop on its side, his head close to the asphalt surface.But it was Carpenter’s crash that sent everyone into scramble mode.
Speedway president Doug Boles apologized to fans for the five-hour delay to the start of qualifying and IndyCar officials met first with team owners using the Chevysand then with team owners from the Honda team.
Track workers worked on the catch-fence damaged by Carpenter’s car, which slammed hard into the second turn wall, landed on its side and skidded down the track with sparks flying.
Because of the delay, race organizers changed the schedule for the second straight day — giving each car one qualifying attempt, locking the top 30 cars into the appropriate starting spots, eliminating the nine-car pole shootout and using the final 45 minutes to determine the final three starting spots and which team is sent home.
“All I can say is I’m sorry to all the fans,” Rahal posted on Twitter.
“This is unreal.”