This is a question I have been asking myself for about a week now. In the wake of Wheldon’s passing; the indycar world was, for good reason, in a holding pattern. The new car testing that was supposed to take place during the week following that tragic Sunday was cancelled. Many images from gate 1 at IMS, countless words written in remembrance and new friends we didn’t even know we had were all to be found instantly and helped the process. We all grieved through the memorial service and tried to find some path pack to normality during the following week. Now we are over two weeks out; questions about the incident have been flowing nonstop, and early answers have been formulated. Fans and professionals alike have been creating renderings of closed cockpit designs and the catch fence discussion is finally starting to gain some traction. There are all good things, but where do we go from here?
Realistically, the DW12 (!) will race in its current configuration. Testing resumed in force last Wednesday and there is no time to make any kind of wide sweeping changes for the 2012 season. Dallara, Honda, Chevy, and Lotudd have all manufactured their equipment based on regulations released sometime in June or July of this year; I am unsure of when manufacturers “officially” received the technical regulations for 2012. We are now in the general testing phase and any massive changes would, almost certainly, require a large redesign of the chassis and possibly the engines that we simply do not have time for.
The designs for closed cockpit indycars have looked amazing. Tony Johns at pop-off valve created this one. Daniele Sanfilippo also penned three amazing designs. Iacoski Designs took the canopy idea to a Ferrari F1 car. And there is always the Red Bull X1. These renderings really make the mind wander as to what a super futuristic open-ish wheel car could look like. We have examples of a very realistic closed DW12 all the way to the fantastical X1, and a few good examples of what could be the missing links between them. Although awesome, I am very excited for the 30 percent increase in safety that we will have out of the box at St. Petersburg in 2012. With the nearly incontestable fact that we will race an open cockpit car next year; Wheldon still insured it would be safer that the old car. Thank you Danny boy.
I want to take a slight detour for a moment. If closed cockpits are ever installed on indycars; they must be used at all events. This, if we have them we only should use them on ovals, nonsense must stop if the idea is to be ever taken seriously. Jeff Krosnoff… enough said.
Catch fence design has been another safety deficiency identified in the wake of the accident. Catch fencing all over the world is mediocre at best. We have well thought out designs on ovals but some street course designs are just deplorable. Once again, I feel you should raise the minimum before setting a higher standard. Fencing at the ovals is, obviously, not perfect but my main concern is the fencing installed on the temporary street circuits. Tony Kanaan’s crazy ride at Baltimore highlighted the ever present danger on street courses. Even in the painfully slow IR03, disaster is around every corner.
Common knowledge would dictate IMS to research a new type of fencing system and install it at the deadliest track in the world, otherwise known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The greatest race course in the world has always been on the cutting edge of motorsports safety and I will not doubt for one second that they are not looking into it. IMS has worked with Nebraska-Lincoln in development of the SAFER barrier, and are currently working on a next generation pit late attenuator as we speak. Whether it is a hockey style plastic enclosure, a suspended fence boxing ring style system, or a new mesh overlap system, I feel they will do the right thing. IMS always has in the name of safety. We all know the reintroduction of the apron would greatly improve the racing, but they will not recreate it. Why? In the name of safety.
So the question still begs, where do we go from here? I don’t know. But I am OK with how 2012 is shaping up. I have faith in the new car. Could it be safer? Of course, but so could any race machine. There will never be a guaranteed safe racing environment. The DW12 is a perfect first step, and it was developed with many of the lessons learned from our outgoing ride. 2012 looks as it may be a rebuilding year in terms of scheduling so the new chassis may have a comparatively easier initial season to work all of the kinks out. I welcome the new car and new tracks. The chassis will never be perfect, the schedule will never please everybody, and any fencing update will take a few years to test and implement. There is not much left to do before next year beside sit back, and enjoy silly season for all its worth. Our road to 2012 was started long ago; now we’re just along for the ride. I can’t wait to see how it starts!