The loss of Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a thematic one. In a time when indycar racing is scraping by in anonymity and irrelevance, we are running away from a facility that actually wanted to see us run. Add to that a 14ish race schedule that stands only to have Iowa, Indy and Fontana as the races we will be turning left only and we could be in for a tumultuous ride next year.
The most striking issue with this early scheduling announcement was the absence of the crash investigation from the events of October 16th. If the report was never needed to make a decision to return to the facility; then why wait until now to announce our non-return? I am not privy to what goes on down at 16th and Georgetown, but I was under the impression the investigation was closed with the release of Barnhart and Angstadt. But news came that it was still a work in progress and we should hear word on or about December 20th.
Now, we as fans, have no other concrete answer to “why” other than “because we didn’t want to.” Vegas was, at this point, unjustifiably axed from the schedule. Yes, series and track officials may already have the results from the investigation and made a decision in good faith, but without that knowledge in the public eye; the decision looks, in my opinion, last minute and knee-jerk.
There are, obviously, extenuating circumstances that ultimately blocked the inclusion of Las Vegas onto the 2012 schedule. None of the readers of this blog, as of yet, know the results from the investigation. And we know the drivers were racing in a hornets’ nest, ripe for tragedy. But none of this gives me reason to shun Vegas for a year to do some “compatibility testing.”
Dario Franchitti was most vocal in his opinion that the reconfigured Las Vegas was not a safe design to race indycars on. Not unsafe for the Dallara IR03, unsafe for indycars. If the series is starting to take this opinion, than how many tests will be needed to know the track with become “safe enough” for open wheel racing? Two or fifty? I don’t think it really matters in the end. The track is quite simple OK, or it’s not.
Pack racing is not the issue, cars getting launched into the air is the core problem. Mike Conway was inches away from meeting Dan’s fate as he impacted the catch fence in 2010 at Indianapolis. Kenny Bräck, Ryan Briscoe, Davey Hamilton; the three definitive examples of cars being ripped to shreds by the fencing. Any time a car becomes air born is a cause for concern; yet we have gone back to these tracks each and every year.
The problem is not limited to ovals, or indycar for that matter. Formula One has recently seen Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber both take to the air in scary incidents. The Audi of Allan McNish at Le Mans this last year was one miracle tangle away from being hurtled into the catch fencing. Carl Edwards in NASCAR. And we will never forget Jeff Krosnoff’s fatal aerial Impact at Toronto. Although different tracks and series; all of these are examples of cars uncontrollably impacting the fencing.
Some have said it is a matter of mitigating unnecessary risk. The series cannot race in Las Vegas because the spectacle of pack racing causes unnecessarily high levels of personal risk to the driver. We do not know if the new car will create the same type of pack racing we have seen with the IR03, and we will never know until we get a full field of them in race conditions at Texas or Las Vegas. If risk is to truly be decreased, then in reality the series needs to stop racing the Indy 500. This track has killed the most people out of any in the US, and possibly the world with the exception of maybe the old Nurburgring and Le Sarthe. Simona De Silvestro saw just how quickly a small wreck can turn into a life threatening moment at Indy. I am absolutely not advocating leaving Indy; just calling to attention the safety record of the series.
Should we run at Vegas? A polarizing question across the paddock and social media airwaves alike. If the reasoning is the pack racing and banking, then we need to drop Texas as well. TMS has 24 degrees of banking, four more than Vegas. Yet the same evening we found out about Vegas, news was also broke that the series will most likely return to Texas. I would support the decisions if there was concrete evidence about why those decisions were made. At this time, I don’t have any and I cannot find logic to them either.
I am truly baffled right now by the recent turn of events. I was hoping the crash investigation would answer some questions and appease the worried masses. Now the series just looks to be making quick and poorly thought out decisions with no publicly justifiable reasoning. I hope the investigation supports the decision to leave Las Vegas because if not, the series would look even sillier in my eyes. No this is not the end of times, but I worry we are beginning to make decisions based on fear instead of fact.