Friday, May 22, 2015

IndyCar driver raises concern about design of wishbone that injured James Hinchcliffe in crash

(by Nate Ryan motorsportstalk.nbcsports.com 5-21-15)

While airborne crashes have sparked much of the discourse about safety the past week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one driver is as concerned about what’s happening beneath the cars.

James Hinchcliffe suffered a life-threatening leg injury Monday after a piece of the wishbone – part of the underbody suspension that connects the wheels – pierced his car’s tub. Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Oriol Servia suggested Thursday during Indianapolis 500 Media Day that it might have been avoidable.

“To me, that’s unacceptable,” he said. “I think there were things that we were doing on these cars for 20 years that all of a sudden we have forgotten on this car to avoid wishbones going (through the tub).”

Hinchcliffe’s injury mirrored a 2003 crash at Twin Ring Motegi in which Tony Kanaan’s leg also was speared by the steel piece. Servia said IndyCar reinforced an area to help prevent such injuries, but that the design changed when the DW12 chassis made its debut three years ago.

“We used to have a connecting rod,” he said. “All that did was to avoid one of the two sides (of the wishbone) going in (the car). For 20 years we had that on all cars, and all of a sudden, this car, it wasn’t needed.

“I don’t know why. I might be speaking out of turn, and they’ve done other things to avoid it, but obviously whatever that is, it’s not working. So that’s why I’m not happy. I know there are a lot of smart people working on it. I just don’t know what can be done for this race.”

It’s also uncertain what can be done to keep the cars from going skyward after spinning backward, which was a common denominator in wrecks involving Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter. Servia said he watched a replay of the 2014 race and noticed that Scott Dixon spun backward at high speed without his car taking flight.

“It’s very difficult to solve with two days to go without knowing exactly what makes them fly,” Servia said. “There’s something I feel is in the rear bumpers — the whole body is different, so it could be many things playing at once — but it is different, and it’s worse.

“Already we’re having this bad sensation about how the week was going. Then Hinch has this crash, nothing related to the other crashes, just one failure in a suspension (part) that happened. But the way he crashes, and the  wishbone gets into the car. The guy is alive and great, but it’s just so lucky.”
Though Servia said Sunday’s race “may not be as safe as I’d like us to be,” he also accepts there are limits to preventive measures.

“This will never be a safe race,” he said. “It’s an open wheel car going 230 mph over three hours trying to win. Safe is not really what defines it. It will never be. But I think it could be safer than what we’ll do Sunday.”

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http://motorsportstalk.nbcsports.com/2015/05/21/indycar-driver-raises-concern-about-design-of-wishbone-that-injured-james-hinchcliffe-in-crash/

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How fast is too fast?


(Stefano Coletti - KV Racing)

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 5-20-15)

The Verizon IndyCar Series held a news conference Sunday to explain changes being made for safety reasons to slow down the cars that will race in the Indianapolis 500.

At that same news conference, those same officials said they still hope to make those same cars some 10 mph faster next year in an attempt to set a new Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record on the occasion of the 100th Indy 500.

In the wake of five accidents at the Brickyard in the space of six days, one of which will sideline popular driver James Hinchcliffe for the foreseeable future, those were two very conflicting messages coming from series management.

And before proceeding with the notion of trying to flirt with 240 mph at Indy, some hard questions need to be answered to determine whether it's a goal that is really worth pursuing.

The plan that IndyCar put into action three years ago to eclipse Arie Luyendyk's two-decades-old standard for speed took a serious hit this week when the latest generation of open-wheel racers with new bodywork produced by series engine suppliers Chevrolet and Honda showed a worrying propensity to fly after crashing.

While the search for fixes to that fundamental problem was already flat out, the wisdom of chasing even higher speeds was brought into doubt when Hinchcliffe crashed heavily on Monday afternoon after a front-suspension-component failure.

It's unlikely Hinchcliffe's injuries would have been substantially less severe had he suffered the same failure at 200 mph instead of the reported 228 mph he was traveling before he hit the Turn 3 wall.

But Indy car drivers from the present and past continue to believe that major and fundamental changes need to be made to the way that Indy cars are designed to achieve their speed, no matter what that number is.

"In years past, we were much quicker in a straight line and slower in the corners," observed 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan. "Nowadays we are kind of doing the opposite. So I would say there is a balance that we need to achieve."

When Luyendyk set the track record in 1996, there was still a considerable difference in the peak velocity the cars achieved on the straights compared to their speed through the corners.

These days, there is little more than a 5 mph difference between the speed at which a driver enters a corner and exits. On big ovals, Indy car drivers are essentially battling a restrictor-plate effect.
"I've been saying that ever since I joined the series that we need more power and less grip," said defending IndyCar Series champion Will Power.

"As soon as you add too much grip and not enough power, it takes it out of the driver's hands and you're just guiding the car, you're not driving it."

Throughout the history of the sport, every auto racing sanctioning body has reduced engine power in an effort to keep speeds under control. But developments in other areas of the car -- mainly aerodynamics -- have fundamentally altered the way race cars achieve a lap time.

With straight-line speed tightly controlled, engineers have concentrated on creating higher cornering speeds, whether in Indy cars, stock cars or Formula One cars.

Modern F1 cars already look like speeded-up slot cars, and the F1 Strategy Group recently announced a plan to reduce lap times by no less than five to six seconds by 2017. Meanwhile, high cornering speed is an issue being brought to the forefront in NASCAR by several drivers, including Carl Edwards and six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears believes that the IndyCar Series needs to examine a different balance between power and downforce.

"Today, aerodynamics controls the sport," Mears said. "It dictates everything about the car. They've been going down a path with more and more downforce, and they're just boxing themselves into a corner. The drivers don't want pack racing, but they can't escape a formula that produces pack racing.

"I want to feel like I'm driving the car," Mears continued. "There's driving and there's guiding, and they're two different things. To me, the fun part was: Give me more power than I can use and let me figure out how to use it better than the next guy."

Luyendyk maintains that the key to his one- and four-lap records at IMS (237.498 and 236.986 mph, respectively) was an ideal balance between power and downforce in the Reynard/Ford-Cosworth he drove.

"It wasn't frightening at all because the cars back then had a lot of downforce and a lot more horsepower, and the combination of that produced those speeds," he said. "Also in 1996, the track had just been resurfaced, Firestone came out with a better tire, and they did away with the rumble strips, so they gave us more racetrack.

"The following year, in 1997, they went to the normally aspirated IRL cars with less downforce, and I was doing 218 with the new car," he added. "But believe me, it was more frightening to do 218 in that car than it was the to do 238 the year before."

For years at Indianapolis, the prospect of longtime public address announcer Tom Carnegie proclaiming "A new track record!" was part of the lure of being there.

It happened fairly steadily until 1973, when a difficult month of May left two drivers and one safety worker dead, prompting significant changes to Indy car regulations the following year, including much smaller wings and reduced fuel capacity.

The magic 200 mph barrier was eclipsed by Tom Sneva in 1977, and speeds continued to climb at a controlled pace until peaking in the 230-235 mph range in the 1990s.

This week, the new generation of cars featuring turbo V-6 engines and aerodynamic components produced by Chevrolet and Honda produced the highest lap speeds seen at Indianapolis since that period.

But it also created the uncomfortable spectacle of race cars traveling through the air and upside down.

Which means it's once again time to ask: How fast is too fast? Without a stopwatch, can a fan in the stands tell the difference between a 215 mph lap and one at 225?

"If you can tell the difference between a car going 230 miles an hour and 235 on the straight, then you're my hero," said Team Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya.

There's also the very real question of just how much physical force the drivers' bodies can take. A CART-sanctioned IndyCar event scheduled at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001 was canceled the morning of the race when it was revealed that the high G-forces produced while turning 235 mph laps around the high-banked TMS ovals was causing some drivers to get dizzy or black out.

Kanaan was one of the drivers who practiced and qualified for the Texas CART race that never happened. And while the former "500" winner and IndyCar Series champion supports every effort to make the sport safer, he admitted that the element of danger isn't enough to stop him from strapping into a car.

Whether he's trying to crack 220 mph or 240.

"I think as drivers, we're fully aware of that," Kanaan said. "Every time we hop in that race car, we don't know if we're going to come out of it in one piece, if something's going to happen to you. And that's something that we're going to have to live with. That's what makes us different than other people.

"That's why not everybody can do this," he added. "It's never easy to see a friend of yours get hurt or lose a friend of yours. But this is the sport that we chose.

"If people feel uncomfortable with that, you shouldn't be in the race car."

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http://espn.go.com/racing/indycar/story/_/id/12916018/have-speeds-indycar-other-racing-risen-high-enough

IndyCar's accidents have made a mess of the Indy 500

(by Jenna Fryer sports.yahoo.com 5-18-15)

IndyCar had a crisis looming well before James Hinchcliffe was injured in another spectacular accident during preparations for the most esteemed race in motorsports.

Three cars have gone airborne, and one of the series' most popular drivers was in the intensive care unit Monday night after surgery on an injury to Hinchcliffe's left thigh suffered when he crashed following a suspension part breaking. IndyCar said he was in stable condition.

As Hinchcliffe's car shot back down the track toward the apron, it quickly tilted on its side and seemed headed to a rollover before it snapped back down on all four wheels.

Hinchcliffe's car did not go airborne - oh, it certainly tried to, even after a good bit of speed had been scrubbed from it when it slammed into a wall - but that might have been because half the car was destroyed. He also wasn't in a Chevrolet, the automaker under scrutiny since three of its cars took flight during wrecks last week.

Although his crash was unrelated to last week's wrecks, it was still ugly and Hinchcliffe joins a list that includes Helio Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, flipping his car last Wednesday. Josef Newgarden went airborne the next day, and finally on Sunday, Ed Carpenter, an Indianapolis standout and an heir to the family that controls all things IndyCar, became the third Chevrolet driver in five days to go airborne.

But this crisis had been in the works since the season-opening race two months ago, where a woman suffered a fractured skull when a piece from one of the new aerokits on the cars flew over the St. Petersburg, Florida, grandstands and hit her.

From that very first race, it was clear there are many unknowns about the bodywork kits and IndyCar has been reacting nearly every week to situations that no one predicted.

Why? Because they didn't do enough testing, and when any bit of contact was creating debris fields all over the race track, someone should have had the sense to say 'Maybe we should get the speedway kits out and make sure they don't also have any unforeseen problems.'

Alas, the speedway cars didn't hit the track until the beginning of May, and until cars started sailing, no one had any idea that could happen.

Cars aren't meant to leave the racing surface, and when they do, it's a very big deal. Such a big deal that the three flips have overshadowed Pippa Mann's tremendous hit last Wednesday into both an inside wall and then into the attenuator in pit lane.

A day before that, Simona de Silvestro watched her car erupt into flames in a standard incident that made for tremendous photographs but was mundane in the world of racing.

All of these incidents create the images that are drawing worldwide attention to the ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing'' a full week before the renowned event.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing for IndyCar, the besieged series that just can't seem to get anything right, but stays in business year after year in part because it calls the Indianapolis 500 its own. Some buzz around this crown jewel event can only help.

Not like this, though.

It shouldn't be accidents followed by the appearance of an amateur hour in crisis management from series leadership creating the narrative leading into Sunday's race.

This is a mess - a hold-your-breath-and-hope-for-the-best situation - at a time when IndyCar was so excited to show off the new bodywork on the Chevrolets and the Hondas and the increased speeds around the famed Brickyard.

Instead, it's possible that Chevrolet's design contributed to its three cars going airborne. And even though Honda had yet to have a serious problem - unless, of course, you count the total domination Chevrolet has had of the speed charts - IndyCar ordered both manufacturers to make changes before Sunday's qualifying session.

But as a weary Mark Miles and Derrick Walker met the media Sunday, it was clear series management was overwhelmed with the problem at hand.

Racing is dangerous, we're told that after every wincing wreck, even the ones that end in injury, or, on rare occasion the past decade, death. But it's the responsibility of the series to create the safest conditions possible, and Miles and Walker have a mess on their hands.

IndyCar was badly wounded following the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the 2011 season finale. Wheldon was killed racing for a $5 million prize in a gimmick designed to draw more eyeballs to the series.

One of the most charismatic drivers in the under-marketed series was a victim of a rules package that created dangerous pack racing on a high-speed track where very few competitors in the field had any experience.

Many tried to voice their concerns in the days leading up to the accident, but they were shouting in the wind: Leadership was committed to the finale, and when a series is struggling for attention, there aren't very many people to complain about a possible problem.

Four years after Wheldon's underdog Indy 500 victory, people are paying attention and noticing that something seems to be amiss in Indy.

IndyCar learned from Wheldon's death, and everyone understands the series doesn't want to endure another such heartbreak. But the series has only itself to blame for this mess.

Maybe they've hit on something that will keep the cars on the track, and hours after Hinchcliffe's accident brought Monday's action to a halt, the drivers were back on track for a flawless final session filled with inter-brand drafting, slingshot passes and the tight racing which fans have come to expect of Wheldon's namesake DW-12 chassis.

Maybe Sunday will be void of any major incidents, and maybe, just maybe, the 99th running will be the greatest Indy 500 in history.

But it's just a guess at this point, and IndyCar officials better be crossing their fingers that they've gotten this right.

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http://sports.yahoo.com/news/indycars-accidents-made-mess-indy-500-235159875--irl.html

Quick safety team response key in critical Hinchcliffe crash


(by Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett racer.com 5-19-15)

Great response by IndyCar's safety and medical teams more than likely saved James Hinchcliffe's life on Monday.

The personable Canadian driver was bleeding profusely after a vicious accident in Turn 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, according to one of Hinchcliffe's associates who asked not to be identified when speaking with RACER, it was a life-threatening situation that was handled to perfection by IndyCar's HOLMATRO Safety Team, and by doctors inside the ambulance that rushed him to IU Health Methodist Hospital before surgeons completed the save.

In the impact, which flattened the right side of the chassis, one of the suspension wishbones penetrated the Dallara safety cell, and subsequently caused the majority of the physical damage Hinchcliffe received. RACER has confirmed through multiple sources that Hinchcliffe had the steel wishbone enter and exit his right leg, then enter his upper left thigh, and continue into his pelvic region before it came to a stop.

The suspension component pinned the 28-year-old in the car, leading the safety team to cut the wishbone from the chassis to allow Hinchcliffe's extraction.

With the multiple intrusions, Hinchcliffe experienced massive blood loss at the crash site, and despite the gravity of the soft tissue injuries to his lower extremities, stopping the bleeding became an immediate priority for the medical staff to address once he was pulled from the chassis.

After being placed in the ambulance, the doctors and technicians inside evidently stabilized Hinchcliffe's injuries. It's not known how long he was in surgery but it was "touch and go" for a while, according to the source.

"He's probably not going to race anymore this year but the most important thing is that all those great people saved his life," said his friend.

Hinchcliffe, who serves as Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's lead driver and won the IndyCar race at New Orleans in April, crashed entering Turn 3 during Monday's practice session. According to timing and scoring data, he was carrying at least 228mph of momentum before a right-front suspension failure sent the No. 5 ARROW Dallara-Honda into the SAFER barrier nose first. Without the ability to steer the car, Hinchcliffe was unable to alter his course. The force of the impact reportedly measured 125 Gs.

Many observers, including those who've witnessed some of the most troubling crashes at Indianapolis, believe Hinchcliffe's impact was among the most violent on record. Upon reaching the crash site, emergency workers radioed the incident in as a "Code 5," which is reserved for traumatic situations.

Hinchcliffe remained in intensive care but was resting comfortably on Tuesday morning.

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http://www.racer.com/indycar/item/116939-indy-500-hinchcliffe-saved-from-serious-injuries

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

James Hinchcliffe's Honda briefly overturns in wreck



(espn.go.com 5-18-15)

James Hinchcliffe is in stable condition after becoming the latest IndyCar Series driver to crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hinchcliffe underwent surgery at Indiana University Methodist Hospital on an injury to his upper left thigh suffered in the crash, the IndyCar Series announced.

Hinchcliffe's leg was pierced by the car's right front rocker and the piece of equipment needed to be removed, according to two people familiar with the crash who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because IndyCar and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports were not releasing details of the injury. The surgery also was needed to stop massive bleeding.

"Obviously we're relieved that James is awake and out of surgery," Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt said.

"That's the most important thing on our minds right now, and we will do absolutely everything required to ensure a complete recovery."

A suspected mechanical failure sent Hinchcliffe's Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda hard into the Turn 3 wall Monday.

Replays showed sparks trailing from the No. 5 Honda when it shot directly up the track and struck the SAFER barrier with the right front wheel first. The car spun around one and a half times and briefly overturned before landing on its wheels and stopping in Turn 4.

Hinchcliffe had just completed a lap at 221.3 mph and was drafting the Team Penske Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya when the accident occurred.

It took the IndyCar safety team several minutes to extract Hinchcliffe from the car, which sustained heavy right-side damage. The driver was reported to be awake and alert before being laced on a backboard and transported to IU Methodist Hospital.

Hinchcliffe's right front suspension failed, Honda spokesman Dan Layton said. Layton said Honda officials aren't concerned about the safety of the company's aero kit but are more concerned about what caused the suspension problem as Sunday's Indianapolis 500 nears.

"It's gut-wrenching," said defending Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, a teammate of Hinchcliffe's until this season. "It's terrible. There's no other way you can think about it."

This was the fourth time in the past week that an Indy car was pitched upside down, but the first involving a Honda car. The three previous rollovers all featured Chevrolet-designed bodywork.

Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden went airborne in crashes last week that raised concerns about the safety of the new oval aero kits. On Sunday, Ed Carpenter flipped his car on its side in practice leading up to Indy 500 qualifying.

IndyCar Series officials made a last-minute rule change for qualifying in the wake of the three Chevrolet accidents, reducing turbocharger boost to decrease power and removing aerodynamic panels.

Scott Dixon of New Zealand took his second Indy pole with a four-lap average of 226.760 mph Sunday -- and there were no wrecks.

The series halted Monday's scheduled 3½-hour practice session and investigated the Hinchcliffe crash. Practice resumed at 4:15 p.m. ET.

"It was shocking," driver Townsend Bell said. "The worst possible accident that you can have here is to be fully loaded right in the middle of the corner and have something break. It was a really horrible circumstance for him."

Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations, has blamed Castroneves' wreck on an aero balance setting that was pushed too far and Newgarden's on a cut tire, and said Carpenter simply had an accident.

A year ago, Hinchcliffe sustained a concussion when struck in the head by debris from another car in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. After the road course race, he missed five days while waiting to be cleared and then qualified second, despite limited practice time.

Hinchcliffe, who won at New Orleans last month and is eighth in the driver standings, qualified 24th for this year's 500.

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http://espn.go.com/racing/story/_/id/12908418/james-hinchcliffe-taken-hospital-wreck-indianapolis-motor-speedway

(video of Hinchcliffe's crash)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvtAq7K0uYo

Chaos causes IndyCar to dumb down pole day

(by Gregg Doyel indystar.com 5-18-15)

This was chaos. This was Indianapolis' Ed Carpenter skidding upside down at 200 mph, his car disintegrating and his helmet inches from the sparks that became a blaze. This was media surrounding the IndyCar operations trailer for answers, and fans surrounding the media seeking the same, and team owners like Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta standing around the same trailer, waiting for the bad news they knew was coming.

This was avoidable. Let's get that bit of hindsight out of the way. Fair, that hindsight? Oh, probably. Seeking the delicate combination of added safety and speed, IndyCar switched this season from universal Dallara bodywork to distinct aero kits by Chevrolet and Honda — but didn't test the designs until the series reached Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 3. That wasn't enough time. That's hindsight. And, as Sunday showed, factual.

"We set out an ambitious schedule, no doubt," IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker said. "Hindsight gives us a different perspective."

But …

"Clearly we'd like not to be where we are right now."

Where they were Sunday is chaos. In a morning practice session Carpenter became the third driver in five days to get turned around, hit a wall and go airborne. All three drivers — first was Helio Castroneves on Wednesday, then Josef Newgarden on Thursday — are in Chevy kits.

That's the same manufacturer that dominated the first five stops on the 2015 IndyCar Series, winning all but the rain-shortened March 12 event at NOLA Motorsports Park. Those were road courses, and Chevy's kits manhandled Honda's.

IndyCar never came to Honda's aid. As far as arguments go that one is a non sequitur — a speed differential is not equal to a safety differential — but it's a complaint that was raised to me in multiple Honda garages Sunday: IndyCar did nothing to help Honda keep up with Chevy on the road courses, but made the enormous decision to scrap the qualifying trim and have cars compete on pole day with the same — slower, safer — setup they'll use during the 99th Indy 500 on Sunday.

Basically, IndyCar dumbed down — neutralized — one of the most exciting days of the series: pole day at the Indy 500. No Fast Nine Shootout. No shot at a speed record. No danger.

"It was a flat, easy go-around," said Will Power, who qualified second on Sunday, one spot behind pole winner Scott Dixon.

Sitting next to Power in the press room was his Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud, who craned his neck to see the qualifying times on a TV screen before adding his two cents.

"We're talking (a difference of) just 5 mph, and it feels like you're going really slow," said Pagenaud, who qualified third. "This level in down force and boost, is not really hard for us."

Said Power: "That's what's always been cool about this place. You can trim out, you can get fast through the straight, but can you hang on around the corner? You don't want your grandma to be able to drive around on your back rear, like some of these places we drive at."

But that's what IndyCar did, slowing down both manufacturers because it had no idea what was making one — Chevy — go airborne. Or if the issue was just to Chevy.

moderately injured in the last week — but enough's enough. IndyCar realized that after watching Carpenter skid upside down, summoning both teams to its competition trailer to hash out what Honda knew was coming.

The scene was surreal. After meeting with IndyCar, Honda engineers literally ran out of the trailer to their garages to make the setup changes. Honda owners stood around the outside, forming a semicircle around the trailer. Media formed a larger semicircle around the Honda owners. Fans formed an even larger semicircle around the media. We became a 500-person Russian nesting doll.

On the outer semicircle, with the fans, a dour-looking man was standing too close to Gasoline Alley when an IMS security guy in a yellow shirt yelled, "Keep this area clear, please."

The dour-looking man walked away. Tony George, member of the track's ownership family. He was as lost as everyone else.

And everyone's lost, believe it. Some of the smartest people in town were in that trailer on Sunday, engineers and Ph.Ds who were studying video and data and talking to drivers and each other. And after all that, IndyCar emerged from the trailer with no answers. Why does Chevy keep getting airborne? Is this just a Chevy issue? So many theories. No answers.

"We don't have complete clarity, and that is the reason to be careful right now," Walker said. "It would be fairly negligent on our part if we focused on one manufacturer. …

"I don't believe a year from now we'll still be sitting here, scratching our head. We just don't have the time … (but) the problem is solvable."

Sure, just not here. Even if someone figures it out before Sunday, qualifying is over and cars will use the same setup next weekend.

On the other hand, with less horsepower available on pole day to separate good drivers from the great ones, legit Indy 500 contenders like defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (qualified 16th), 2000 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (15th) and three-time top-10 finisher Ed Carpenter (12th) will start back in the field. Cars will be passed next week, count on that. Could make for an exceptionally exciting edition of the Indy 500.

And wouldn't that be something — for this race, and this racetrack, to see this weekend's chaos become next weekend's catharsis.

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http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/columnists/gregg-doyel/2015/05/17/doyel-chaos-causes-indycar-dumb-pole-day/27505399/

Has Indy hit on solution for flying cars?

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 5-17-15)

This was supposed to be the year that aero kits brought speed and style back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Instead, unproven aerodynamic components have made safety the watchword in a week when three cars got upside down and airborne during testing at IMS.

Ed Carpenter's crash in a Sunday morning practice session was the third in the past five days in which a Chevrolet-bodied Indy car snapped out of control and took to the air, a disturbing pattern that cannot be viewed as coincidental.

Carpenter's situation prompted IndyCar Series officials to delay qualifying by more than five hours. They also implemented changes to both Chevrolet and Honda cars, reducing engine power for qualifying and requiring Chevrolet teams to remove several aerodynamic components that they believe may have contributed to the three crashes and subsequent flights.

An additional hourlong practice session and qualifications went off without incident. But heading into Sunday's Indianapolis 500 serious questions remain unanswered about the stability of the latest generation of Indy cars in general, and cars running the Chevrolet aero package in particular.

"It's definitely a concern and we don't know enough about it," Indy car legend Mario Andretti said. "We haven't seen whether a Honda car would pick up speed when going backward and I hope we never see that.

"The cars today have such huge square inches of floor area, and unfortunately they are susceptible to flying," Andretti added. "I've said that from the beginning and I'm one of the ones who had experience. That's one of the issues that may need to be addressed, narrowing the sidepods. I think it may have to be done."

Andretti retired from full-time driving in 1994, but famously went for a flight in a Dallara Indy car while making a test run for his son's team in 2003. On that occasion, Andretti's car took off like an airplane after hitting a piece of debris on the track from a crash that had just occurred in front of him.

The three accidents involving Chevrolet cars this week appeared relatively innocuous by Indianapolis crash standards until the cars spun around backward and launched into the air after hitting the wall.

In the only Honda wreck of the week, Pippa Mann's machine remained planted to the ground despite hitting two different walls.

The similarity between all three Chevrolet accidents has focused attention on the company's aero kit, specifically an unusually small rear wing that features no traditional end plates or fences.

Honda's rear wing appears much more substantial, with rectangular end plates and additional winglets for additional downforce and stability.

Arron Melvin, the chief designer of the Chevrolet aero kit, said that the tapered "Coke bottle" aspect of the Chevy's side pods helps the chassis create sufficient levels of downforce that reduces the need for a highly effective rear wing.

"We emphasize downforce in areas that aren't the rear wing," Melvin said Monday night at the public launch of Chevrolet's superspeedway aero components. "We need a very slender wing and therefore endplates are not particularly powerful or efficient anymore.

"On a higher downforce configuration, the endplates add more aerodynamic power and value, and we didn't need them," he continued. "The main plane looks very small because we can make a very efficient wing for oval events. It actually has just as much [aerodynamic] strength as the old wing and most of the time it's just providing a small amount of trim. It also has the nice side effect of lighter weight, which is a big factor for these cars."

The question is whether Chevrolet went too far in its quest for efficient downforce. Is the lack of rear-wing endplates contributing to the way the cars are suddenly snapping loose without warning, and to the seeming propensity for them to fly?

Carpenter says it's far too early to rush to judgment.

"There's a lot to understand and I don't think it's fair to say that this is an aero-kit issue," Carpenter said. "We have multiple variables going on this year. We have new tires, there's a new underwing [floor] with a huge hole in it, and aero kits.

"It's all just speculation at this point and we really need to learn what's causing this."

Still, it's a question that we probably wouldn't be asking right now if the IndyCar Series had been more adequately prepared for the introduction of the speedway version of the aero kits.

In an effort to maintain secrecy about their designs, Chevrolet and Honda did little on-track testing, by traditional standards, trusting their designs to wind-tunnel studies and computational fluid dynamics.

Teams did not receive the new wings and other parts until April 27, and for most drivers, a May 3 test at Indianapolis was their first experience with the new package.

Nobody ran more than 95 laps that day. And nobody crashed.

But the issue at Indianapolis really isn't the fact that cars are crashing. That's a natural and normal part of racing.

What isn't normal is the way the Chevy cars are taking flight. And until a crashed Honda car gets upside down, it's going to take time and real world testing to determine whether IndyCar is dealing with a Chevrolet aero problem or a problem endemic to the current iteration of cars in general.

That's why IndyCar mandated the changes it did Sunday morning, to try to make the cars as stable as possible for the short term while it buys the time it needs to research a more permanent solution.

With an oval race coming up June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, arguably the most dangerous oval the series races on, the pressure is on IndyCar to get to the root of this problem quickly.

"Since the first incident that we had with the No. 3 car [Helio Castroneves' crash on Wednesday], we're working with both manufacturers and trying as fast as we can," IndyCar competition president Derrick Walker said. "They're running supercomputers day into night to try and compare what we have been doing in the past and what we're doing now and see if there are any big red flags that say we're going the wrong way here.

"Crashes are very hard to simulate," Walker added. "They have such good computing power nowadays. They can simulate a car in yaw or 180 degrees going the opposite way, and that, quite frankly, is the best way to get there as quick as we can."

Because it was a safety issue, Honda took the high road and didn't complain that changes were required for its cars when the problems that occurred this week all involved Chevrolet cars.

However, there's a strong feeling that Honda was disadvantaged by the changes. Honda's top qualifier was Justin Wilson in sixth place, 1.5 mph slower than Scott Dixon's 226.760-mph pole speed.
But the drivers supported IndyCar's efforts to make things as safe as possible for them under the circumstances.

"It was a pretty hard decision, but I think they did the right thing," second-place qualifier Will Power said. "The problem was the fact that when you crash, the car flies, but I think that this is the first year we've ever had with this car that you could trim enough to make it quite hard to drive and people were making mistakes and crashing.

"I think it has kind of identified a problem with this car and until they get that fixed, I'm not sure what they can do. It's a pretty tough problem. But I don't think it's just Chevy, either. I think it's just the fact that the floor is built for a road course, and we're running it on an oval and it's quite steep. That's maybe one problem. But I'm not an engineer; I don't know."

Two days of on-track activity remain between now and race day: A full day of practice on Monday and Friday's hourlong Carburetion Day shakedown.

One thing is for certain. Whether it's a Chevy problem or, as Andretti suggested, a more basic issue associated with the wide, flat underbody of the current generation of cars, the IndyCar Series truly does have a problem. How IndyCar reacts moving forward is of utmost importance to the safety of its drivers and spectators and the integrity of the sport.

"Safety is obviously a big part of the sport and oval racing is one of the most dangerous forms, so it's always in the back of your mind," Dixon said after claiming the pole at 226.760 mph, a reduction of 4.309 mph from Carpenter's 2014 Indy pole speed. "All the crashes have been in very different scenarios and different situations.

"We don't want to see cars get in the air, but there are very few tools in the box for us to make changes to the cars," he added. "IndyCar used what they had and with the speeds down, I think safety is going to get better."

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http://espn.go.com/racing/indycar/story/_/id/12904775/indycar-facing-major-problem-third-car-flies