Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Will Power says he's committed to IndyCar Series

( 10-26-11)

Will Power said Wednesday he's committed to IndyCar and believes the series will become much safer from the investigation into Dan Wheldon's fatal accident.

Power was involved in the 15-car accident that killed the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. Power's car went airborne in the Oct. 16 accident and hit the wall that had an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the days after the accident, reports in Power's native Australia indicated he was reconsidering his future in IndyCar, which he said is not the case.

"I am committed, I am staying in IndyCar, simple as that," Power said.

Power suffered a broken vertebra in the accident, his second serious back injury. He also broke two vertebrae in a 2009 crash at Sonoma. The injury will temporarily keep him from testing the 2012 IndyCar, but Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said the driver is mentally ready to get back in the car.

"I think the best medicine for any race car driver is to get him back in the car, get him back to what it is he does," Cindric said. "Obviously, he was very lucky for how it turned out for him. But he's a race car driver, and he's ready to compete.

"Is he ready to test? Ready to go back out? If we had a race tomorrow, he'd be ready to go."

Power expressed confidence IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard will improve overall safety in the series through the investigation into Wheldon's accident.

"I see how committed Randy Bernard is to making it safer, and that gives me confidence," Power said.

The Las Vegas event was the final race for the current IndyCar, and the new model is being tested all winter in preparation for the 2012 season. Power has tested the car and believes the safety improvements on the new model, particularly bolstering the seat and adding foam to soften rear impacts, "probably would have prevented me from breaking my back."

But as one of the drivers who went airborne in the accident, he recognizes how quickly things are taken out of the drivers' control. He recalls with vivid detail every step of the accident, from when he first saw smoke to when he hit the left rear tire of Alex Lloyd's car and "my car took off, went flying, and I remember thinking 'Oh, I'm going to the catchfence; that's not good."'

It was Wheldon, though, who hit the catchfence, and Power could tell immediately it was a serious situation.

"I was happy the car had stopped, I felt fine, I knew I had done some damage to my back," Power said. "And I wasn't really thinking about anything. Then I was just concerned for who was in the car in front of me, I then knew it was Dan and thought 'This is bad.' I could see the concern from the medical guys.

"So, I eventually got out of the car. I went away. I walked off."

He said he has had conflicting emotions in the week after the accident.

"It was so hard, comprehending everything that happened, really, that someone had actually been killed," he said. "It's weird, it's hard and it's tough. It's such a tight-knit community, motorsport, and that's worldwide, and it was honestly a bit of disbelief for a couple days.

"You just can't believe it happened, you just can't believe Dan Wheldon was killed. And then after reality, it sets in, and then it becomes common to you."

IndyCar CEO Bernard revisits 'horrific' week

( 10-26-11)

Randy Bernard knows there are people who blame him for Dan Wheldon's death, who say the IndyCar CEO pushed the series over the edge.

In the 24 hours after the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was killed in a fiery 15-car accident in the season finale, Bernard wondered if perhaps all the hate mail accusing him of sacrificing safety for the show was right.

"The last week was probably the most horrific week of my life," Bernard told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.

It's been open season on Bernard since the accident, and his silence all last week only intensified the scrutiny on his leadership of the open-wheel series.

Now, nine days later, Bernard is able to publicly talk about Wheldon and the day all his work toward building a spectacular finale went terribly wrong minutes into the race. He still becomes emotional about it, taking a deep breath in his office at IndyCar headquarters as he recalls the controversial decision to cancel the race.

Bernard is focused on moving forward and helping IndyCar through this dark period. He says he never once considered resigning but admits IndyCar is now "in crisis, and we have to get answers."

"In tough times, that's when you have to be focused," Bernard said. "You have to lead, and I know this is a time I have to make sure I am going to be very decisive, very articulate and be a leader. In tough times is where you build your character; it's not in good times."

The second-year CEO was hired to revitalize the series despite no auto racing experience, and that's contributing to blaming Bernard for creating the circumstances that led to Wheldon's death.

He allowed a season-high 34 cars on a high-banked oval, where a field of mixed experience levels had enough room to race three-wide at over 220 mph around Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And he offered a jobless Wheldon the chance to earn a $5 million bonus if he could drive from the back of the field to Victory Lane.

All those elements created a buzz around the race, where Dario Franchitti and Will Power would end their championship battle and superstar Danica Patrick would run her final event as a full-time IndyCar driver. It was everything Bernard had been hired to do when IndyCar lured him away after running Professional Bull Riders for 15 years. He was so confident of improving on the poor TV ratings from the year before that he promised to resign if ABC's broadcast drew anything less than a 0.8 rating. That would have meant that fewer than 1 percent of the nation's homes with televisions watched the race.

Bernard insists he did not sensationalize the inherent danger in auto racing.

"I think anytime we are on any track it's always dangerous - we do as much as we can to make it safe - (and) our storylines were never, 'Come watch this dangerous event!"' he said.

"Our storylines going to Las Vegas were first and foremost 'Come watch Will and Dario fight it out for the world championship.' The No. 2 storyline was Dan Wheldon competing for $5 million starting at the back. Our third storyline was Danica Patrick. ... Our fourth storyline was 34 cars in the race.

"I think none of those, looking back on it, had any type of connotation of any danger. If the race was tomorrow, it would still be the same storylines."

Compelling competition, yes, but with a happy ending.

IndyCar now must look at making sweeping changes. And Bernard is prepared, even eager, to do that.

He called a three-hour driver meeting Monday, and Franchitti, a four-time champion, said there was no sense of anger toward Bernard as the drivers all had a chance to speak. Franchitti also said the CEO earned an immeasurable amount of respect by canceling the race after Wheldon's death when grief-stricken drivers were unable to decide if the show - per tradition - should go on.

Bernard, with such limited auto racing experience, wasn't tied to that etiquette. Instead, he went with his gut.

"I felt that I didn't really care about tradition on this," he said, becoming emotional for the only time in the hour-long interview. "I felt like no driver in their right mind could have a clear head knowing that one of their friends had just died, and I felt this is where I needed to make a stand and say 'No."'

Bernard called instead for a five-lap tribute. Drivers, including Tony Kanaan, Franchitti and Patrick, were seen sobbing as they climbed back into their cockpits.

Bernard took Wheldon's death extremely hard and essentially isolated himself in Las Vegas after the race. "I was numb. I didn't, I was, just numb," he said.

But he went to work immediately. The first step was the driver meeting, followed by a three-hour strategic session with a small focus group to discuss the 2012 car that's supposed to be a tremendous upgrade in safety and technology standards.

"It's been an unfair beating on Randy because nobody singlehandedly makes decisions. I just don't understand the criticism I'm seeing. It's from people unaware of this industry and aiming with the buck-stops-here mentality," said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. "But there's no doubt Randy's got his hands full, and it's an ugly situation."

Bernard is hesitant to discuss specifics about Wheldon's death, citing his desire to see what comes from the ongoing investigation. A team of series safety and competition officials is evaluating the data and will use independent experts and consultants for analysis before it's turned over to a third-party group for validation.

"I think everything is premature right now," Bernard said. "I want to see the investigation."

But the questions remain, especially about the $5 million bonus. Without it, Wheldon never would have been in the race.

Originally, the promotion was designed to lure someone from outside the series to the season finale. Bernard had hoped that would be someone such as NASCAR stars Tony Stewart or Juan Pablo Montoya, but in the end only XGames star Travis Pastrana seriously tried to put together a deal. Then Pastrana broke his foot and ankle two days before his scheduled debut in NASCAR's Nationwide Series in Indianapolis, where he was to sign an agreement to run for the $5 million IndyCar bonus.

That left Wheldon. Out of work all season except for his victorious one-off in the Indy 500, Wheldon met the spirit of the promotion because he wasn't a series regular.

He wasn't a slouch, either. Las Vegas was his 134th career start, and he had 16 career victories - 15 on ovals - and on the morning of the race, Wheldon had made a deal with Michael Andretti to replace Patrick full-time next season.

"On the bonus, if you are a professional race car driver, whether you are (ranked) 33rd, 23rd or first, your job is to win," Bernard said. "That's why they race. Every series has bonuses attached to winning, so I am not sure why people say that played a role."

But what if it had been Pastrana? With so many questions swirling about the level of experience in the field, how would Bernard have justified letting Pastrana race at Las Vegas?

"I am not confident Travis Pastrana would have passed the testing required to compete in that race," he said.

According to the contract Pastrana had been presented, a copy of which was obtained by AP, participation in the $5 million challenge required at least three two-day test sessions at Las Vegas and Kentucky Speedways supervised by IndyCar competition director Brian Barnhart and a designated active driver serving as a mentor. If he had passed testing, Pastrana still would have been subjected to a vote of approval from the current IndyCar drivers.

"The drivers themselves had to give him the thumbs up," Bernard said. "If Travis Pastrana didn't pass the test, that doesn't make IndyCar look bad or him look bad, it shows you how difficult it is to be in one of our race cars. Dan Wheldon was experienced in our race cars."

Bernard has a lot of serious issues to address in the six months before the 2012 season opener in St. Petersburg, and he won't speculate on what could be coming until the investigation is complete. There could be changes to the new car, and the 2012 schedule has yet to be fully announced, so he has no idea how many ovals IndyCar could visit next year.

Las Vegas already had been announced as the 2012 season finale, but a return is undecided.

"It's premature to answer anything related to that," Bernard said, "but it's part of IndyCar to race ovals and mile-and-a-halfs."

Franchitti said ovals need to remain on the IndyCar schedule, and the focus should be on making the car more compatible with the tracks. He appreciates Bernard taking a wait-and-see approach. "We need, going forward as a series, we need to improve the safety of the cars vs. the tracks," Franchitti said. "Randy has done a good job for us. I think there's definitely some parts he still doesn't understand, but he's got other people here who understand racing."

Bernard faced criticism this year when some of his ideas - double-file restarts and a random drawing to determine starting position for the second of two dual races at Texas - ran into resistance from the drivers. But he believes he can move the series forward.

"I look at this is a crisis, and I think we have to put this as our top priority," he said. "We have to focus on first the factual determination and second the remedy. That's how we have to look at this."

Pippa Mann defends Las Vegas field

( 10-27-11)

IndyCar rookie Pippa Mann rejects the idea that the drivers in the Las Vegas finale did not have enough experience on ovals.

Mann was one of 15 drivers involved in a fiery accident in which two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed.

"They don't just let people come in off the street and race an IndyCar," Mann said Wednesday.

Las Vegas was Mann's third start in the IndyCar Series, and critics have complained that too many inexperienced drivers in the crowded 34-car field contributed to the accident. Eight of the 34 were rookies.

Mann was behind the accident when it began, one of the many drivers who had nowhere to go when the cars began spinning all over the track.

"There are always going to be rookies. What are we going to do?" said Mann, who had surgery Tuesday in Indianapolis to repair the badly burned pinkie finger on her right hand.

"Everybody has to go through being a rookie. Everybody has to do a first oval."

Las Vegas wasn't Mann's first oval.

She made her IndyCar debut at the Indianapolis 500 in May and finished 20th. She also raced at Kentucky two weeks before the Oct. 16 finale at Las Vegas and spent two seasons in Firestone Indy Lights, the feeder system for IndyCar.

In Indy Lights in 2010, Mann won the pole at Indy, Kentucky and Homestead, all ovals. She had two podium finishes on ovals and won at Kentucky.

Mann also defended Wade Cunningham, who made his fourth career start at Las Vegas and was involved in the accident. The 26-year-old Cunningham had 64 starts in Indy Lights, eight career victories and was the 2005 Indy Lights champion.

"Wade is a champion. We both have experience in a series where the speeds and the car handling are similar enough to (IndyCar)," she said. "The only thing we don't have a great deal of experience in is pit stops and adapting to cold tires."

The IndyCar rule book requires drivers to display "sufficient competitive driving ability and experience as determined by the Senior Official." There is a rookie orientation test -- Mann said she did hers at high-banked Texas Motor Speedway -- and a clause that allows IndyCar to hold a "refresher" test on any driver who has not competed in the last 12 months.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway also holds a second testing program for any rookie driver attempting to run the 500.

Four-time series champion Dario Franchitti did not blame the fatal accident on the varying levels of experience of the field.

"I will say, with rookies, there is a certain level of inexperience, but people at my level can make mistakes, too," he said.

Mann, a 27-year-old from London, was one of three drivers injured in the accident. Will Power suffered a broken vertebra in his back, and JR Hildebrand was treated for a bruised sternum.

She said she saw the accident ahead of her, tried to slow and headed for what she thought was a gap. Instead, Paul Tracy's car ended up in the same space, and Mann ended up airborne, upside down and on fire.

"I started to see it unfolding, but there was just not enough time to knock speed off the car," she said. "Usually when a car spins on an oval track, you head toward the spinning car because it won't be there when you get there. But this time, all you can try to do is aim for the gap. PT was in the gap when I got there."

Photographs of the accident show Mann's car sailing through the air upside down and engulfed in flames. Her car landed upside down, and, unable to open her eyes because of all the dirt and debris in her helmet, she could only wait for safety workers to arrive.

She doesn't have many details about the accident as it unfolded.

"The honest answer is at the point I knew I was going to hit the car, and there was no gap, I just pulled my arms in and shut my eyes," she said. "Nothing I was going to see was going to help me in the future mentally. When the car came to a stop, I just sat there and waited."

Mann suffered severe burns down to her pinkie bone on her right hand, and surgery Tuesday moved nerves, blood vessels, tendon and skin grafts from her hand in an effort to rebuild her pinkie. She's now in an oversized cast, wearing her boyfriends' clothes because hers don't fit over the cast, and asking her mother for help brushing her hair.

Doctors said it will be January before she can get back in a race car. Mann already was looking for funding to run a full season in 2012, which opens in St. Petersburg, Fla., and isn't sure what's next.

"My intention is for (Las Vegas) to not be my last IndyCar race," she said. "I would love to be in St. Pete. I intend to be in St. Pete, and I will work to be ready for St. Pete."

Zanardi hits out at pack racing in IndyCar following Wheldon's death

(by Michele Lostia and Pablo Elizalde 10-27-11)

Double Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi has hit out at the pack racing seen in IndyCar after the death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas.

Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, was killed in the IndyCar finale following a 15-car accident in which a few other drivers were injured due to the severity of the crash. The crash took place as the drivers travelled at over 200mph.

"As I often say, it's not speed the cause of such a crash. If anything, it could be an aggravating factor," Zanardi said in an interview with Autosprint magazine.

"My early years of oval racing, up to 1998, were always very dangerous. Back then, setting up the car meant finding a compromise on the car's speed. You would let it slide until the downforce wasn't yet too low in a way that penalises turn speed too much.

"It was drift driving, and tyre degradation was an important parameter. If a driver crashed against the wall, it was usually his own mistake after he had underestimated these factors.

"Nowadays, instead, driving has become too easy. At turn entry, mid turn, and turn exit, the car is attached to the road surface. In the name of safety - in principle it was even right - the intention was to slow down the cars by giving them an exaggerated amount of downforce, and therefore high drag.

"The result was that, in order to find speed, you now see set-ups with the front being 7cm higher than the rear to lessen the wing's influence! This is nonsense, but it's a necessity to beat the stop watch."

Although Zanardi did not race in the Indy Racing League-sanctioned IndyCar Series, he competed on the high-banked superspeedways in Champ Car - including during the Handford wing era when the Michigan and Fontana events featured non-stop slipstreaming between cars, the closest Champ Car came to the current style of IndyCar pack racing.

"At the beginning of 1998, the Handford wing was introduced in our series. It was a sort of an L-shaped Gurney flap attached backwards, and it was supposed to slow down the cars by generating drag. After the first race I, Michael Andretti and Greg Moore were literally assaulted by enthusiastic journalists who would say what a great race it was, what spectacle.

"We looked at each other and, without having agreed beforehand, we replied simultaneously: 'Have you seen the same race as us?'

"For us it had been crap: with the Handford you couldn't open up a gap to your rival anymore.

"Our job wasn't to race anymore, it was to wait to catch the final slipstream. No more talent, just strategy and that's it. In the long term, this has made the Indy audience fall out of love too.

"At Las Vegas it wasn't a race between drivers anymore. It was a pack of cars moving all together, bunched up with no chance of breaking off. Now, when you race for five minutes with your rival right next to your side, at the point that you notice if his sponsor stickers are not straight, when it's too easy do drive even on the outside line...

"At that point it's like driving with a tutor. An obscenely idiotic thing, because then you distract yourself for not concentrating enough. After a while, even if you are travelling at 340 km/h, you don't realise it anymore."

Zanardi, who lost both his legs in an accident during his Champ Car career, thinks driver standards are also lowered by pack racing.

"In my times, if you went racing on a road course, Paul Tracy would bang wheels regardless when you got by his side," he said. "Instead at Michigan, a super-quick track, he would have enormous respect for anyone.

"With these cars, instead, you drive by always keeping the inside white line as your reference, just because that's the shortest line; the car is glued to the track anyway. But I prefer to race with 1,000 bhp while having to manage the car, instead of nowadays' 650 bhp and these absurd levels of grip."

2012 IndyCar Dallara to be called DW12 to honour Dan Wheldon

(by Michele Lostia and Pablo Elizalde 10-26-11)

Dallara has confirmed its 2012 IndyCar single-seater will be called DW12 to honour the memory of the late Dan Wheldon.

The Briton, who was killed during the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas, had helped develop the new car from the Italian manufacturer before his fatal accident.

"As a homage to the work he (Wheldon) did, we've decided to dedicate the 2012 IndyCar Dallara to him, and from today it will be called the DW12," Gian Paolo Dallara told Autosprint magazine.

Dallara also rubbished suggestions that Wheldon was taking unnecessary risks to win the race and the prize money at offer.

"That's shameless rubbish," he said. "Wheldon was a professional racing driver, not a daredevil. He had a sense of limit. He knew perfectly well that he couldn't win that race.

"In Kentucky, in a similar situation, he started last and finished 15th. And besides, he had just agreed with Team Andretti to race for them in 2012, so he had nothing to prove to anyone."

Franchitti: We should still race on ovals, but make them safer

(by Simon Strang 10-26-11)

Four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti believes ovals should remain on the category's schedule in the future as the investigation into the 15-car crash during the Las Vegas finale that led to Dan Wheldon's death continues.

Franchitti was critical of the decision to run the event on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motorspeedway venue at the time because the nature of the track led to close proximity racing with little or no margin for error. But he insists that oval racing is part of the fabric of the sport and should not be discarded altogether.

"I love the fact that the IndyCar series is the mix of all the disciplines and to win the championship, you've got to be strong at all of them," the Scot said in an interview with AP. "So we've got to be on ovals, and it's got to be safe. It's got to be a lot safer."

"You can always look back with hindsight, but we've raced on the 1.5-mile ovals before," Franchitti added. "With the information they had, I think they believed what they were doing was right. Going back now, I wouldn't do it, because we know the result."

Franchitti also supported IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard's decision to call off the race in the aftermath of the accident.

"He [Bernard] made absolutely the right choice," Franchitti said. "Especially when I got back in the car and I realised how emotional I was there, and I thought 'Absolutely right decision.' I think most of us couldn't drive because the tears, we couldn't see where we were going.

"The drivers were very concerned. Each person was very confused, and Randy, ultimately, he really as a leader did a good job and took the decision out of our hands.

"You cannot blame one person for this. Motor racing is not safe. We've known that since I started racing, and I don't think we're being cavalier in saying that. But we have to move on, look at what we do now.

"We are going to look at all those elements and try and take as many of them out of the equation, to do whatever we can to make this as safe as we possibly can."

Bernard himself he had no doubts in his mind about the right course of action in the events that immediately followed the accident: "I felt that I didn't really care about tradition on this," said Bernard. "I felt like no driver in their right mind could have a clear head knowing that one of their friends had just died, and I felt this is where I needed to make a stand and say 'No.'"

Franchitti will get his first taste of the new-for-2012 Dallara set to be named in honour of Wheldon - who led the development driving of the project - when he tests it at Sebring on Wednesday.

Asked whether he'd considered his own future in the sport following the death of his friend and former team-mate, Franchitti replied: "I've definitely wondered if it's worth it," he said. "But I believe I still want to race."

Power diagnosed with a compression fracture after Vegas accident

(by Pablo Elizalde 10-25-11)

Will Power has been diagnosed with a compression fracture following the accident he was involved in during the Las Vegas IndyCar event.

The Australian underwent further tests in Indianapolis on Monday as he was experiencing back pains following the crash, despite being released from hospital with no evidence of significant injuries following the accident.

On Monday, however, series orthopedic specialist Dr. Terry Trammell determined that Power suffered a compression fracture of his fourth thoracic vertebra.

Power is expected to recover from the injury with rest and rehabilitation.

Fellow IndyCar driver Pippa Mann, meanwhile, will undergo surgery today to rebuild the right side of her hand she injured in the same crash.

"Need replacement blood vessels, nerves, stealing a tendon from my wrist and a skin graft," she explained on her Twitter account.

Drivers hail 'productive' meeting with IndyCar bosses

( 10-25-11)

Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti said he was positive following a meeting between drivers and series bosses on Monday.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard invited drivers for a meeting following the death of Dan Wheldon on October 16.

Both parties exchanged ideas on issues such as safety and promotion during the three-hour meeting, which Franchitti labelled as productive.

"We all got to talk a lot, listen a lot and just look at going forward how do we improve things really in all areas," said Franchitti.

"I think it was a very positive and productive meeting and that is the first step today.

"There's still a lot of heavy hearts but everybody is very positive and everybody had ideas. We're all on the same page; we're all trying to improve things.

"It obviously was a massive shock what happened to Dan last week and we saw with the MotoGP as well that racing is a dangerous business. We're trying to make it as safe as possible; that's always been the goal."

2004 IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan said the series was moving in the right direction in trying to improve safety even further.

"We're heading in the right direction," the Kanaan. "(The meeting is) not something that is being done because something happened now. We set the standards. IndyCar created the soft walls so we're always going to set the standards. We're just trying to make it better.

"What people have to understand is that we're not going to make motor racing 100 percent safe. That's the fact. We're the lab and hopefully we can make it better, make it safer, but we'll never make it 100 per cent safe."

Wheldon crash investigation by IndyCar continues

(by Jamie O'Leary 10-25-11)

IndyCar is continuing to investigate the cause of the 15-car crash that led to the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this month.

A two-stage investigation is already underway into the accident, that also caused injuries to a number of drivers; including Will Power, Pippa Mann and JR Hildebrand.

"We must continue to move forward with a thorough investigation," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard.

"Fortunately, that has already begun, and we have the protocols in place to get this done. This was a tragic accident, and IndyCar needs to understand everything possible about it."

The first phase of the investigation is already underway, with an internal team of safety and competition officials evaluating data from the accident data recorders and accelerometers of the 15 cars involved.

An analysis of all the cars involved, of the personal safety equipment used, of photos, videos and timing and scoring data from the accident and its aftermath and the post-incident reports from race control and track safety crews.

Stage two of the investigation will use the findings of stage one to influence future safety procedures in IndyCar racing in a bid to minimise risks.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tony Stewart says criticism of IndyCar safety is unfair

(by Diego Mejia 10-22-11)

Tony Stewart has defended the IndyCar Series and says the criticism its officials are receiving following the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas last weekend is unfair.

Stewart won the 1997 title in what was then known as the Indy Racing League, and believes many have voiced emotional opinions after 33-year-old Wheldon died from injuries sustained in a multi-car incident early in the series finale last Sunday.

He underlined that despite racing now being safer than ever, danger will always be a part of the sport and is something drivers have always lived with.

Stewart does not believe anyone should be held responsible for what happened last Sunday as such incidents are part of the sport.

"[IndyCar chief] Randy Bernard has been getting beat up over it and he shouldn't," said Stewart. "It's part of racing, it's part of what can happen.

"Everybody is a back chair quarterback going 'no we should do this or shouldn't do that'. It's racing; I mean it's always been racing. Auto racing as a whole is safer than it's ever been.

"It still boils down to the people that are steering the cars around. It's not that the cars are unsafe, there's still people that tell the cars where to go so we've got to take responsibility. There is no reason for anybody to point fault anywhere. There's no fault in it. It's racing.

"Racing has always been dangerous. That's why people come to watch races because there is an element of danger involved. You're never going to get it all out but like we said it's safer than it's ever been. It's a freak thing that happened and it can happen every race.

"I think everybody has got to take a deep breath and let the emotions settle down. Everybody is obviously thinking about Dan and his family, his wife and two children, there's a lot of great charity stuff coming up to help them out which we are really proud to be a part of but I think everybody has to take a step back from it and realise this is auto racing.

"It's always been dangerous but everybody still does it. If it was so bad none of us would want to do this but we still love doing this every week and it's just part of the sport unfortunately. It's never going to be 100 per cent safe."

The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion believes IndyCar racing has been gaining momentum recently and he remains a fan of the series competing on ovals - which formed the entire schedule in Stewart's IRL days.

Earlier this week his NASCAR colleague Jimmie Johnson said IndyCar should not race on ovals, although he later clarified he was referring to high-banked ovals like Las Vegas and Texas.

"They had 34 cars at Vegas, that's an incredible field," said Stewart about Sunday's race. "That's the biggest field I've seen in years.

"I think that's a sign that they're gaining a little bit and I hope they are. I'm a big fan of IndyCar racing. I always have been and I always will. I prefer to watch them on the ovals versus the road courses. I've always been a fan of it."

Stewart said the reasons for him not racing an IndyCar again since he last competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 2001 are not related with any safety concerns he may have but more with how the competitive nature of the series has evolved over the last decade, making it harder to have any successful one-off attempts for non-regulars.

"The hard thing is that series has got really competitive," said Stewart. "You aren't just going to go show up and drop in one and be up to speed right away. That's why it makes it so hard to go do something like that. It would be like trying to go run a top fuel dragster next week. I've never done it and it's going to take you a while to get used to something like that.

"The reason we don't do it isn't even remotely safety issue-wise, it's just time-wise and if you're going to do it you want to be competitive doing it. You want to make sure when you show up at a race you're competitive and ready to go."

Stewart and Johnson will donate their helmets from this weekend's race at Talladega for auction in benefit of the Wheldon Family Trust.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Driver’s Death Raises Questions About IndyCar’s Leader

(by Ken Belson and Jerry Garrett 10-22-11)

In the wake of Dan Wheldon’s death at a race in Las Vegas last Sunday, IndyCar officials have been all but silent. No formal statements, beyond an expression of regret and a pledge to investigate themselves. Certainly no news conferences to answer questions about the propriety of the race, which was held at a fast track not truly built to stage such an event.

The IndyCar officials, after canceling their suddenly pointless championship banquet, left Las Vegas, trailing bitterness and finger-pointing.

“This wasn’t even our event,” said Jeff Motley, a communications director for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which leased its track to IndyCar for the fatal race. “But they’ve left us to be the only ones to answer for this. There is such a thing as Crisis Management 101. And they flunked it.”

IndyCar racing, in truth, had been in some degree of crisis for more than a decade — attendance at races had slid, television ratings had fallen and a stream of drivers and fans had abandoned the sport for the more prosperous Nascar circuit.

Randy Bernard, a former chief executive of the Professional Bull Riders, had been signed up as chief executive last year to end the larger crisis. And the Las Vegas event — complete with glitzy promotions and a race featuring a multimillion-dollar bonus for Wheldon if he could pull off the feat of winning the race after willingly starting in last position — was going to be Bernard’s masterstroke.

Bernard’s unfamiliarity with racing had been seen as an asset of sorts by those who hired him. He had been unburdened by the infighting and litany of strategic and marketing mistakes that had plagued the sport. Having turned bull riding into an international success, Bernard had spent his first year and a half atop IndyCar using his prodigious work ethic and showmanship to try to revive a sport whose heyday went out with the Nixon Era.

While he knew little about racing when he arrived, Bernard understood that fans love danger, speed and a spectacle, his formula for success at the Professional Bull Riders. Instead of seeing cowboys get tossed and gored by bucking bulls, fans would come out to watch drivers hit speeds of 220 miles per hour, one snap decision from peril.

Despite some grumbling by many IndyCar followers, many people at IndyCar embraced their new leader. In his short tenure, Bernard had signed big-ticket sponsors, added a popular street race and new car designs, and stanched the slide in attendance and television ratings. Eager to shake things up, Bernard worked his Rolodex relentlessly, regularly held predawn conference calls and fired off e-mails while others were asleep.

“Racing, for all the talk of how advanced it is, is pretty stale,” said Bobby Rahal, the three-time series champion who co-owns a racing team and is president of the Road Racing Drivers Club, which mentors young drivers. “Randy has brought a different look because he hasn’t been in the sport. He thinks outside the motor racing box.”

Las Vegas, then, was Bernard’s different look. IndyCar had not raced there in years, but Bernard had struck gold in Vegas with the bull riders, holding an annual extravaganza in the city. To better manage things, Bernard leased the track and promoted the race on his own. He somehow persuaded local officials and businessmen to allow him to have the Vegas strip shut down so the racers could drive their cars past the throngs of tourists at the hotels and casinos.

He also persuaded Wheldon, the Indy 500 champion who had driven just a few times this year, to race for a $5 million bonus that would be split with a randomly chosen fan. Several drivers complained that the prize was more than the pool for the rest of the field. Yet Bernard was so confident the event would be a success, he staked his job on it, saying he would resign if the event did not do better than last year’s finale.

When the dust settled, Wheldon, a beloved driver and a handsome, articulate face of the sport, was dead. IndyCar has pledged to investigate what one historian called the biggest crash in the sport’s 100-year existence. Reforms may follow, though they are unlikely to include a wholesale reinvention of the sport.

A spokeswoman for IndyCar would not say whether Bernard would make good on his promise and resign. Several executives of the sport have urged caution about rushing to conclusions about blame or reforms; others did not want to speculate while still grieving for Wheldon.

What is clear, though, is that emotions remain raw. Some racing executives who were skeptical of Bernard’s tactics are mulling his ouster, while others are considering keeping him on a shorter leash. Competitors like Tomas Scheckter claim that the drivers need to stand firm against what he regards as Bernard’s reckless efforts to create more exciting races.

There are, though, still significant forces in the sport that for the moment remain supportive of Bernard. After years of turmoil in the sport, they are wary of starting over. They include legends like Mario Andretti, who says he does not blame Bernard for Wheldon’s death and sees no use in adding to the turmoil by replacing him.

The promotion Wheldon participated in, he said, was not a factor in the crash. Besides, Bernard — who declined to speak for this article — was only doing the job he was asked to do, which was to find novel ways to breathe life into the sport.

“We all want more promotions, more publicity,” Andretti said.

Old Issues

The roots of the sport’s problems stretch back decades. As in other racing circuits, Indy car drivers, racing teams, speedway owners, promoters and others form factions and hold grudges that can sabotage even simple decisions. The bickering was so fierce it led to the splintering of the sport that effectively ended its prominence as the top racing circuit in the United States, creating an opening that Nascar ultimately filled.

In 1979, Indy car teams and drivers, eager for a greater say in the sport’s business, split from the United States Auto Club sanctioning body and formed their own series. Eventually, track promoters — except those of the Indianapolis 500, which remained loyal to the Club — gave the new series more say in scheduling and how purses and television money were divided. The breakaway drivers could still race at Indy, but the 500 was not part of their new series.

Initially called Championship Auto Racing Teams, the CART series grew steadily during the next 15 years. The series began replacing some of the sport’s traditional oval tracks with more lucrative stops at road courses and city street circuits.

In 1989, the heirs of the longtime Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman handed control of the famed Brickyard to Hulman’s grandson, the young, untested Tony George. CART soon ran afoul of the enigmatic George, who objected to what he saw as an excessively foreign flavor of the slate of competitors that CART promoted. George wanted more opportunities for homegrown American talent, and a return to the sport’s oval racing roots. He also felt rich car owners had too much say, and wanted to give track operators and small teams a greater voice.

George reportedly pumped untold millions of dollars of his family’s fortune into teams, events, race track construction and television packages. But the sport’s civil war made it hard for either series to prosper because it forced fans, broadcasters, sponsors and other players to choose sides.

While Nascar has raced into the mainstream, huge patches of empty seats at Indy car races are now the norm, schedules have been shortened and old standing-room sections reduced or eliminated. And while Nascar is a staple on network television, Indy car races are harder to find, often consigned to lesser-known channels. Some of the top Indy car drivers have left or are leaving for Nascar, including Sam Hornish Jr., Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.

Sponsors routinely pay $30 million to sponsor a top Nascar driver, about three times more than what they will spend on an Indy car, according to Zak Brown, the chief executive of Just Marketing International, which brokers sponsorships in motor sports. Nascar drivers also typically have about twice as many sponsors for their cars, he said.

By 2008, the two struggling factions in Indy car racing finally agreed to reunite, with Tony George in charge. Within a year, however, George’s sister, Josie, reportedly engineered a boardroom coup that led to his ouster.

Bernard, who had been named one of the country’s top young sports executives, was hired.

From Bulls to Racecars

In sports and business circles, Bernard’s rise is the stuff of legend. He grew up on a working ranch in Monterey County, Calif., and from an early age helped out at his family’s farm and pitched in at the fairgrounds, which his grandfather ran.

Bernard studied agricultural business management for a few years in California, but left before graduating to work promoting the California Mid State Fair. It was there that he met Cody Lambert, who was riding in the rodeo. Impressed with his work ethic and creativity, Lambert and his friends and colleagues recruited Bernard, then 28, to run the Professional Bull Riders.

When Bernard came on board in 1995, he had no more than a table, a telephone and instructions from Lambert to “take us to the next level.” Lambert recalls telling Bernard to set a goal of bringing in at least $50,000 in new business so he would at least get paid. Things were so tight that one executive groused about the $300 Bernard had spent for a proper desk and chair.

“But pretty soon, we had three floors in that building and 100 employees,” said Lambert, who is now the livestock director for the P.B.R. “He’s very creative and he’s willing to outwork everyone.”

Bernard turned bull riding into a show, and made many riders rich in the process. Grand openings — including pyrotechnics and loud music — were added, television contracts were signed and a $1 million bonus was given to the circuit’s champion. More than 20 riders have earned more than $1 million and, through the wonders of television and showmanship, they were turned into modern-day gladiators. Even the bulls became superstars.

Bernard was seemingly everywhere, selling a sport that he unashamedly said relied on danger as one of its attractions. Something of an urban cowboy, he traveled the country in snappy suits and a Stetson hat meeting sponsors and television executives. He kept working despite needing neck surgery. A colleague had to take him to the hospital to take care of some blood clots.

The hard work paid off. In 2007, Spire Capital, an investment firm in New York, bought into P.B.R., making multi-millionaires out of the original founders. Wayne Gretzky and John Elway later invested in the group.

If Bernard had a fault, Lambert said, it was trying to do too much.

Starting Fast

True to form, Bernard wasted no time getting to work at IndyCar. He spent months talking with the key players, absorbing as much as he could about a sport he hardly knew. At one breakfast meeting, Rahal jokingly told Bernard that “you must feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose.”

Bernard not only had to get up to speed on a blizzard of technical issues, he also had to navigate IndyCar’s byzantine politics.

“In Indy car racing, it’s like the Middle East,” said Eddie Gossage, the president of Texas Motor Speedway. “There are so many factions and cultures, so you can’t possibly understand it.”

But as he did at P.B.R., Bernard eagerly tried new things to see what worked. He took Gossage’s advice and split the annual race in Texas into two 275-mile events, even though some drivers complained about how they were positioned to start the second race.

Bernard, too, lopped off races at tracks where attendance lagged, including at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and restored a race at Belle Isle in Detroit. He is exploring the possibility of racing in China.

Recently, IndyCar made a splash in Baltimore, which hosted the first of five annual street races this year. In these events, cars race through downtown streets.

Though the event drew larger-than-expected crowds, it did not turn a profit because of the initial investments in street paving, barriers and so on. Some local businesses objected to dozens of trees being removed to make way for the course. Others complained that the city should not be spending precious dollars on paving projects.

“But Randy realizes that the street events are important because instead of trying to attract people to the middle of nowhere, you’re putting your product in the middle of the city,” said Jay Davidson, president of the Baltimore Grand Prix. “You feel like you’re in good hands with him at the helm.”

Under Bernard’s watch, Lotus and Chevrolet have announced plans to join Honda as engine suppliers, and a safer new chassis for the cars has been developed. The new design features bumpers, partly enclosed wheels and a reinforced cockpit.

When needed, Bernard has done damage control, too. This year, Firestone, a major sponsor and tire supplier, let its deal with IndyCar lapse. Bernard raced to lure the company back, allowing Firestone to pay less for its sponsorship and receive more for its tires.

“It was a marketer’s dream,” said Al Speyer, executive director of the Bridgestone Americas Motor Sports.

Bernard has certainly had his missteps and generated concern and pushback, most notably from drivers who feel his introduction of a race feature — what is known as a double-file restart — is too dangerous. Bernard actually told some reporters that the restarts are exciting because they can lead to more crashes, a comment he has since regretted.

And the decision to return to Las Vegas will get picked over long after the memorial services for Wheldon are over on Sunday.

“I think this is going to be a wake-up call that could lead to some massive changes,” said Scott Goodyear, a commentator on the telecast of the race. “There was the same reaction when Dale Earnhardt was killed and changes were implemented.”

Changes to IndyCar need to be made following Wheldon's death

(by Bruce Martin 10-19-11)

What happened at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Sunday's IndyCar World Championships could best be described as a perfect storm of calamity.

There were so many factors at play that resulted in the 15-car crash that killed reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon. Sadly, nearly every driver in the IndyCar Series feared and predicted that a calamity would happen in this race for a variety of reasons.

"The track is so smooth we will be three-wide out there," Danica Patrick projected last Thursday after she was the fastest in practice. "The race will be crazy and the crashes spectacular."

During the two-hour red-flag period Sunday, when the race was stopped followed the Lap 11 crash, I had a chance to talk to Patrick in her pit area.

"Remember me saying that on Thursday?" she asked. "I guess it was prophetic. We all feared there would be a major crash at this race because this track has so much grip and was so easy to drive that it would create a pack. This certainly isn't how I want to end my IndyCar career."

At the time she made those comments, no one knew for sure that Wheldon, the popular driver from Emberton, England, who won his second Indianapolis 500 on May 29, was dead. But the reports from drivers who had been in the infield care center began to circulate around pit lane that Wheldon did not make it. Of course, without an official announcement everything was rumored and drivers such as Patrick, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and others hoped and prayed for the best.

That the 19 drivers remaining in competition were called into a special meeting was an indication this race would not continue. A much lesser story than Wheldon's death was the massive damage done to the racecourse. There were huge gashes, ruts and divots in the asphalt from the cars that went airborne and landed upside down. A large portion of the catchfence was destroyed as well as the SAFER Barrier -- the Steel And Foam Energy Resistant wall that absorbs much of the impact of a crash. Developed by the University of Nebraska in conjunction with the IndyCar Series in the late 1990s, it was first installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2001.

Today, the SAFER Barrier is required at all major racing facilities and it more than did its job in Sunday's crash because many more of the 15 drivers in that crash could have experienced more significant injuries.

But even with SAFER Barriers, Head and Neck Support (HANS) Devices and other major advancements in the sport, it is clear that auto racing is risky business. There is always an element of danger when drivers go into competition. They assume the risks when they strap themselves into the cockpits, and Wheldon fully understood those risks throughout his glorious career, which included Indy 500 victories in 2005 and 2011. He won 16 IndyCar races, including a then-record six in 2005 -- the year he won the series championship.

Wheldon's death was the first in the series since inexperienced driver Paul Dana was killed in a crash during a warmup session before the 2006 season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ironically, Wheldon was the winner of the race held later that day.

After Sunday's massive spectacle of a crash, it became clear to IndyCar Series officials that it was pointless in continuing the event. One of the drivers involved in the crash that went airborne was Team Penske driver Will Power, who entered the race 18 points behind Franchitti in the battle for the championship. With Power out of competition, Franchitti clinched the title, although his fourth IndyCar crown comes with no celebration.

Power was vocal in his criticism of the formula of race cars competing at the wide, smooth, high-banked, 1.544-mile oval.

"A lap around this place is so brainlessly easy flat, but starting that far back in the pack (Wheldon started last out of 34 cars) it is not brainlessly easy," Power said after Friday's qualifications.

In simple terms, the recipe for this perfect storm included the following:

• The current IndyCar chassis has low aerodynamic drag and high downforce, which gives the cars tremendous grip, allowing all of the 34 cars in the race to run close to the same speeds.

• Because the cars could run relatively the same speed, there was no chance to separate the field between the good cars and the bad cars. That allowed the drivers with relative inexperience on the ovals at the back of the grid to run similar speeds to the fast cars at the front, creating a giant 34-car pack similar to what happens at NASCAR's restrictor-plate race tracks at Daytona and Talladega.

• Pack racing in IndyCar is extremely thrilling but tremendously hazardous because these cars were racing at speeds exceeding 220 mph. NASCAR cars typically run 180 mph.

• The 34-car lineup made it the largest field in IndyCar history since the 1997 Indianapolis 500. Several of those cars, however, never made it to the green flag at Indy that year because some of them had engine failures on the parade lap, and the three cars that made up Row 7 all crashed on the pace lap. The normal starting lineup for an IndyCar race on an oval has ranged between 26 to 28 cars recently.

• Although 33 cars start the Indianapolis 500 every year (with the exception of 1997 and other years because of extenuating circumstances), the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a 2.5-mile, flat, four-cornered oval. That puts a premium on a race car's chassis setup, so cars that have hit the right setup are able to drive away from the other cars, creating separation. That is why many of the crashes in the Indianapolis 500 are often single-car incidents, because the drivers have time to react and avoid the incident. That was not the case at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. By having 34 cars racing on a 1.544-mile oval at the speeds they were traveling, it eliminated any reasonable reaction time for a crash in traffic.

• Wheldon was part of a $5 Million Challenge. If he could win the race starting last in the 34-car field he would split $5 million with a fan. Wheldon's mission was to drive through the field and pick off as many cars as he could early in order to settle in with the more competitive cars at the front. Wheldon had already improved 10 positions in the first 10 laps of the race.

• When Sebastian Saavedra's car had a momentary slip in front of James Hinchcliffe, Wade Cunningham's car hit the back of Hinchcliffe's, momentarily causing Cunningham to get off the throttle. By slowing just enough, the car behind Cunningham, driven by rookie J.R. Hildebrand, ran into the back of Cunningham's rear tires. That sent Hildebrand flying into the air.

• With the other cars so closely bunched, it triggered the massive chain-reaction crash. Charlie Kimball, E.J. Viso and Vitor Meira crashed in reaction to Hildebrand's incident. Wheldon's car ran over the back of Kimball's wheel, sending Wheldon on his fatal upside-down flight.

The IndyCar Series came to Las Vegas hoping to move the needle of fan interest. After having the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for several years in front of small crowds, series officials hoped a change in venue to the Entertainment Capital of the World would put the spotlight on IndyCar. A nearly weeklong schedule of events, which included running all 34 IndyCars up "The Strip" during a parade Thursday night, was highly successful, and people in this town were actually talking about IndyCar.

IndyCar wanted to become front-page news again. It accomplished that goal but for all the wrong, grim, grisly reasons.

The headlines didn't hail Franchitti as the greatest IndyCar Series driver of his era as he claimed his fourth series championship and third in a row. Instead, the headlines told the awful tale that the popular and talented Wheldon was dead, killed in one of the most horrific crashes in the modern era of IndyCar -- a form of racing that dates to the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

The 33-year-old Wheldon became the fourth Indianapolis 500 winning driver to die the same season he won the world's biggest race. Gaston Chevrolet won the Indianapolis 500 in 1920 and was killed in a race at Beverly Hills, Calif. In 1929, Ray Keech won the race and was killed the next month at Altoona, Pa. In 1946, George Robson won the Indianapolis 500 and was killed later that year in a race at Atlanta.

Wheldon's death is the seventh to happen in this form of racing since 1996. Scott Brayton was killed in practice for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 after he won the pole one week earlier. Jeff Krosnoff was killed in a CART race at Toronto in July 1996. Gonsolo Rodriguez was killed in a CART practice at Laguna-Seca in 1999, and Greg Moore was killed in the CART race at Fontana, Calif., two months later. Tony Renna was killed in a tire test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003, and, most recently, Dana's death in 2006.

Once the race was canceled, the 19 drivers left in the race paid tribute to Wheldon by running five laps in rows of three around the track as "Amazing Grace" and "Danny Boy" were played over the loudspeakers in an emotional send-off.

When the IndyCar Series World Championships were announced in February, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard had offered a $5 Million challenge that no drivers from another series could beat IndyCar's best. He hoped that bet would lure such NASCAR stars as five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. It was a bet none of those drivers chose to take.

"Their average was 225 [mph]? I've never been 225 mph in my life -- and that's their average around an oval," Johnson said Monday. "They are brave men and women that drive those things.

"Knowing Dan and his wife and two kids, and then I'm sitting there with my daughter running around in the backyard, I was torn up yesterday. I mean, I know Dan ... or knew Dan. We just stared at the TV for a long time yesterday with long faces. Just really sad."

Johnson contended IndyCar should not compete on ovals, although the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is actually an oval, and that is the centerpiece of the sport.

"There's just no need to," Johnson said. "Those cars are fantastic for street circuits, for road courses. The ovals at those speeds ... there's very little crumple zone around the driver. It's an open cockpit, and then you add open wheels -- it's just creating situations to get the car off the ground at a high rate of speed. And you can't control the car when it's off the ground.

"I hate, hate, hate that this tragedy took place. But hopefully they can learn from it and make those cars safer on ovals somehow. I don't know how they can really do it. Myself, I have a lot of friends that race in that series, and I'd just rather see them on street circuits and road courses -- no more ovals."

Johnson was involved in a massive impact when he crashed late in Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Johnson was uninjured in the crash but knows that there remains plenty of danger in NASCAR but not to the degree as IndyCar.

"We know what the risks are [in NASCAR], and the risk factor to driving an open-wheel car is multiplied by 10," Johnson said. "Yes, that threat exists. But I feel like NASCAR has worked hard to keep speeds down. We have devices on the vehicles to keep them on the ground. We don't have those types of crashes.

"I'm not saying the perfect storm couldn't take place, and we couldn't get a couple off the ground. ... But I just don't see our cars having the same issue. I don't see the chance [being] anywhere in the ballpark as those open-wheel cars."

The IndyCar Series will move forward because it always has. Unfortunately, death has been an unwelcome companion to auto racing since the sport began. But here are some necessary changes that need to be made to prevent another perfect storm of calamity.

• Sunday's race was the final time the current IndyCar Dallara chassis and normally aspirated engine was used. This was the same chassis used since 2003 and will be replaced by a newer Dallara chassis that has added safety features, including partial covers to the rear and front of the rear wheels with extended bodywork. Ironically, the test driver for the new 2012 car was Wheldon, whose legacy may partially be that he played a key role in the on-track testing of these cars. The engines will also be turbocharged, which means the speeds can be adjusted downward or upward with the use of a pop-off valve. If the speeds are too high, the pop-off valve can be adjusted to blow at a much lower rate of pressure.

• If IndyCar does return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the field should be capped at 24 to 26 cars. Starting 34 around a track this size proved to be downright insane. It was trying to combine the variable of traffic at a short oval with the high-speed thrill of a high-banked track. That proved to be a fatal combination.

• Make the cars harder to drive. By doing that, it puts more skill back into the driver's hands, allowing the best in the series to actually drive the race cars. That means increase the aerodynamic drag and make the cars actually have to slow down to make the turns. After all, getting on the throttle, shifting gears and hitting the brake are more a part of racing than simply holding the accelerator flat to the floor and turning left.

• While it is essential to bring new drivers into the sport, some of the inexperienced drivers in the back of the field should have been scrutinized further. Perhaps have more rookie tests and actually make those tests harder to pass. Having said that, every driver in any series has to have the opportunity to make their first start. Adding eight drivers to the Las Vegas lineup didn't really bring anything positive to the show, although many drivers admit the same catastrophe could have happened with a 24-car field.

The IndyCar Series was supposed to stage its annual championship celebration where Franchitti would be honored as the series champion, and James Hinchcliffe as the Rookie of the Year. But that was canceled as the thoughts turned to remembering Wheldon not only as a great IndyCar driver but also a tremendous person.

But once the grieving is complete, the hard work begins for the IndyCar Series, and that is making sure it steers clear of the next perfect storm.

Tracy voices IndyCar concerns

(by Gordon Kirby 10-21-11)

Paul Tracy found himself in the middle of the 15-car wreck in which Dan Wheldon perished at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend. Tracy, 42, has been racing Indycars for 20 years but has been without a regular ride in recent seasons and has run only a handful of races for various teams. He made his fifth start of the year at Las Vegas but is seriously considering his future in racing after surviving the carnage at the high-banked 1.5-mile superspeedway.

“My parents and my wife don’t want me in those cars any more and I understand their concerns,” said Tracy this week. “It would be one thing if you were making big money but I do it for nothing now. Is it worth the risk? When I started racing I did it because I love racing and I still do, but I need to go race something else that’s not dangerous.”

The Canadian pointed to former World Champion Jody Scheckter, who wants his son Tomas to get out of Indycars following the Las Vegas tragedy, while title runner-up Will Power’s father has asked his son to do the same. “Power was really lucky,” said Tracy. “Did you see how high his car was off the ground?”

Tracy has always had a sense of humour but he sees nothing funny in IndyCar’s horsepower restricted formula and the ‘pack racing’ it creates on high-banked ovals in particular.

“You can’t run around in a pack like that,” said the Canadian. “You have to be able to go fast enough to spread the field out and be able to make clean, quick passes. We need more horsepower and a different aero package.

“You could go out on that particular track and run 25 laps on a set of tyres and it was like they weren’t even wearing. It’s so easy flat and there’s so much downforce that you’re hardly using the tyre.

“You can do 50 or 60 laps like that without any change in the grip or performance. Until you get to the point where you have to work the car and tyres and have some type of fall-off in grip you’re never going to create any type of separation between the cars.”

Tracy believes that all the drivers in the Vegas shunt were lucky to escape Wheldon’s fate. “It could have been Will or Pippa [Mann] or it could have been me,” he said. “When Pippa drove over the side of me she went right across my face and it ripped the steering wheel out of my hand. Another couple of inches and it would have ripped my head off.”

Tracy is unhappy with the IndyCar Series’ lack of response to making the now-retired Dallara-Honda combination better and has his reservations about the new 2012 car.

“I know racing is dangerous and I know people get killed,” he said. “But this car has had an inherent problem for eight years of taking off and flying. And the driver’s head is 80 per cent more exposed in the new car. We lost a great guy last weekend and I hope they work harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Competition vs Entertainment

(by Thomson Philips 10-20-11)

The last time I managed to finish a column for this website (Short Sighted or Short Circuit) it was a rant against the silly rumours that Formula 1 circuits would be moving to IndyCar*. Since then much has happened in IndyCar*, none of it good, culminating in the death of Dan Wheldon.

Wheldon's death is a personal tragedy for his family, friends and racing community, but let's be blunt. This wasn't an accident or a 'freak thing' like Henry Surtees. It was an inevitability. While Formula 1 has made leaps and bounds in safety (and I will grudgingly give full credit to Max Mosley), IndyCar* has done very little to negate the lift effect of their cars, a problem since the current Dallara chassis was introduced back in 2003. The safety record has been abysmal, with broken backs occurring nearly every May in the lead up to the Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar* has dodged many bullets over the years with their "Flying Crapwagons" (as first dubbed by Paul Tracy). Time and again the cars have gone airborne including 2003 when 63 year old Mario Andretti hit a piece of debris entering the backstretch at Indy. The Dallara he was testing flew up higher than the top of the catch fencing and back-flipped at least 3 times. Luckily for Mario the car came down right side up and he was unhurt, but the sheer height of the flip was an early indication of major trouble.

Safer barriers be damned, when an open wheel car is doing 220 mph and gets airborne into catch fencing, the end result is going to be spectacular and potentially gruesome. Just ask Kenny Brack. Or Ryan Briscoe. Or Mike Conway. Or Will Power, whose flight during the Las Vegas crash defies logic. Had any of those guys gone into the fencing cockpit first like Dan Wheldon, they would not have lived to race another day.

Not much has ever been done about the flight pattern of the IndyCar* Dallaras. One of the reasons is that the powers that be want to maintain the packs of wheel to wheel action at speeds over 200 mph. It's their claim to fame. It's the 'entertainment' value that Americans crave. It's Russian Roulette, all the more ironic given that the race was in Las Vegas and Wheldon had a roulette wheel motif on his helmet.

Am I a ninny who wants motor racing banned, or the cars slowed? Not necessarily. Slowing the cars down to say 185 mph to race on a high banked oval three abreast will still lead to the kind of disaster that happened in Las Vegas. What is needed is separation. The cars are underpowered with high downforce. They can't pull away from each other and the talent levels of the better drivers are somewhat negated. Everyone runs together in a giant pack, and one mistake collects at least several cars. It's one thing for NASCAR to have 15 cars tumbling end over end at almost 200 mph shedding pieces and parts and having the rednecks stand and applaud when the driver climbs out onto the top (or bottom) of the car and takes a bow. But it's another for an open cockpit car to take on the flight path of the space shuttle and careen into metal fence posts 15 feet in the air.

In an email I received after the last column, one reader stated "IndyCar realizes that racing is first about entertainment and second about engineering." Three others mentioned how much more 'exciting and entertaining' IndyCar* is.

Do you think Adrian Newey regards Formula 1 as entertainment? Frank Williams? Luca di Montezemolo? They all know the value of entertaining the fans, but all value the competition above all else. I'll gladly take the excitement of The 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is an exercise in engineering.

IndyCar's* current modus operandi is 'entertainment' in a Circus Maximus kind of way. Warriors, gladiators fighting it out to the death on an oval at 220 mph in wheel to wheel excitement. But is it a competition of skill or bravery?

There is a difference between entertainment and entertaining, but also between entertainment and competition. I want my racing to be entertaining, but I want the entertainment to come from the cold hard battle of competition, not gimmicks, contrived equality, or the bravado of foot to the floor, 100% throttle 100% of the time wheel banging with the prospect of 'The Big Crash'. Note what the ABC announcers said as the crash began. It wasn't "Trouble" or "Oh, no" it was "Here we go" as in "Here we go, we knew it was going to happen and it's what we were all waiting for."

Motor racing is dangerous. It doesn't need to be made more so by desperately clinging to a faulty vision. It would be very wrong to compare Dan Wheldon with Ayrton Senna, but that Imola weekend was a watershed moment for Formula 1, where the powers that be took a major step back and looked at many different aspects of the sport. Wheldon's death needs to be the same.

It's time for IndyCar* to admit they were wrong and revamp everything. Eliminate mile and a half ovals designed for NASCAR. Go back to the drawing boards for a new car, one that looks good, doesn't launch itself into orbit or fracture spines. Eliminate the contrived excitement of the pack mentality. Give the cars enough horsepower with less downforce so that throttle modulation and driving skill determine who makes it through the corners instead of planting your foot to the floor and praying you don't get caught up in someone else's mistake.

Honour Dan Wheldon's memory by doing something difficult, like making major changes, even if it means reducing or eliminating next year's schedule.

Taking the easy way out like naming the new car or a trophy after Wheldon will make his death as meaningless as Scott Brayton's, Tony Renna's or Paul Dana's.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More heartbreak for Mario Andretti

(By Ed Hinton 10-19-11)

These are the latest black days in 44 years of losing friends to the sport Mario Andretti still loves unconditionally. And yet, "It's something you never get used to, I can tell you that," the best-known driver ever, in all of auto racing, said Tuesday in a subdued voice. If anything, "It gets worse ... "

This was a man grieving yet again, devastated yet again, you could tell on the phone, if you'd known him long enough. Decency forbade asking him to count them all.

"There were too many," he said, at age 71.

First, at Riverside, Calif., in 1967, was Billy Foster -- "I would say today he was my closest friend in racing as a driver."

Latest, at Las Vegas this past Sunday, was Dan Wheldon, who had driven for Mario's son Michael in the past and had signed on with the team again for next year.

"No question, it was like losing a family member," Mario said. "It doesn't get any worse than that."

Mario Andretti, quite arguably, has been beleaguered more, longer, by death than any other driver, probably due to the vast diversity of his racing. He won the Daytona 500 in 1967, the Indy 500 in '69 and the Formula One world championship in '78.

The day he clinched the F1 title at Monza, Italy, his Lotus teammate, Ronnie Peterson, was injured, and died late that night. In prototype sports cars, Andretti was a Ferrari teammate of the legendary Pedro Rodriguez, killed in Germany in 1972.

There have been few drivers at the higher levels that Andretti didn't know, and "Nothing is ever the same after you lose a buddy, someone who has touched your life," he said Tuesday.

I sat with him in 1991 at Michael's home, reviewing video of the fatal crash of the humble journeyman NASCAR driver J. D. McDuffie, listening to his outrage at the shortcomings of safety measures at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

We talked at length at the funeral of Davey Allison, who died of injuries suffered in a helicopter crash into the Talladega infield in 1993.

At Homestead, Fla., after promising young Canadian Greg Moore had been killed in a CART race at Fontana, Calif., I heard the outrage again, this anger about a grassy area that allowed Moore's car to skate wildly, flip, roll, and disintegrate. It should have been paved, Mario said.

"They want pretty green grass for the TV shots? Well, then paint the goddamned asphalt green," he growled.

Suffice it to say Mario Andretti never has pulled a punch when he thought there were shortcomings in safety measures.

So he of all experts was credible when he said on Tuesday that this time, Sunday, "The safety aspect worked tremendously, it worked very well, except for one guy. You look at the replays over and over, and there were hard impacts, cars flying all over the place, and Dan was the only real unlucky one, to be flying closer to the wall, and he got into the catch-fencing.

"If he would have got into the SAFER barrier [just below the fence], he would have been brushing himself off and have a cup of coffee later. Look at how hard some of those [other] guys hit, and the worst thing you had was like a broken finger."

Andretti does have a procedural criticism. INDYCAR rules strictly dictate uniform technology in the cars, for parity.

"All along I was somewhat concerned about the fact that the cars are so equally matched by a spec series, and so when they're running on these ovals they can't get away from one another.

"They're inches apart for a couple of hours at tremendous speeds, and the slightest miscalculation can spell disaster.

"Vegas is a beautiful facility, it's perfect in many ways. That makes it too easy for these cars, which have great potential cornering speed, to be three abreast or even four abreast through the corners. As you know, the slightest miscue is what caused it all, and it becomes a chain reaction because they're all together."

INYCAR has drawn wide criticism for starting 34 cars Sunday, more cars on a 1.5-mile track than the 33 in the Indy 500 at 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Obviously, the more cars, the more of a chance for something like this to happen," Andretti said. "At the same time, you want a spectacle. What makes NASCAR a spectacle on the ovals? You've got 43 cars. Maybe it would be nice for us to have that many cars, but then you've got three times the danger aspect.

"Here, if you'd had 26 cars [a more common field for IndyCar], would that have made a difference? I don't know ... the other part is, to fill a field like that [34], you don't have all experienced drivers. But we've all been inexperienced. How do you gain experience? You gotta be doing it the first time sometime."

No matter the science applied to safety, "I don't think we'll ever be 100 percent safe. Like you're not 100 percent safe when you drive to work. Or, unfortunately, when you're flying.

"But the sport has come a long way."

So this really was a matter of bad luck more than anything left undone by the organization?

"Yeah. I feel very strongly about that. Because if you look at this thing realistically, you examine exactly what happened, that [luck] is what it is. He was dealt a bad card on that round. But for a couple of inches he probably would have been all right."

Open-cockpit cars invite what biomechanical engineers call injuries of intrusion -- that is, foreign objects can get into the car with the driver. Wheldon likely would have survived with some sort of roof over his head.

But to do that, "They might as well have a stock car," Andretti said. "This is the purest form of the sport. This is the way it was born, and it's been running like this for over 100 years. But I think, quite honestly, the cockpit protection is adequate.

"I think what really caused this was the cars being launched. The cars becoming airborne. And if you look at the design of the 2012 car, that very aspect was dealt with."

In open-wheel racing, when the tires of one car come in contact with those of another, "that's a launching pad," Andretti said. "The new car eliminates this flying, by having the rear wheels partly enclosed. At least we've got that to look forward to.

"But we got unlucky on this very last one," this very last IndyCar race featuring completely open wheels. "We had the so-called 'big one.' Like in NASCAR, they talk about the big one at Talladega and Daytona. But at least they have fenders. It's bad enough for them ... "

In recent decades, every fatality at the major levels has brought change, "after the horse is out of the barn," as Johnny Rutherford used to put it. This time, INDYCAR was already at the brink of making the change from completely exposed tires that caused, or at least exacerbated, Sunday's melee.

Still it is one race too late.

And now Mario Andretti is left to mourn yet another of so many friends dead.

At least nowadays the dying is less frequent, what with all the safety science.

"Back in the '50s, '60s and '70s, it was not even cool for a driver to ask for more protection," Andretti remembered.

"Billy Foster was killed just in front of me, before I was ready to go qualify at Riverside. I was the next guy to go out to qualify and my best friend got killed.

"Those are tough ones. ... There were too many. And it gets worse ... "

Johnson hashes out call on oval ban with IndyCar

( 10-19-11)

Five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said Wednesday he's spoken to many IndyCar drivers about his belief that the series should not be racing on ovals, and all understood what he meant.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car accident Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. When asked the next day about the accident, Johnson said ovals were not safe for IndyCars and the series should abandon them.

"I have a lot of friends that race in that series, and I'd just rather see them on street circuits and road courses. No more ovals," Johnson said Monday.

His comment led to an angry backlash from fans who believed Johnson had no business weighing in on another series. Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt also rebuked Johnson's comments, with Foyt telling USA Today that Johnson was "pretty stupid to make a statement like that.

"You could say the same about stock cars. I've driven both, and I've been hurt real bad in both," Foyt told USA Today.

Andretti called Johnson on Wednesday to discuss it, and Johnson clarified that he should have been specific about high-banked ovals. Las Vegas has progressive banking, and many IndyCar drivers expressed concern about racing on that kind of track.

Johnson called Foyt after he spoke to Andretti, and said he's also had conversations with Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Oriol Servia, Paul Tracy, Marco Andretti and IndyCar chairman Randy Bernard about his comments. He said all understood what he meant, and all supported him.

The majority of the drivers have said very little since Sunday's accident, and Johnson said many expressed hope that the focus will be returned back to Wheldon as his family prepares for his funeral.

Juan Pablo Montoya, a former Indianapolis 500 winner who now drives in NASCAR, echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

"I think people really have to forget about that," Montoya said in Miami. "Now with the social media and everything anybody's opinion really counts. And I think the only opinion that really matters right now is the one where we worry about Dan and his family. Let's let IndyCar deal with their problems."

Johnson did receive some support from former open-wheel driver AJ Allmendinger, who last weekend announced he was starting an IndyCar team next season. Now a NASCAR driver, Allemendinger raced at Las Vegas in the Champ Car Series before the track was reconfigured to add its banking.

"People have spoken out, does Vegas need to be safer? The chain link fences? I'm sorry, nothing was going to save (Wheldon)," Allmendinger said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "You go flipping into the wall at 225 (mph), you're not going to live through that. And it's just tragic ... it's heartbreaking.

"And it just doesn't need to happen. They don't need to be on those racetracks. Smaller ovals, they can still keep those. You can still keep Indy because it is tradition and (at) Indy you're not running three, four wide. But you cannot have Talladega Superspeedway (style) racing with an IndyCar at Vegas or Texas. It finally happened and hopefully something changes."

Johnson said the accident gives all forms of motorsports a chance to band together for the sake of safety improvements.

"Motor sports needs IndyCar. NASCAR needs IndyCar. The (IndyCar series) was heading in a great direction," Johnson said. "We need to figure out as a group how to make racing safer. We've got a lot of smart people and we can all pool together and make motorsports smarter."

IndyCar CEO: Focus is on Wheldon, safety

( 10-19-11)

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said Wednesday night the best way to honor Dan Wheldon is finding a way to prevent another fatal accident.

The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was killed Sunday in a fiery 15-car accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. IndyCar has launched a formal investigation that Bernard hopes will lead to improved safety measures.

"We've got a lot to do, and we don't have any time to mess around," Bernard told The Associated Press on Wednesday night.

"We need answers."

IndyCar initially said Formula One's governing body and the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States were involved in the investigation. IndyCar clarified Wednesday that neither organization has a formal role in the investigation.

But Bernard, in his first comments since announcing Wheldon's death, stressed the investigation must help IndyCar ensure there will not be another accident like Sunday's.

"We must continue to move forward with a thorough investigation; fortunately, that has already begun, and we have the protocols in place to get this done," Bernard said. "This was a tragic accident, and IndyCar needs to understand everything possible about it."

There's been very little public comment from IndyCar's stars since the accident. The top drivers have been largely silent except for an occasional Twitter post.

Bernard said Wednesday night that the industry has banded together this week to focus on supporting Wheldon's family and preparing for his memorial service. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced, but a public memorial service is scheduled for Sunday in Indianapolis.

"This has been a very difficult time, but we have to stay focused more than ever right now," Bernard said. "The first thing we have to do is take care of the Wheldon family and make sure we are there to help them anyway we can."

IndyCar has helped launch a memorial website for Wheldon, established a trust fund and organized the public service at Conseco Field.

"Those were the things that were very important for us to get done as quickly as possible," Bernard said. "Everyone in this community is so focused on letting the Wheldon family know our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we are doing everything we can to support them."

Wheldon's death was the first fatal accident in IndyCar since Paul Dana was killed in 2006, but safety concerns have been raised about the wisdom of racing at the high-banked Las Vegas track.

Because of the open-wheel design of the IndyCar, the cars cannot race side-by-side on the progressive banking at Las Vegas and wide open through the turns without creating substantial risk. Contact between two cars can trigger a massive accident, which is exactly what happened Sunday.

Wheldon came upon the accident, ran over another car, and his car spun through the air into the catch fence. The open cockpit appeared to take a direct hit with the fence.

Bernard declined Wednesday to discuss the safety questions surrounding Las Vegas, saying he preferred to keep the focus on Wheldon this week.

That seemed to be the shared thinking throughout the auto racing community, as both former Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson called for attention to be directed on Wheldon's life.

"I think people really have to forget about (safety questions)," Montoya said. "Now with the social media and everything anybody's opinion really counts. And I think the only opinion that really matters right now is the one where we worry about Dan and his family. Let's let IndyCar deal with their problems."

New IndyCar Series chassis will be named in honor of Wheldon

( 10-18-11)

IndyCar's new Dallara chassis will be named in honor of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

Wheldon, who did most of the testing on the new 2012 IndyCar, was killed Sunday in a fiery, 15-car pileup at the season-ending race in Las Vegas. IndyCar officials said late Tuesday that they will hold a public memorial service Sunday afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse. The service will begin at 4 p.m.

"Dan lives in the memory of everybody at Dallara," company president and founder Gianpaolo Dallara said in a statement Tuesday. "We will honor his memory for the years to come by dedicating the Dallara IndyCar2012 in his name. He deserves that."

Flags at the company's Italian headquarters were lowered to half staff Monday.

IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips, who oversaw the testing program, said Wheldon did everything he could to make the car safer and stronger and that his assistance will be "sorely missed."

IndyCar is investigating the fatal crash.

Formula One's governing body (FIA) and the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States, an umbrella organization of auto racing sanctioning bodies in the United States, will assist in the inquiry.

Preliminary findings were expected within several weeks.

Series officials said a trust fund for Wheldon's family has been established. Donations can be sent to Fifth Third Private Bank, attention Dan Wheldon Family Trust, 251 North Illinois St., Suite 1000, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

Two-time Indy 500 champ Wheldon dies in fiery crash at Las Vegas race

( 10-16-11)

It was supposed to be a day of potential glory and fortune for Dan Wheldon as he had a chance to split a $5 million bonus with a fan if he could win Sunday's IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Instead, it became one of the darkest days in the history of the sport as the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was killed in a horrific crash on Lap 11.

Wheldon, who won the Indy 500 in 2005 and 2011, was driving one of 15 cars involved in a fiery massive crash between Turns 1 and 2. His car went airborne and flew high into the fence before landing upside down on the edge of the wall. Wheldon's helmet hit the wall, causing an "unsurvivable head injury," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, who announced Wheldon's death, at 33, just after 6 p.m. ET.

The impact was so severe the roll hoop broke off the top of his car. Wheldon was unconscious when safety workers arrived at the scene of his crash. A yellow tarp was quickly placed over his car to block the others from seeing the damage inside his cockpit.

The red flag was displayed by IndyCar Series officials, stopping the race. The remaining drivers later attended a meeting, where the decision was made to end the race. Approximately 10 minutes after that gathering concluded, they climbed into their cars and formed rows of three on the racetrack for a five-lap tribute to Wheldon. Crew members of every team, along with series officials, lined the edge of pit road as spectators stood politely and applauded on each of the five laps.

Amazing Grace and Danny Boy were played in a solemn tribute to the likable driver from Emberton, England, who earlier in the day had agreed to a full-time ride with team owner Michael Andretti for the 2012 season, to replace the departing Danica Patrick. Wheldon is survived by his wife, Susie, and two sons, Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months. They were at the race along with other family members.

As Dario Franchitti pulled into the pit area, his wife, actress Ashley Judd, awaited the driver on pit road. She pulled a floppy sun hat over her eyes to hide some of the tears. When Franchitti climbed out of the car, they hugged. Then Franchitti hugged his father, George, as both men broke down in tears. He then turned back to Judd and they shared a tearful embrace. Franchitti called Wheldon one of his best friends.

The 2011 Championships Celebration, an awards banquet, was scheduled to follow the race on Monday night at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, but IndyCar officials announced late Sunday that the event had been canceled.

A public memorial for Wheldon will be held at a later date.

In a cruel twist of irony, the accident was grimly reminiscent of a championship battle Franchitti was involved in back in 1999. On that day, his best friend, Greg Moore, was killed in virtually the same type of impact in a single-car crash on Lap 10 in the final race of the season. Moore's father, Ric, was at Sunday's race, his first time attending an IndyCar race since his son was killed 12 years ago.

Franchitti finished second in that's year's championship and won this year's over Will Power, but he had no reason to celebrate.

"One minute you're joking around during driver intros and then the next moment Dan's gone," Franchitti said. "I told [Dan's 2-year-old son] Sebastian Thursday night at the parade, that I've known his dad since he was your size. Dan was 6 years old when I met him. ... [E]veryone in the IZOD IndyCar Series considered Dan a friend. He was just one of those special, special people. I'm trying to hold it together."

Wheldon entered the 2011 season without a full-time ride. He agreed to a one-race deal with his friend, Bryan Herta, for the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 and was one of the fastest drivers in the weeks leading to the race. He won it in amazing fashion when race leader Hildebrand crashed in the final turn of the last lap heading to the checkered flag. Wheldon drove past Hildebrand's crippled car to win his second Indy 500.

Because of that victory, Wheldon was part of a promotion in which he would start last in Sunday's 34-car field, but if he won the race he would split $5 million with a fan.

And earlier Sunday, Wheldon had agreed to that full-time ride with Andretti for next season.

"We had just literally inked the deal this morning for him to replace Danica Patrick in the No. 7 GoDaddy car," Andretti said. "He was a very close friend. We had great plans to do a lot of fun things together. It's part of our sport. He knew the risks. We all know the risks when we get in the car. We are going to miss him."

The crash was triggered when Wade Cunningham's car hit James Hinchcliffe's rear wheel, which caused Cunningham to slow down. Rookie driver J.R. Hildebrand's car slammed into the right rear of Cunningham's car, launching it into the air. That triggered a massive, fiery crash that involved nine other drivers (Townsend Bell, Jay Howard, Tomas Scheckter, Charlie Kimball, Paul Tracy, E.J. Viso, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann and Buddy Rice).

"In this kind of racing there is not much room for error," Cunningham said after the crash. "I'm not thrilled about it. But it is what it is, and at this point it's kind of immaterial because there are some people hurt in there. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for everyone in the accident."

Entering the race, drivers feared that with speeds at 225 miles per hour and with a track so smooth and so wide, that it was too easy for all the cars on the track. It wasn't selective enough to separate the good drivers from the bad drivers. It created potentially dangerous pack racing.

"It's so brainlessly easy flat, but what it did do is put us back in the pack, which is not brainlessly easy," Power said Friday. "That's very tough. The race around here is going to be really difficult because it's going to be such a pack race, and that's what manufactures ... really tight-knit racing, which is really quite intense.

"There is no real strategy. It's going to be three-wide, and I don't see the pack stringing out much at all. We'll have to play it the best we can to stay out of trouble. This oval racing, when you are flat-out 100 percent, it is kind of ridiculous."

After the crash, cars were brought onto pit road. The drivers remaining in the race climbed out and tried to discuss the series of events.

"It was just a chain reaction, and everybody slowed down, got bunched up again and there were more crashes that started behind it," 2008 Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon said. "It's unfortunate because everybody knew it was going to happen. You could see from Lap 2 people were driving nuts. It doesn't even matter the speeds -- you can't touch with these cars. I was in the middle of that one, and it was pure luck that I wasn't in it."

A few laps before Wheldon's crash, Alex Tagliani and Ryan Briscoe made contact on the racetrack, but both were able to continue without crashing.

"It was like driving through a war zone," Briscoe said. "We all predicted something like this would happen. It was inevitable. ... These open-wheel cars, there is no room for error."

But at 225 miles per hour on a 1.544-mile oval, 34 cars may have been too many.

"I don't think anybody can predict this," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. "Racing is what we do. The more cars we have, the healthier the series is. It's unfortunate this happened. Racing is inherently a dangerous sport. That's the thrill of why these guys do it, why we do it and why it's entertaining to watch -- the unpredictable nature of it. We've all seen days like this before -- we just hope they are minimized."

Added Franchitti, "You know I love hard racing, but that to me is not really what it's about. I said before we even tested here that this was not a suitable track for us, and we've seen it today. You can't get away from anybody. There's no way to differentiate yourself as a car or a driver. People get frustrated and go four-wide and you saw that happened."

Wheldon's death drew a reaction from drivers in all forms of motor sports, including NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whose father -- seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt -- was killed in a crash in the last turn of the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

"I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Wheldon at the National Guard Youth Challenge dinner about five years ago, and we crossed paths several times since then, mostly through our mutual partnership with the National Guard," Earnhardt said. "His success as a racer speaks for itself, but I will remember him as a true professional who was friendly, respectful and genuine. On behalf of everyone at JR Motorsports, I send condolences to Dan's family, team and friends in the racing community."

Tony Kanaan was another of Wheldon's closest friends. Because he was the leader of the race at the time it was stopped, he was on pole position during the five-lap tribute to Wheldon

"What a cruel coincidence," Kanaan said. "God does things in a strange way. We were there through Greg Moore, and today I was picked for that role. Another one of my best friends went.

"I just pray that he rests in peace, and I give my support to all of his family. He was one of my best friends and greatest teammates. As race car drivers we have to block this from our thoughts. Unfortunately, racing is dangerous. This has been happening for years, for ages, for decades. It's just hard to swallow, but we have to move on. None of the drivers that lost their lives want us to quit.

"We're not quitters; we're racers."

Wheldon's death is the seventh to happen in this form of racing since 1996. Scott Brayton was killed in practice for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 after he won the pole one week earlier. Jeff Krosnoff was killed in a CART race at Toronto in July 1996. Gonsolo Rodriguez was killed in a CART practice at Laguna-Seca in Monterey, Calif. in 1999, and Moore was killed in the CART race at Fontana, Calif., two months later. Tony Renna was killed in a tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003 and Paul Dana was killed in a warmup before the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.

Wheldon became the fourth Indianapolis 500 winning driver to die the same season he won the world's biggest race.Gaston Chevrolet won the Indianapolis 500 in 1920 and was killed in a race at Beverly Hills, Calif. In 1929, Ray Keech won the race and was killed the next month at Altoona, Pa. In 1946, George Robson won the Indianapolis 500 and was killed later that year in a race at Atlanta.