Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Las Vegas boss defends venue in aftermath of Wheldon accident

(by Simon Strang autosport.com 10-18-11)

Las Vegas Motor Speedway president Chris Powell has defended the venue's hosting of the IndyCar Series finale in which Dan Wheldon lost his life after a 15-car pile-up.

Drivers from both the series and around the world have questioned whether the 1.5-mile venue was an appropriate track to run an IndyCar race with 34 cars.

But Powell insisted that he was not told of any such concerns prior to the event.

"When drivers have concerns, I think 99 percent of the time those concerns are expressed to the sanctioning body," said Powell. "If those concerns were expressed in this instance, certainly it was not to me."

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, newly-crowned four-time champion Dario Franchitti was critical of the decision for the series to race in Las Vegas.

"I said before we tested here, having driven a stock car here, that this is not a suitable track and we've seen it today," said the Ganassi driver. "You can't get away from anybody, there's no way to differentiate yourself from a car or driver.

"You are just stuck there and people get frustrated and go four wide and you saw what happened, one small mistake from somebody and it's a massive thing."

Tony Kanaan, who qualified on pole for the event, expressed a similar view: "When you are asking for a track like this with the cars that we have it's a potential for disaster. You have some guys getting excited out there when we are racing so close. One mistake can take 15 people out, and that's what happened there."

Powell said that Las Vegas had passed all of IndyCar's regulations and was deemed fit to host the race.

"We as a speedway make sure we provide a venue that they come in and make an assessment when they're ready to race, and they did that exact thing," he said.

"Our speedway conforms to every regulation that any sanctioning body has ever held it to, and we're very proud of that."

Alex Lloyd, one of the 14 drivers other than Wheldon to have been caught up in the accident said in a column for CNN that he believed no one should be blamed for the tragedy. But he added that it was important IndyCar as a sport learned lessons from it.

"The question surrounds us as to why this happened," he said. "Was the racetrack too unsafe? Honestly, I don't have the answer to those questions.

"Is our job worth the risk? When you think of Dan's wife and children left behind, the answer is simple. No. But coming into this race you could argue that the risks are so remote that it was worth the risk to do what we love. Injury is possible, but we just haven't seen a death in the sport for a long time, and huge safety improvements have been made.

"Sunday we learned the hard truth: that no matter how much we can improve safety and plan for all eventualities, some things are impossible to prepare for. I think over this off-season we will evaluate what went wrong and how we can prevent this from happening again. And mark my words, we will learn from this.

"No one can be blamed for this accident. It is just that, an accident. We will learn and improve, but we will not blame."

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