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.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Indy car still needs work

(by John Oreovicz 12-22-11)

What do you get when you design a race car by committee and build it to a price?

The Dallara DW12 Indy car, which has an alarming number of people involved in the Izod IndyCar Series only half-joking that Dallara is Italian for disaster.

The car is named after the late Dan Wheldon, who handled the initial shakedown tests of Italian race car manufacturer Dallara Automobili's first new Indy car design since 2003. But Wheldon was maybe too diplomatic, a PR-minded party-line kind of guy, so he never played up the car's shortcomings. There are many of those, a fact that became obvious when testing moved on to the engine manufacturer phase and the car scared the likes of Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan while resolutely refusing to top 216 mph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Following another round of testing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Scott Dixon gave the most honest assessment of the car to date, calling it "a bit of a pig" with an even more pronounced pendulum effect than the current Dallara IR03, which is already a tail-heavy car. The numbers don't lie; the DW12 has a weight distribution of 41 percent front, 59 percent rear, as compared to the IR03's 45/55.

The car's handling got better during the most recent round of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the improvement came from an extreme measure: Placing 26 pounds of lead ballast in the nose of the car to balance out the weight distribution.

Although he admitted he was discouraged by some aspects of early testing of the DW12, Franchitti generally isn't worried about sorting the car out prior to the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25.

"Working with the car has been a little bit frustrating," Franchitti said. "Scott says they're starting to make some progress now. But for me, it's very important that the series allows us to fix the car and to work with the car and not paint us into too tight a box. It's important the series allows the latitude to adjust the car to different driving styles. I would say that's the one thing that's kind of concerning me.

"Hopefully they can come up with an elegant engineering solution to fixing the problems of the handling imbalance the car's had."

After initially blaming suppliers for suspension and gearbox components that didn't meet target weight goals, Dallara is finally reacting to the crisis. Revised suspension geometry will help shift the weight forward, and a completely new oval track aero package (floor, sidepods, wings) is under development.

"As requested by INDYCAR, Dallara will design an alternative set of suspensions to move back two inches the front wheels and one inch the rear wheels," stated Andrea Toso, head of research and development and U.S. racing business leader for Dallara Automobili. "Both front and both rear suspensions will be available for the teams from the catalog and can be utilized in any combination front to rear at all the events."

Toso hinted that the Honda engines that powered the initial development car that Wheldon drove were as much as 30 kilograms heavier than anticipated, a situation he said resulted from INDYCAR's insistence on tight price caps and extreme durability standards for the league's engine suppliers.

The updated suspension was not available when the initial batch of 15 cars was delivered to teams on Dec. 15, but the pressure is not as great as it could be because the first oval activity of the 2012 season won't happen until the month of May at Indianapolis. Still, the oval package will essentially be starting at ground zero when testing resumes in the spring.

Dallara is ramping up for a total build of around 60 cars.

"Teams will take delivery of their cars with the current set of suspensions and, should they decide to start the season with the alternative set, they can get free of charge replacement based on the return of the current set," Toso said.

This late redesign represents an opportunity for Dallara and INDYCAR to overcome the universally negative reaction to the DW12's appearance. A poll of more than 6,000 fans at resulted in 98 percent expressing dissatisfaction with the look of the car, especially the bulbous sidepods that shroud the rear wheels.

"Everyone has an opinion," shrugged Will Phillips, project director for INDYCAR's 2012 car.

How could Dallara have gotten it so wrong? There are a number of factors. For starters, it's been nine years since Dallara created a new Indy car chassis, and the IR03 was in many ways an update of the company's 2000 car, albeit with a major change in front suspension philosophy. The key is that since 2003, development of the IR03 was almost exclusively handled by the teams, with little or no factory involvement. As such, Dallara was already somewhat out of touch with its own most recent design.

Dallara had an extremely tight box to work in, courtesy of the requirements made by INDYCAR's ICONIC Committee. Most of those mandates were made in the interest of safety even before Wheldon's death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (in a Dallara IR03) on Oct. 16, but it appears some of them -- chiefly, the wider floor and sidepods that extend all the way to the outer edge of the rear tires and the rear bumper pods mounted behind the rear wheels -- are contributing to the car's higher-than-anticipated drag and high-speed instability on ovals.

Phillips said the car's controversial sidepods were created in the interest of safety, but he believes they are not the cause of the car's higher-than-anticipated drag.

"Dallara spent an awful lot of time looking at what happens when the old car 'yaws,'" Phillips said, referring to how the car reacts when it snaps sideways from its center axis. "As the car goes into yaw and runs down the track sideways, it can have a tendency to fly. The features of the new car are designed to specifically reduce the yaw characteristics of the car. The new car is roughly 50 percent less likely to have an overturning moment around the center of gravity through a yaw-induced effect."

The worrying thing is that INDYCAR quietly concedes it doesn't know why the DW12 is not working the way the computer simulations say it is supposed to. It's almost as if Dallara was so concerned about how the DW12 would perform if it got sideways or up into the air that it forgot to pay attention to how the car would run in a straight line or through corners.

The 50 percent wind tunnel model of the DW12 was recently retested in an alternate wind tunnel with known characteristics, and the results backed up Dallara's initial numbers. The next step is to take a full-size IR03 (donated by Ganassi Racing) and a DW12 to a 100 percent tunnel and compare the results using real cars.

"We're trying to identify why the theoretical world doesn't match the real world at the racetrack," Phillips admitted. "At very high speeds, we have disparity in the data."

The good news is that the drivers have been generally positive about the DW12 in road racing trim and the car is reportedly already slightly faster than the outgoing car, which admittedly was originally designed exclusively for oval competition.

Championship-winning team owner Chip Ganassi is convinced that Dallara and INDYCAR will get the DW12 right, although it may take more time than expected.

"Everybody has questions about the new car, but I think you have to think back to the car we're retiring now," Ganassi said. "When that car was developed, it took two or three years to get that car right. When we were getting new cars every year in CART, they were just evolutions of a previous car. This new car is somewhat of a revolution. It might take a little extra time to get it what I would say is right for everybody, not necessarily right for just one or two teams.

"I think INDYCAR is keeping an open mind," Ganassi continued. "They've already come out and said, 'OK, we need to change the testing rules.' They seem open to changing things when we need to. So hopefully they'll keep that attitude going forward. It's just a process we have to go working through. The mere fact that the car didn't come out of the box at the current performance level of a car that's been being developed for 12 years, I don't think that's the end of the world. We just need to buckle down and get to work on it."

The Dallara DW12 is not the first bad race car, and it certainly won't be the last. It's a bit disheartening that INDYCAR had nine years to come up with a new car and managed to legislate itself into what looks like a dud so far. But the performance of the car can and will be fixed -- even if it means running 25 pounds of lead weight in the nose.

Here are a few other notable Indy car disasters from the last 40 years. Not all of them had unhappy endings …

1. The 1972 Parnelli "dihedral" car: Parnelli Jones tapped Lotus F1 designer Maurice Phillippe to design an Indy car and Philippe definitely started with a clean sheet of paper. His design featured torsion bar suspension and wings that sprouted at a 45-degree angle out of the sides of the car. Al Unser said it was the worst new car he'd ever driven and Mario Andretti said it wouldn't even go down the straight correctly. The car was slowly converted into a more standard design and while never ultra-fast, it delivered Joe Leonard to the 1972 USAC championship.

2. 1986-87 Penske PC15 and PC16: Roger Penske began building his own Indy cars in 1977 and they were often more competitive than customer cars from Lola or March. Penske hired F1 designer Alan Jenkins to pen a car around the new Ilmor-Chevrolet engine. The resulting PC15 and the updated PC16 were beautiful cars, but they were dog slow. Rick Mears abandoned his PC16 at Indianapolis in 1987 and immediately picked up 8 mph in a year-old March. The team finished out the '87 season in Marches; new designer Nigel Bennett's Penske PC17 design was the class of the CART field in 1988 and Bennett-designed Penskes were front-runners through 1995.

3. March 88C: March dominated the customer car market from 1982 onward. But Lola's 1987 challenger was very successful in the hands of Mario Andretti and Newman/Haas Racing, so other teams started switching to Lola in the winter of 1987-88. When Al Unser Jr. was the only driver to extract speed from the 1988 March design, several teams switched to Lola at midseason and by 1989 March was out of the Indy customer car business.

4. Lola T97/00: Reynard arrived on the Indy car scene in 1994 and quickly ate into Lola's customer car base. Lola's new 1997 design had immediate problems in testing, prompting several teams to make a panicked switch to Reynard just before the season. By 1998, Lola had just one car on the CART grid, but designer Ben Bowlby made continued improvements and Helio Castroneves was often very competitive on ovals in 1999. Bowlby did a major update in 2000, prompting Ganassi Racing and Newman/Haas Racing to switch to Lola. By 2002, Lola had recaptured 95 percent of the customer car market and Reynard had faded from the scene. The 2002 Lola became the de facto spec car of the Champ Car World Series, serving for five years, and it could directly trace its roots to the unloved T97/00.

Dario Franchitti says safety is focus

( 12-21-11)

Dario Franchitti hasn't had any time to celebrate his fourth IndyCar title.

He's been too busy working during a somber offseason.

Instead of kicking back and relaxing with his wife, Ashley Judd, Franchitti has been out testing the new 2012 car, discussing safety proposals with series officials and reflecting on the death of his close friend, Dan Wheldon.

"It's been obviously a lot different this year with losing Dan at the last race. It (winning a fourth series title) has not been something I thought about that much," Franchitti said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "It did sink in. It's bizarre. Last year it sunk in when I was in the middle of the Outback when I was on a motorbike. This year I think I was driving somewhere when it hit me. Last year I felt it was kind of really joy."

There has been nothing joyous about this title tour.

Six days after clinching his third straight points championship in Las Vegas, Franchitti was in Florida for Wheldon's funeral. The next day, he attended a public memorial service in Indianapolis. The day after that, he was back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, leading a meeting with drivers and series officials to discuss safety reforms.

Things were even tougher when the 38-year-old European native returned home.

He drove a go-kart to help raise money for Alzheimer's research, Wheldon's favorite charity. And as Franchitti made the rounds on the United Kingdom racing awards circuit, Wheldon's family brought back reminders, too.

"If he (Dan) was here, he would have been here with me, he would have been celebrating his Indy 500, and I would have been celebrating the championship," Franchitti said. "We would have had a good time. He would have been getting the plaudits he richly deserved. Whether it was his family or his dad, Clive, getting these awards on his behalf, it was pretty tough."

The two drivers had plenty in common.

Franchitti grew up in Scotland, Wheldon in England. Both won two Indianapolis 500s, were enormously popular within the racing community and drove for Michael Andretti at the height of the team's success.

But when tragedy struck in October, Franchitti's life changed. From the moment he broke down in tears in the cockpit of his No. 10 car, Franchitti became a more forceful advocate for driver's safety.

In the weeks since Vegas, Franchitti has been testing the new IndyCar and getting feedback from others who have done the same. He's stayed in touch with other drivers and series officials about what measures could be taken to prevent another racing death.

The league's investigation showed a "limitless" track at Vegas was a key factor leading to the crash. IndyCar president Brian Barnhart said the series will conduct more testing at ovals, and that he hopes to put 12 or more cars on those tracks to better simulate racing conditions -- a move Franchitti approves.

"I think Dan's accident was a catalyst for a renewal of that (safety) effort. We've all been working on that," Franchitti said. "Yeah, I think right now I'm happy with what I see and with the effort that everybody's putting in, the fact that the drivers have very much been included in that. I take my hat off to the IndyCar Series for doing that."

Safety isn't the only concern.

Bernard said last Thursday he was hoping to release the 2012 schedule in the next two days. It's still not out and the tentative schedule only has three oval races.

The new cars have not performed as well as expected, either, and will likely require additional work to get up to speed.

Franchitti and team owner Chip Ganassi believe those problems will get solved, in time.

"I think in terms of road racing, the car is fine. It just needs a little help on the ovals," Ganassi said. "There's only three ovals right now from what we're hearing. That may be a blessing right off the bat."

But for Franchitti, the most difficult part of the offseason has been the memory of winning a championship at a race where he lost a friend.

"What happened with Dan was absolutely tragic. We miss him. Really, I don't know what else to say apart from that," he said. "He was obviously a great friend and a terrific competitor. I think I speak for the whole racing community, especially the IndyCar family, that we'll all really, really miss him."

Formula 1 needs influx of American drivers to be successful in the U.S.

(by Tim Tuttle 12-21-11)

Formula 1 will return from its second multiyear U.S. hiatus with a Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, next November. The first track in the nation that was built specifically to F1 specifications and amenity standards has invested $300 million in the facility and must pay a huge sanctioning fee -- estimated at $25 million -- to put the world's highest priced and most technologically advanced race cars on the track.

History has shown making a profit with an F1 event in America will be difficult. Indianapolis made money from 2000 to 2004, was severely damaged by a tire fiasco in 2005 and lost money in its final two years. It had been the first track to hold an F1 race in the U.S. since 1991, when Phoenix's street event folded after three years. Phoenix never made money.

For F1 to become successful in America, it must be sustainable long term and that requires profits. Those will come from American drivers, who will build the television audience and the fan base. It needs another Dan Gurney or Mario Andretti and it needs them both in F1 at the same time. One won't do it.

With the Austin race in 2012 and the announced race in New Jersey, with the Manhattan skyline in the background, for 2013, the opportunity to lift F1's profile and bring American drivers into the fold is greatly enhanced. F1 won't ever equal the popularity of NASCAR and the two events will never grow larger than the Indianapolis 500, but it can prosper into a premier international sporting event in the States. Think Olympics. Think soccer's World Cup. F1 plays on that stage every year, delivering the world's largest television viewership.

There aren't any American drivers in F1. Scott Speed was the last, driving in 28 races in the 2006 and 2007 seasons before switching to Sprint Cup. He was the first since Michael Andretti, who was released with three races remaining in his sole season of 1993.

Are there Americans interested in driving in F1? Absolutely. Established talent like Kyle Busch, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal are among those who would jump at the chance. Talented youngsters Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly and Michael Lewis are pursuing it by racing in the European development series.

The challenge is getting hired by an F1 team and proving they have the ability to compete with the best road racing drivers in the world. There's been a stigma that has kept American IndyCar drivers from being considered since Andretti, who was a victim of adverse circumstances, and those who have gone the European route, which the F1 teams prefer, have run out of financial support before getting the opportunities they needed. Speed was the exception. He was funded by Red Bull's program to develop an American driver for F1, but it gave up on him quickly when he got there. Sebastian Vettel, who replaced Speed, has won the F1 world championship the past two years.

"I don't think Formula 1 can be successful in America without an American driver, but there are a lot of Ferrari fans who follow the sport everywhere and there are American Formula 1 fans," Eddie Cheever, who started 132 F1 races between 1978 and 1989 before switching to IndyCars, said. "There would be a lot more success with American drivers.

"We were doing well at Indianapolis until they dropped the ball with the tire fiasco in 2005. The fans are very fickle and they didn't come back."

Certainly, the 2005 race at Indianapolis was a blow to the event. Michelin, which supplied 14 of the 20 cars, brought a tire that failed in the Friday practice on Ralf Schumacher's car, putting him into the wall and out of the event. After taking the parade laps, the Michelin cars pulled into the pits and six cars running on Bridgestone tires raced. But even before that the event had seen steady declining attendance.

Cheever says there needs to be more Americans in the talent pool pursuing F1 and corporations to back them.

"Just having one driver won't do it," Cheever said. "Maybe having one in F1 would galvanize F1 in America so more young drivers wanted [to get involved]. It [multiple drivers] is a process that is going to take a long time, a five-year plan [backed] by a corporation or a car manufacturer to develop talent.

"Almost all of the young drivers in America want to be in NASCAR and we need more to want to get to F1."

Jonathan Summerton raced in Europe for several seasons trying to make it to F1. He won a race in the prestigious Euro Formula 3 championship in 2006, but his funding ran out. He won races in Formula Atlantic and has raced in Firestone Indy Lights since returning to America. The 23-year-old from Kissimmee, Fla., also had a major victory for A1 Team USA in the disbanded A1GP Series; the only driver to win for the team out of a group that included Speed, Marco Andretti and Bryan Herta.

"I'd still love to get to F1," Summerton said. "But IndyCar is a great option and I'm working on that for next year [2012]."

Rossi, a 20-year-old from Nevada City, Calif., is the American furthest along in the European development series. He won two races in World Series by Renault, a top-level development series in Europe, this year and tested with Team Lotus (renamed Caterham this week) in the F1 Young Driver's test at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in November. He won three races in GP3 in 2010 and was the Formula BMW world champion in 2008. Rossi will likely spend next season in the Renault or GP2 series, the final development steps on the climb into F1. It's possible, if he continues to win races, that he could reach F1 by 2013.

Indianapolis-based Just Marketing International founder Zak Brown, who has done sponsorship deals with McLaren, Red Bull, Williams, Mercedes and F1 series organizer Bernie Ecclestone, believes F1 can succeed without an American driver.

"I think F1 can be successful in the U.S. without an American driver," Brown said. "America is a pretty diverse place and many of its athletes aren't American. That being said, an American driver would definitely help as would two successful races and more network television."

Is it possible to build a successful F1 event in the U.S. without an American driver? Maybe, but not likely. Next year's event in Austin will undoubtedly be well attended and publicized. Indianapolis started out in 2000 with a crowd of 225,000, the largest ever to see an F1 event, but it was down in the 150,000-range the next year and continued to fall. Austin will suffer the same fate without American drivers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

IndyCar's Barnhart says Las Vegas banking not to blame for Wheldon's accident

(by Mark Glendenning 12-12-11)

IndyCar president of operations Brian Barnhart has quashed claims that Dan Wheldon's fatal accident at Las Vegas in October could be attributed to IndyCars running on 1.5-mile, high-banked ovals.

The suitability of IndyCars to tracks such as Las Vegas and Texas has been subject to intense scrutiny since Wheldon's crash, with the series confirming last week that it was backing out of plans to race at Las Vegas next year.

Barnhart, who announced the initial findings from the investigation into Wheldon's crash earlier today, said that the incident at Las Vegas was not triggered by the banking, but by the fact that the drivers could run flat-out on the full width of the track.

"Each track should be taken into consideration on an individual basis, not simply by banking alone," he said. "IndyCar and Champ Car have successfully carried out many races over the years at tracks that meet the definition of high-banked ovals.

"Due in part to the total geometry of the track, each track has its own unique routes around the circuit that optimise speed and handling capabilities.. Most tracks have a limited number of racing grooves - it's not unusual for ovals to have one or two grooves.

"Racing grooves not only restrict drivers' naturally aggressive racing behaviour, but make the location of another competitor's car more predictable. The examination of video at Las Vegas shows pack racing that is normal at high-banked ovals.

"What we also witnessed was almost unlimited movement on the track surface under race conditions. This capability of nearly unlimited movement on the track without the natural restriction of racing grooves must be attributed to the overall track geometry beyond banking.

"This movement not only allowed for increased car-to-car contact, but made it more difficult for drivers to predict the movement of other drivers around them."

The series has formed a technical committee comprising IndyCar officials, team engineers and representatives from chassis manufacturer Dallara to focus on the aerodynamic and mechanical considerations relating to racing on 1.5 mile, high-banked ovals in the future.

IndyCar wants teams' help to improve safety in the sport

(by Mark Glendenning 12-15-11)

IndyCar officials have said that they expect more co-operation from teams and drivers in testing to ensure that they have a full understanding of how cars behave in pack conditions in order to avoid a repeat of Dan Wheldon's fatal crash at Las Vegas.

Speaking at today's announcement of the initial findings from the investigation into the accident that claimed the life of Wheldon in October, IndyCar president of operations Brian Barnhart said that understanding how the cars functioned in race conditions was critical in restricting the opportunity for similar accidents in the future.

"I think it is one of the byproducts to come out of this is that [teams will] have a better understanding of the request and requirements that we are expecting," Barnhart said.

"If you look at traffic [in Wheldon's accident], JR Hildebrand was only running 215mph. Dan was running 224mph. That's a 9mph spread, and they were all running in the same pack. Some of that is explained by the drafting aspect of being in race conditions, and you don't get that when you have just two cars doing the feasibility test.

"I think it is something we are going to have to do - get more cars on there, and expect more from the teams and the drivers in terms of finding what parameters are acceptable, and making sure that we have a clear understanding of what our expectation is when we go back out there to race."

Indycar confirms contact with fence pole caused Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas

(by Mark Glendenning 12-15-11)

IndyCar has confirmed that Dan Wheldon was killed by a head injury sustained through contact with a catch fencing pole in his crash at Las Vegas in October.

The series announced the initial results of its investigation into the Las Vegas crash today, and President of Operations Brian Barnhart confirmed that Wheldon had suffered two significant blows to the head during the accident, the second of which was unsurvivable.

"The chassis of the [Wheldon's] #77 impacted a post along the right-side of the tub and created a deep defect in the tub that extended from the pedal bulkhead, along the upper border of the tub, and through the cockpit," Barnhart said.

"As the race car passed by, the pole intruded into the cockpit and made contact with the drivers' helmet and head. Dan's injury was limited to his head injury.

"Dan appeared to suffer two distinct head forces. The first head force created a level of Head Injury Criterion, also known as a HIC number, that normally does not produce any injury.

"During the initial crash sequence, the accident data recorder measured 12 or 13 impacts. During that timeframe one of those impacts measured a measurable HIC number for Dan - that's the number that does not normally cause injury.

"The number was low enough. The second force was a physical impact, and it was the second force that caused a non-survivable blunt force injury trauma to Dan's head."

The series said that Wheldon had been travelling at 224mph just before the accident, but had managed to slow to 165mph immediately before the impact with the car of Charlie Kimball.

The impact was measured at G-forces of 24 longitudinal and negative 23 vertical.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is next-generation IndyCar race car safer than the previous one?

(by Brant James 12-8-11)

One week from today a gleaming present is scheduled to arrive in race shops around Indianapolis. It will be fawned over for a few moments and then prepared for a much-anticipated, much-needed on-track testing in January. The delivery of the Dallara DW12, the next-generation Izod IndyCar Series race car, to individual teams will mark the next phase in the implementation of a vehicle designed, according to the series, to be innovative, competitive and cost-effective.

It will be more stylish, more adaptable, more affordable and, in ways, safer. But it could have been a lot safer, said Dr. Terry Trammell, an orthopedic surgeon and pioneer in motor sports medicine and injury prevention. The series, he said, missed a rare clean-sheet opportunity to make the advancements he and others in the medical community advised. Whereas NASCAR constructed a sort of rolling armored personnel carrier with the debut of its new car in 2007, IndyCar's seven-member ICONIC committee, Trammell said, recommended a Dallara-designed chassis with improvements, but not sweeping advancements in driver safety.

"The car was not built [with] all the safety innovations that we'd hoped for," Trammell told at a global safety symposium at the annual Performance Racing Industry trade show. "The [medical] people working in this literally asked to be able to position the driver the way we wanted him, with the seat around him the way we wanted him and then hand them [IndyCar] that and say, 'Ok, build the car around it.'

"Didn't happen. They did what they could within the envelope they were working with. They tried to accommodate the needs that we had, but it's still not optimal for every size driver. If you're little, it's better. But there were a lot of tradeoffs in order to come up with a chassis that is similar to what we have in size and shape."

There is a poignancy in the alleged shortcoming, because the new car bears the initials of Dan Wheldon, its original test driver, who was killed in the final race of the IndyCar season, utilizing the old car at Las Vegas on Oct. 16.

Trammell said a narrow timetable for selecting and announcing a new car for 2012 also impacted safety implementations.

"The rapidity of getting it into production and out onto the track was also part of the rush," he said. "So we didn't have all the time we would have liked."

The formation of the ICONIC committee, which included series chairman Randy Bernard, then-president of competition Brian Barnhart and 2012 car project coordinator Tony Cotman, was announced in April of 2010. It recommended the Dallara "safety cell" from among a host of hopefuls. The pacing, Trammell said, felt brisk.

"I'll put it this way: Would you want me to be in a big hurry when I'm operating on you?," he posed. "That's kind of the analogy. I would have liked to have had more time and been able to do more crash research. We're doing things that we think are going to be effective, but we haven't tested it."

Bernard did not immediately respond to an interview request.

The advisory committee's name was an acronym formed from the words "Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective." Note that "safer" was not among. Gil de Ferran, a two-time CART champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner elected to the committee by the series' owners, said he had not seen data from testing of the new car, but he was sure "it must be an improvement" safety-wise.

"The committee didn't design the car. What we came up with was, in the end, a concept that I still think can address and in a way has addressed some of the issues facing the series, including reducing costs and trying to increase the framework to bring in new manufacturers," de Ferran said. "That was really the role of the committee, to create a new technical framework whereby that was a possibility. I think the engineers that were in charge of designing the cars, I don't know if they have or they haven't consulted with the various safety experts around the globe including Mr. Trammell -- who is a beacon of light, in that sense -- but I am sure they must have to, to some extent."

Trammell deemed the DW12 "better," mainly because of increased room and standard padding in the bottom of the car that better positions and protects most drivers in their seats. Taller drivers such as Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal, Trammell said, will benefit from the improvement, but remain more vulnerable.

"For Justin it's still not enough and we've tried to monkey around to try and get more [protection] for him. You just can't make him fit. Rahal the same way," Trammell said. "It's better, but still not ideal. The rest of it is very, very similar to the old car. If you overlay a tracing of the old car with the new one, there's not a whole lot of difference in the top contour heights and so forth. There's more room in the bottom."

Trammell said the new car would have likely prevented the broken leg Mike Conway sustained in a crash in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 when his car flew bottom-first into the catch fence.

"He had the leg injury from a penetration of the bottom of the tub by a metal fixture and the impact that broke his back was probably from the pull from the bottom of the car with the padding and the structure," Trammell said. "He would have at least mitigated that impact to a lesser load. He was right at 70 Gs so that could have been no break. The side panels are part of the car, they're not added on, so that gives you a layer of structural integrity the old car didn't have."

The DW12, Trammell said, would not have saved Wheldon because he, unlike Conway in 2010, impacted the catch fence with the top of the car and the exposed cockpit.

"It wouldn't have made any difference at all," said Trammell, who is part of the IndyCar investigation into Wheldon's death. "His injuries were such that, with an open-cockpit car, it's going to be the same problem. There was no failure of the car that caused his injury as best we can say now."

It is unclear whether the DW12, which features bumper-style covers around the rear tires, would have prevented Wheldon from going airborne.

Closing the cockpits on IndyCars is not viewed as a palatable or effective solution by most.

"A canopy would be similar to what they did in off-shore power boat racing," said Dr. Steve Olvey, the CART medical director for 22 years and an associate professor in the department of neurological surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Along with Trammel, he was also a founding fellow of the FIA Institute. "There were three power boat racers killed [four] weeks ago in Miami [due to] offshore racing. I don't think that [a canopy] is the answer. If a wheel and tire assembly goes up the front of the car and hits the canopy, it could easily launch into the crowd. If a car hits head on it, it may make it more likely to become airborne and all bets are off if that occurs.

"It's not the end-all answer. I think open-cockpit racing has been around for years and will continue to be. I don't think making them closed is much of an answer."

Finding a humane compromise for driver and spectator in catch fence design is a current priority within FIA, IndyCar and NASCAR, Olvey said. Dr. Dean Sicking, one of the innovators of the revolutionary Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier credited anecdotally with saving scores of driver lives and preventing even more injury, told this summer that pit wall and catch fences were the next main improvable areas of a racetrack.

"There has not been a tremendous amount of research in that area and there's been debate on what method would be best," Olvey said of catch fences. "And there's also question of whether there are newer materials that would serve the purpose of protecting both the participants as well as the spectators to the same level. You can't risk endangering the lives of the people that go to watch the race. The drivers know it's a risky business. Anytime you're racing wheel-to-wheel at 224 mph, there's a lot of risk involved, but it's been that way forever and it'll continue to be that way."

But there are answers to be had, de Ferran said.

"In general, my view on safety is quite simple," he said. "There are a lot of clever people out there. There's a lot of knowledge and a lot of research that has happened in the field of safety and continues to happen worldwide. Everyone that is involved in motor sports has almost a duty to continue to make the sport safer, to improve the cars, every time there is a technology that provides a breakthrough. That's a commitment.

"Racing is racing, so there is an element of risk there you will never be able to wipe completely clean. Never the less, it doesn't mean everyone who is involved, in every capacity, shouldn't have a very strong commitment to keep making it safer and safer."

Whether IndyCar went far enough with its next-generation race car remains to be seen.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Newman/Haas Moving Ahead With Streamlined Operation

Don’t count Newman/Haas Racing out quite yet.

“The team remains in business,” NHR General Manager Brian Lisles told Friday afternoon.

Despite Thursday’s shocking announcement, Lisles and NHR owners Carl and Bernie Haas will press ahead as they seek new opportunities and adjust to life after IndyCar.

With a few irons in the fire, NHR is keeping its doors open and maintaining a limited number of staff as it attempts to write a new chapter in the team’s illustrious history.

“Yes the race shop is open and Newman/Haas Racing remains in business,” Lisles continued. “As you can imagine there is a substantial amount of work to reorganize everything related to running in the IndyCar Series. That will keep us busy for a while and then will be followed by some new racing projects that I cannot discuss at the moment.”

Although Lisles wouldn’t be drawn on where he hopes NHR will reappear, rumors have linked the team to a possible American Le Mans Series program, and John Dagys,’s ace sports car reporter, has been tracking an as-yet unnamed team that is said to be fielding a Honda-powered Lola LMP2 prototype. Could NHR be that team?

“As we said in our press release yesterday, we are not entering the 2012 IndyCar Series," said Lisles. "I cannot discuss our other plans at this time, but we plan to stay in racing.”

Through Lola’s longtime US importer, Carl Haas Auto (which is unaffected by the changes at NHR), the team would be seem to be perfectly placed to run a customer ALMS team.

Lisles began fielding inquiries about the team’s newly available employees throughout Thursday, and this writer was also inundated with requests for contact information from open-wheel and sports car teams in need of talented personnel.

“We have spoken with a number of teams and we are circulating relevant contact details to everyone,” he said.

It’s believed that NHR will retain approximately 10 team members, and Lisles made it clear he would love nothing more than to put the entire NHR family back into place.

“We are in double figures not including the administrative staff, so we are still substantial,” he said. “We had a tremendous staff of people in 2011, as our results showed. So yes, we would love to have any of them back with us.”

As some of its former employees confirmed, the team broke with tradition by paying the departing staff through the end of the year, which is unique amongst cash-strapped open-wheel teams.

Compared to many who get cut and are offered nothing, Lisles says he wanted to make sure NHR did what its best to provide some financial support.

“When you have people who have worked for you for 19 years, you do not simply show them the door. Everyone received a severance related to their length of employment.”

The final item Lisles addressed was the fate of the new 2012 Dallara DW12s the team ordered in anticipation of contesting the full IndyCar Series championship.

“We have not decided [what we’ll do with them],” he said. “We are working through a variety of options.”

There’s no doubt that selling the cars and using the proceeds to boost NHR’s bottom line makes the most sense, but as their fans will likely attest, the thought of Lisles and the Haas family keeping at least one car tucked away for future use would be the best news of all.

End Of The Road For Newman/Haas

(by Marshall Pruett 12-1-11)

Newman/Haas Racing, one of the most successful teams in open-wheel racing, is closing the its doors.

The Lincolnshire, Il.-based CART, Champ Car and IZOD IndyCar Series team, formed by Carl Haas and the late Paul Newman, joined CART in 1983, went on to take eight championships and won more than 100 wins and poles with drivers like Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Sebastien Bourdais and many others.

NHR, which led Oriol Servia to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 championship and delivered Rookie of the Year honors for James Hinchcliffe, informed its 33 employees on Thursday they would be released effective immediately--with severance pay through December 31st, at which point the team will then close its doors for good.

“The economic climate no longer enables Newman/Haas Racing to participate in open wheel racing at this time,” said Haas, in a statement released by the team. Prior to the team's press release, multiple sources within the team

News shot through the Indy car community quickly on Thursday as many struggled to grasp the loss of one of open-wheel's most tenured teams.

"This is really sad news for me," said Sebastien Bourdais, who won four consecutive Champ Car titles with the team.

"I'm really sad for Carl and Bernie [Haas], and all of the team members. They are like family to me and I can [only] hope the engineers and mechanics find new work immediately. If you look at all the success we had together, and what they did last season with Oriol and James, you know they are some of the best anywhere."

"I don't know if I can say it was expected," Indy car legend Mario Andretti told, "but they tried to hang on as long as they could and it's a shame."

Andretti, who served as NHR's original driver back in 1983, says the loss of the storied team closes another chapter in open-wheel history.

"The only way you can characterize it is this is the end of a wonderful era that included so many wins and wonderful times with Newman/Haas. I will miss the team tremendously."

Hinchcliffe, who has been on the shopping lists of a number of teams and has extremely close ties with Honda, would be a natural fit for the known openings at Honda-powered teams like Rahal Letterman Lanigan and A.J. Foyt Racing.

Servia, who has been silent thus far in the off-season, has commanded interest from a variety of teams, including Andretti Autosport, RLL, Foyt and others.

As the two do not carry significant personal backing, securing an open seat elsewhere would likely require millions in sponsorship dollars.

Although the news of NHR's closure comes as a surprise, it wasn't entirely unexpected.

Cracks in the team's foundation--specifically with its financial footing in the wake of Paul Newman's death late in 2008--led to rumors regarding a possible closure before it eventually answered the bell for 2009.

With existing sponsorship from McDondald's carrying over from 2008 for Rahal's entry, the team signed Robert Doornbos as his teammate, but once the Dutchman's funding ran short, Servia and Alex Lloyd were brought in to fill the void in a car that at times raced without major sponsorship.

Lacking sponsorship for 2010, NHR was thrown a lifeline in the form of Honda driver Hideki Mutoh. Rahal, after finding his own funding to continue, returned to NHR for six races towards the end of the year.

Heading into 2011, it's understood that Bernie Haas made a sizable investment to keep the team on the grid, hoping the strength of a solid two-car effort with Hinchcliffe and Servia would help to attract the sponsors to move NHR's finances from red to black.

Facing the added costs of new cars and equipment for 2012, the team was recently confident a new sponsor it had on the line would secure its immediate future, but once those negotiations fell through, Haas chose to hold out a bit longer in the hopes that another sponsor could be found.

After spending the month of November hunting for money, and with no new leads or potential funding on the horizon, Haas made the hard choice to close the doors.


Barnhart Removed From Race Control; Angstadt Departs

(by Robin Miller 11-29-11)

After a season of non-stop controversy, including starting a race in the rain and a lack of consistency in applying on-track penalties, Brian Barnhart has finally been removed from Race Control in INDYCAR.

SPEED can report that Barnhart will be offered to stay on the payroll as president of operations but will no longer have anything to do with the officiating or managing of IZOD IndyCar Series races.

INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard was unavailable for comment but indicated a few weeks ago that some major changes were forthcoming.

In addition to removing Barnhart as chief steward and director of racing, Bernard is also replacing Terry Angstadt with Mark Koretzky, who served as director of business development for IndyCar in 2011.

Angstadt had been president of the commercial division of the IndyCar Series since 2007.

Barnhart and Angstadt were also the last major links to Tony George’s old Indy Racing League regime.

A former mechanic in CART for Roger Penske and Rick Galles who was named director of racing operations by George in 1997, Barnhart had been under fire from drivers, teams and fans the past couple seasons.

From his insistence on spread-out, single-file starts at the Indianapolis 500 and other ovals to judgment calls that drew the ire of veteran drivers like Justin Wilson and Oriol Servia to starting a street race in Baltimore with safety trucks still on the track, Barnhart had lost all respect inside the paddock.

And it all came crashing down last August at Loudon, N.H. when he ordered a restart while it was raining and a pileup ensued that caused major carnage and instant anger.

Will Power, taken out in the accident, raised both middle fingers to Barnhart up in Race Control and declared: “This has got to be it. They cannot have this guy running the show. He makes such bad calls all the time.”

Bernard fined Power and defended Barnhart at the time but knew a change had to be made for 2012 and beyond.

The possible candidates to replace Barnhart are former CART driver Scott Pruett, ALMS chief steward Beaux Barfield and longtime CART team owner Steve Horne, who has maintained all along he’s not interested in a full-time job.

Tony Cotman, the program manager of the new car who ran Race Control in Champ Car before being hired by George to oversee Indy Lights in 2008, would be a logical successor but wants to concentrate on his race track design business.

Angstadt took his position with the IRL after serving as vice president of marketing for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was instrumental in landing IZOD as the title sponsor of IndyCar in 2010.

Before joining IndyCar, Koretsky worked with the NFL as director of operations for multiple Super Bowl committees in Atlanta, Houston and Detroit. He was in charge of the week-long championships last month in Las Vegas, which included a parade of cars down The Strip and various parties and fund raisers.