(by Nate Ryan motorsportstalk.nbcsports.com 5-21-15)
While airborne crashes have sparked much of the discourse about safety the past week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one driver is as concerned about what’s happening beneath the cars.
James Hinchcliffe suffered a life-threatening leg injury Monday after a piece of the wishbone – part of the underbody suspension that connects the wheels – pierced his car’s tub. Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Oriol Servia suggested Thursday during Indianapolis 500 Media Day that it might have been avoidable.
“To me, that’s unacceptable,” he said. “I think there were things that we were doing on these cars for 20 years that all of a sudden we have forgotten on this car to avoid wishbones going (through the tub).”
Hinchcliffe’s injury mirrored a 2003 crash at Twin Ring Motegi in which Tony Kanaan’s leg also was speared by the steel piece. Servia said IndyCar reinforced an area to help prevent such injuries, but that the design changed when the DW12 chassis made its debut three years ago.
“We used to have a connecting rod,” he said. “All that did was to avoid one of the two sides (of the wishbone) going in (the car). For 20 years we had that on all cars, and all of a sudden, this car, it wasn’t needed.
“I don’t know why. I might be speaking out of turn, and they’ve done other things to avoid it, but obviously whatever that is, it’s not working. So that’s why I’m not happy. I know there are a lot of smart people working on it. I just don’t know what can be done for this race.”
It’s also uncertain what can be done to keep the cars from going skyward after spinning backward, which was a common denominator in wrecks involving Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter. Servia said he watched a replay of the 2014 race and noticed that Scott Dixon spun backward at high speed without his car taking flight.
“It’s very difficult to solve with two days to go without knowing exactly what makes them fly,” Servia said. “There’s something I feel is in the rear bumpers — the whole body is different, so it could be many things playing at once — but it is different, and it’s worse.
“Already we’re having this bad sensation about how the week was going. Then Hinch has this crash, nothing related to the other crashes, just one failure in a suspension (part) that happened. But the way he crashes, and the wishbone gets into the car. The guy is alive and great, but it’s just so lucky.”
Though Servia said Sunday’s race “may not be as safe as I’d like us to be,” he also accepts there are limits to preventive measures.
“This will never be a safe race,” he said. “It’s an open wheel car going 230 mph over three hours trying to win. Safe is not really what defines it. It will never be. But I think it could be safer than what we’ll do Sunday.”