Motor sport: ‘Recipe for disaster’
Drivers were afraid of the track before the race in which Dan Wheldon died, writes Tom Cary
Published 18/10/2011 | 05:00
Leading figures in motor sport joined forces to condemn safety standards in IndySeries last night, as the shock surrounding the death of British driver Dan Wheldon on Sunday turned to anger.
Wheldon, a two-time Indy500 champion, died from injuries after his car was involved in an accident that involved 14 other vehicles.
Commentators voiced concerns that the Las Vegas track was unsuited to Sunday's race, which featured more cars than usual in an IndySeries meeting. There was also speculation over whether the size of the reward on offer to Wheldon to win the race -- a share of $5m (€3.6m) -- could have played a part in the accident.
Last night, one team owner suggested that many of the drivers, including Wheldon, had been "afraid" of conditions on the track before the start.
Former Formula One and IndyCar driver Mark Blundell said yesterday that the accident was "inevitable in many ways" and questioned the staging of the race at the small, banked Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"It was a recipe for disaster," Blundell said. "These kinds of cars should not be running on these circuits. You saw 15 cars wiped out and a fatality -- that's not acceptable."
The suitability of the Las Vegas track -- a small 1.5-mile tri-oval, with a circuit lap time of 20 seconds at speeds averaging 200mph -- and the set-up of the race, which featured a field packed with relatively inexperienced drivers and with cars lined up side-by-side, rather than in single file, was a matter of particular concern for many former and current drivers.
Wheldon, who did not have a regular drive this season, was also racing from the back of a 34-car grid -- the Indy500, by contrast, fields up to 33 cars on a 2.5-mile track.
Wheldon was driving in the knowledge that, if he won the race he would bank a large share of the $5m prize. Wheldon and a fan would have split the money if the driver -- not affiliated with a team and thus starting last -- won the race.
Driver and team owner Adrian Fernandez suggested that Wheldon was one of many drivers who had been apprehensive before the race started.
"I was with Dan Wheldon and Tag (Alex Tagliani) in his trailer before the start and many others on the grid and none felt comfortable," he tweeted. "I could feel their fear."
Scotsman Dario Franchitti -- who was confirmed as the 2011 champion after the race was called off -- said the warning signs were there. "I could see within five laps people were starting to do crazy stuff," he said. "I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it's about. One small mistake from somebody..."
Wheldon was the second IndyRacing League driver to die on the track in the last five years, and the fifth overall since 1996.
His death has also prompted a debate over the use of cockpit canopies in open wheel racing, although there is no suggestion that this might have saved Wheldon's life.
Other drivers voiced similar concerns about the IRL's safety record in general, with both David Coulthard and Anthony Davidson saying that they had made conscious decisions during their careers never to race in the series.
"I always promised myself and my family that I would never enter the IRL and today has proved me right," Davidson said. "I'm glad I took that decision.
If you think about it, the people I knew who went into it -- Justin Wilson, Mike Conway, Dan - they all had big accidents. It was just a question of time before something tragic happened.
"I watch every Indy500 with fear and I'm not ashamed to say that. Some young drivers might look down their noses at me but IRL is dangerous.
"I hope it acts as a wake-up call. Unfortunately it takes something like this to do it; it was the same with Ayrton Senna in Formula One."
Former Formula One world champion Jody Scheckter agreed and called for his son to quit IndyCar racing following Wheldon's death.
"I've wanted him to give up for a while," said Scheckter, who was at the track on Sunday to watch his son compete.
"Hopefully this will knock some sense into him and realise there is more to life. It really isn't worth it," he added.
Former Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart, a prominent campaigner for improved safety standards since his retirement in 1973, suggested IndySeries organisers would have to consider less powerful cars in an effort to avoid future tragedies.
"Problems really are made to be overcome. We can find better ways of doing things," he said.
"It may be that we have to have smaller engines with smaller horsepower and slower speeds in IndyCar racing.
"We don't have to do these speeds." (© Daily Telegraph, London)