APRIL 11, 2002
Indianapolis and "soft" wall technology
INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY has been looking at extending the use of energy-absorbing barriers for the last five years, having fitted its first section of polyurethane energy dissipation walls in Turn Four in 1998. Since then that section of wall has seen two major crashes: the first when Japan's Hideshi Matsuda hit the wall in an IRL car in May 1999 and the second later that year during the IROC race when Arie Luyendyk crashed. The Indianapolis authorities reckon that he wall helped Luyendyk avoid a serious injury. The research, however, showed that the compression of the wall had the effect of deflecting the car and wreckage and so created a more dangerous situation as there was debris on the track which would normally no have been there. There were also questions about the speed of deceleration as too quick a deceleration is very little different to hitting solid concrete.
The University of Nebraska at Lincoln, America's leading barrier research and development unit, was asked to help out with the development and that was later expanded to include impacts of NASCAR stock cars (which complicated the problem). A series of 17 tests have been carried out on a crash rig on the runway of an airfield at Lincoln and the results have been so successful that Indianapolis is hoping to have soft walls on the outside of all four corners of the speedway for the Indy 500 next month. There are two more tests to be completed before that happens.
The new technology has the potential to be fitted at race tracks all over the world and so could be seen in Formula 1 before very long.