OCTOBER 20, 2011
Mosley advocates scientific approach
Former FIA president Max Mosley thinks that IndyCar should adopt a 'calm and scientific' approach to safety improvements in the wake of Dan Wheldon's fatal accident at the Las Vegas Speedway last Sunday.
Mosley told the CNN television network: "You can never make it safe but you can do a lot of work to reduce the probability of somebody getting hurt. They should do that and call in experts from around the world, including those at the FIA."
Mosley believes that scientific research being conducted by the governing body could be of use and thinks that the Las Vegas accident may initiate a similar focus on safety Stateside, that Ayrton Senna's death prompted in Europe some 17 years ago.
The two areas sparking most debate are the vulnerability of drivers in open cockpits and the suitability of the debris fencing surrounding speedways in particular.
Felipe Massa's accident in Hungary in 2009 -- when the Ferrari driver was knocked unconscious when a rogue spring from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn hit his helmet -- and Henry Surtees' fatal F2 accident a week earlier -- in which Surtees was hit by a wheel from another car -- prompted serious ongoing research into cockpit canopies.
Many racing purists are against the idea for historical reasons and there are also downsides relative to visibility and the ability to extract a driver in an emergency.
Mosley, however, said: "I think it could work. You're always in danger, in an open cockpit, of objects striking the driver. One of the troubles is that it would probably make the car quicker, which is just what we don't want, but there are other means of slowing them down."
Perhaps the most relevant point, however, is that raised by Paul Tracy, whose car Wheldon became airborne over in Las Vegas.
Tracy made his ChampCar debut in 1991, breaking a leg on his Penske debut at the Michigan Superspeedway. He has raced on ovals for the past 20 years and brought up the feasibility of safety glass retaining walls after the Wheldon tragedy. He admits that the events of last weekend have prompted thoughts of retirement.
Fifteen years have now gone by since Jeff Krosnoff died when he was launched into the retaining fence in Toronto, Tracy's home race, and came into contact with a lamp post.
"We've done so much in the past 10 years improving the cars," Tracy said, "but the one thing that has still stayed the same is how the fencing is -- the poles, the cables, and the wires.
"Why can't we have some kind of ballistic safety glass that will still allow the fans to see the race track but will keep the cars from getting tangled in the catch fencing like a spider web?
"Once the cars get in there it just starts ripping them apart, so maybe that is the next thing that needs to happen."
Such an initiative would also remove the need for solid support posts that present a mortal danger to a driver going into the fence cockpit first.
The downside would undoubtedly be cost. The thickness of bullet-proof glass is determined by the calibre of ammunition it is designed to resist. Glass intended to resist heavy-calibre ammunition is sometimes more than three inches thick and exceedingly heavy.
Rather than a bullet -- small mass at exceedingly high velocity - an errant racing car would presents a different scientific problem but one which, in association with increased cockpit protection, is worthy of serious investigation if the sport wants to try to eliminate the sort of injury sustained by the unfortunate Krosnoff and Wheldon.
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