INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 1, 2002 -- Motorsports history will be made this May when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be the first superspeedway to use an energy-absorbing barrier in its turns during competition.
The SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier is in place for practice for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500, which begins Sunday, May 5.
Under development by the Indy Racing League and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility since 1998, the SAFER barrier has been designed for multiple impacts by Indy Racing cars and stock cars during an event. NASCAR joined in the development of the project in September 2000.
"Since our founding in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always been a leader in automotive safety and innovation," said Tony George, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League. "Today's announcement of a new energy-absorbing barrier represents another milestone in this long history, and it will not be the last.
"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the month of May is the perfect time to install and test the SAFER barrier. The amount of time teams and drivers have to practice leading up to the race will allow us to get feedback on the barrier. Though we hope it doesn't happen, the odds are likely that the barrier will be impacted during those practice periods, which will allow us to evaluate its performance before we get to racing conditions."
A total of 4,240 feet of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's permanent outside wall will be covered with the energy-absorbing barrier for May. Each turn of the speedway will have 1,060 feet of barrier and another 60 feet of transition element approaching the actual energy-absorbing barrier.
"The goal of this wall is to reduce the forces seen on the car to a range that lessens the likelihood of the driver being injured," said Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League. "This barrier has really evolved since the first PEDS barrier was put in place in 1998."
The new energy-absorbing barrier is constructed in 20-foot modules. Each module consists of four rectangular steel tubes, welded together, to form a unified element. The modules are connected with four internal steel splices. Bundles of 2-inch-thick sheets of extruded, closed-cell polystyrene are placed between the concrete wall and the steel tubing modules every 10 feet. Six or seven sheets of polystyrene are used in each bundle, depending on the location on the module.
"One of the prerequisites presented to us was to create a barrier robust enough to absorb an incredible impact and yet maintain its integrity so the event could continue with little or no delay for repair," said Dr. Dean Sicking, director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "The principle behind the wall is it provides a continuous barrier system that will remain parallel to the track and move back as a unit as it dissipates energy. The need for that movement is to prevent pocketing, which is where the barrier wraps around the front of the car, which extremely increases deceleration."
Under the direction of IMS Director of Engineering and Construction Kevin Forbes, an entire turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be fitted with the barrier in less than two days. Attachment times would vary at other facilities depending on the length of track, height of wall and other variables.
"NASCAR has appreciated working with Tony George and his team," said Gary Nelson, managing director of NASCAR competition. "We are optimistic about the new SAFER wall, and we are looking forward to its development."
The SAFER barrier will be painted white to match the Speedway's traditional wall color.
"We believe this barrier is an appropriate solution for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Forbes said. "It should be able to be adapted to many other tracks, but each will have to be evaluated separately."