IRL: Indy Racing League is serious about safety

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Without drivers there would be no show, which is why the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are so intent on making the tracks on which they race and the race cars themselves ever safer. In partnership with Delphi Corp., the...

Without drivers there would be no show, which is why the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are so intent on making the tracks on which they race and the race cars themselves ever safer.

In partnership with Delphi Corp., the League has introduced many new innovations that are designed to get to the root of on-track accidents, to discover the reasons they occur and the injuries they cause to drivers. Earpieces that measure G forces in an accident and data boxes on the IndyCar Series projectiles aid the League and its medical personnel in determining root causes and defining ways to aid safety.

For that reason, the League has awarded Delphi a state-of-the-art THOR-FT crash test dummy for research at Delphi's Vandalia, OH engineering and test facility. First Technology Safety Systems (FTSS) of Plymouth, MI produced the THOR, one of three in existence worldwide; it is customized to fit the needs of the IRL and Delphi.

"This THOR crash dummy will give us more accurate information to aid seat and helmet development," according to Mike Donegan, Delphi engineering manager at the Vandalia facility. "There are more than 100 channels of data available to us with THOR and we are extremely impressed by how well it collects data. THOR is designed like a real person" with articulated joints. "It allows us to see what happens to the body."

The THOR-FT uses an iDummy system that integrates data acquisition and instrumentation cabling within the dummy. The human-like shoulder allows engineers to get better results in full-scale racing crashes," according to Donegan. There is advanced instrumentation in the lower extremities, which will enhance research in the all-important foot box area.

It was senior technical manager Phil Casey who was instrumental in the IRL's decision to acquire the dummy exclusively for Delphi's use, due to the long history of the company's efforts to improve racing safety. Delphi has been with the League since its first races in 1996.

"We've learned a lot about what happens to a driver in an IRL crash, thanks to Delphi technologies and the extensive testing done at the Vandalia lab," Casey acknowledged. "This new advanced dummy has more sensors up and down the spine that will allow us to add even more data to our current database. Delphi will help us become more prepared for what a driver may go through" when involved in an on-circuit collision.

There's a lot of work performed away from race tracks to aid safety, according to Dr. Henry Bock, medical services director for the Brickyard circuit and for the League. "When you deal with trauma victims, every second counts, which is why we are testing to discern why crashes occur. The Delphi dummy helps replicate crashes for us so that we can discover why crashes and injuries happen."

What Delphi gets from this venture may ultimately be used to make passenger cars and trucks safer, Donegan revealed. "One of the great benefits of developing safety technologies for motorsports is that the race track is a great test ground. The ultimate goal is to be able to transfer these new safety technologies to everyday consumers."

Dr. Bock is "firmly focused on [discovering what causes] head injuries. Broken bones can heal but brain injury one of the most difficult to understand. We look at the whole package with HANS device, earpiece and data recorder box to see what each does. The dummy inside a car helps recreate the crash so that we can get more information."

The THOR-FT crash test dummy used for the Indy Racing League is placed in a regular Indy tub - a Panoz and Dallara have been sent to Vandalia for the purpose - and Delphi uses the same type of seat, the same foam used in an Indy car, Donegan said.

This particular crash dummy weighs about 175 pounds and is designed to replicate the 50-percentile male. Of course, with drivers in the Indy Racing league smaller than that, Delphi changes the program to replicate the particular driver's size and weight.

"When you look at the race cars of the late 1990s," advised Scott Sharp, driver of the #8 Delphi Fernandez Panoz/Honda/Firestone, "our shoulders and neck were exposed. Now, with absorption around us and with the HANS device, earpiece and data recorder, it makes us feel safer than ever before."

The Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been at the forefront of producing the SAFER barrier that likely saved the lives of 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and rookie Paul Dana in crashes over the past week of practice. This acquisition of the THOR-FT crash test dummy continues that lead in the field of driver and car safety.

At its 2005 events, the League's Delphi-funded Medical/Safety Command Vehicle is equipped with cutting edge technology that can transmit crash data immediately to a trackside medical facility so that Bock and his cohorts are able to quickly treat an injury.

Dave Brown's Command I Chevrolet Tahoe comes equipped with wireless, networked laptop computer, four video monitors, satellite TV system (with 360-degree antenna and forward- and rear-facing cameras) in addition to the usual leather seats, steering-wheel-mounted controls for the Bose premium digital sound system and power-adjustable pedals that put the 295- horsepower Vortec 5300 V-8 engine's power within easy reach.

In use since the first event at Homestead-Miami Speedway this March, the Tahoe has recently been upgraded with a digital recording device. Brown, the League's track safety coordinator uses the Command I Tahoe Z71 SUV as a line of first reach for the fleet of medical and safety trucks that comprise the Delphi IRL Safety Team.

The electronics that set the Tahoe Command I apart from the other three Chevrolet trucks at his disposal are designed to maximize the time and efficiency of safety personnel during an on-track incident. The addition of this Delphi-funded truck has "technically propelled us ten years ahead of where we were," Brown declared.

Dr. Bock rides shotgun with Brown in Command 1 listening to the race on a Delphi Roady2 XM Satellite receiver and watch ABC/ESPN's clean feed via their DIRECTV screens. When an incident occurs on the circuit, all competitors and safety personnel, including Brown and Bock are instantly notified via a dashboard warning light system. At that signal, Brown activates his strobe lights, put the SUV in gear and pulls onto the track.

All the while, as they speed to the site the duo continue to watch the live TV coverage. If the incident involves an injured driver, replays allow Brown and Bock to anticipate the type and severity of those injuries by reviewing the angle and speed of impact. The installation of a Tivo( system enhances their ability to review specific scenes.

"We can see what the impact looked like, determine the force and angle and see if it was front or rear impact," Brown revealed. "If there are multiple cars [involved], we can get a good feel for which vehicles might be more seriously impact and what type of injuries we might expect."

Pulling up to an impact scene, Brown points his SUV at the wreckage and allows the forward-facing camera to transmit video directly to the infield medical center where a team of doctors and nurses prepare to treat injured personnel. The camera records on VHS, thereby allowing Bock and Brown to review images at a later time.

At the scene Bock exits the Tahoe with his hand-held device to plug into the car's dataport. In one second the device can download the accelerometer reading from the driver's Delphi earpiece sensors, measuring g-forces. Bock also has a wireless microphone and, with the push of a button he communicates directly with infield care center personnel.

When a driver is fortunate enough to walk away, Command I serves to transport that driver to the medical center for evaluation, a requirement in the Indy Racing League. Once a driver evaluated, treated and [hopefully] released, Brown and Bock return to their trackside perch.

"The wireless network allows us to look at all downloaded data from the entire crash box," Brown revealed. "If we see a spike in the data that we want to evaluate further, we can review another replay to compare the actual site of the hit to what the recorder is showing.

"The crash box," Brown continued, is loaded onto a highly secure Internet site that allows us to further review its data and, with this information we may be able to tell the medical tem working on a driver about another possible injury we see on tape that they did not see."

Delphi's advances in the care and analysis of practice and racing crashes "gives doctors and rescue workers the advantage of time as well as the gift of hindsight," noted Bock, "to help ensure we continue to build the safest environment for drivers and crews."

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Series AUTOMOTIVE , INDYCAR