IRL: Indianapolis SAFER barrier press conference, part III

Indianapolis Motor Speedway 'SAFER' Barrier Press Conference Transcript Wednesday, May 1, 2002 Part 3 of 3 - The questions Nation: Thank you, Kevin. Now we will open the floor for some questions. There will be a transcript of this. We ask you...

Indianapolis Motor Speedway
'SAFER' Barrier Press Conference Transcript
Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Part 3 of 3 - The questions

Nation: Thank you, Kevin. Now we will open the floor for some questions. There will be a transcript of this. We ask you each to identify yourself and speak into the microphone for the questions so our transcriptionist can capture it. First question.

Q: Could you explain how you were able to keep the bolts to protruding into the skin of the car and possibly becoming a hazard?

Nation: Is this to Kevin?

Sicking: We took out the bolts. There are no bolts on the face other than at the very leading transitional edge. And if those bolts become a problem, those can be replaced with recessed countersunk bolts to totally eliminate any. If you see a picture that has a bulkhead, it's on the very up extreme transition where you're still on the tangent course of the track. We really don't expect this section of the barrier to get hit. All the rest of the sections are bolted together with all the attachments in the back of the joint.

Q: What's the alloy of the bolt?

Sicking: A 325 bolt, which is a common construction bolt -- high strength.

Q: Can you talk about how much it would cost, or whether it would be economically feasible for smaller racetracks that don't compete on the level of the Indy or Daytona?

Barnhart: One of the things we've been saying all along in the development process of the wall at this point in time we have kind of come across a number of about $175 per linear foot for the wall. However, I think Kevin can probably address that. And in the early stages and development of this wall and real-world applications, you know, that's still -- the final number probably still yet to be determined. Under the circumstances and the short notification that the Speedway went under to put up the wall this April, I think Kevin can probably address where we stand from the cost.

Forbes: I think it's -- and, Brian, I have to kind of echo your comment. It's very variable. For example, I'll give you one, for our track, which is a very large track, the radius of the turns are 840 feet. The radius at the wall is right at 900 feet. Which allows us to erect this wall in tangent -- in straight sections of tube, structural steel tube straight pieces 20 feet modules. Now, if we were to go -- really, if we ever go to any smaller track, then I would say probably the mile and a half tracks now down, that these tubes would actually have to be rolled to the radius of the racetrack. That would somewhat increase the cost. As you get to smaller and smaller tracks, the radiuses become tighter, details will probably have to be changed somewhat to accommodate for tighter turns. As you go to tracks that have much higher banking, again, some of the installation costs might be different there because you don't have the ease of installation or flat of track like ours. So the costs are really going to be variable from racetrack to racetrack, as the design will, in fact, be variable from racetrack to racetrack. The cost that we have right now really aren't very realistic, only simply because the trigger was pulled on this project with very, very little notice, and so we probably have a lot of cost involved in just simply acceleration to get the project done on time.

Q: Kevin, is this design proprietary to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or would you make the design and all information available to other tracks should they want to copy what you have done?

Forbes: I think I will turn this over to Brian since this is kind of -- at this point it's an IRL device and I think I'll let Brian answer that.

Barnhart: The work that we have been doing with the University of Nebraska and the contract that we have right now, the Indy Racing League owns the rights to racetrack applications for this. Should this design be utilized in a real-world application, the University of Nebraska owns the rights to do that. From a racetrack application standpoint, we will make the design available to every track owner/operator out there. The designs are certainly available to them. It is not our intention to profit from this. It is certainly going to be made available to them if they can adapt it with the unique characteristics of their racetrack. The way we look at it is safety innovation, as this is not something proprietary, certainly to be shared because it's in the best interest of motor racing.

Q: I am not sure who best to answer this question. I am wondering if there is any way to express your expectation for this wall, either in it's ability to absorb energy or prevent injuries?

Barnhart: I think -- touching on that a little bit, I think our goal is to reduce the forces seen by the car and the driver to an area that make him less likely to be injured. However, the one thing that is a constant in crashes is the variables. That may sound funny, but there are so many variables involved in every accident, from angle of impact to velocities to mass of the car to car construction and composition. It's very difficult to say under which scenario how much the forces are reduced. It's just a goal, obviously, when you create this situation and what we tried to do in 1997 and 1998, you know, was good intention -- well intentioned. The problem was we actually created a scenario that was worse than the one that already existed. And that's -- that was the real hitch in trying to develop this wall over the next four years is to make sure that you're putting something on the wall that is not worse than what is already out there. And at this point in time, we certainly feel that in every crash that we're going to see, there will be benefits with the system in place. It just will vary so much from one crash to another and from one type of car to another.

Q: Is there anything that you can add?

Sicking: I think the way you originally phrased that question are what are your goals for the barrier. My goal is to learn a lot from this barrier. We expect that real-world crashes we're going to learn much more the next three or four weeks than we have in the last two years because again we cannot tow a car into the barrier in a non-tracking or spinning, yawing condition. And many of the races, the real-world crashes are in that attitude. And our hope is that within the next three to four weeks, we will be able to quantify or understand the performance of this barrier much better.

Q: Dr. Sicking, just to show the research that you were able to do on this, compare the passenger-car test that I am sure you performed. Can you give us like a figure how many cars you actually have crashed since this project began to try to come up with this system?

Sicking: I think our last full-scale crash test involving a race vehicle was called IRL18, which meant it was our 18th crash test. A typical system highway safety design for a longitudinal barrier like this would involve only two or three crash tests. And so we're talking about a factor of four or five over what we normally do for highway. You have to understand, we've been testing highway barriers for a lot longer than race barriers, so we learned a tremendous amount about impacts at 150 miles an hour that was quite new to us.

George: Jack, I think the interesting thing for me was when we first saw the guidance system and track and pully system, they were pulling, you know, 2-to-1 ratio at about -- I mean, how many miles an hour?

Sicking: 100 miles an hour.

George: Go into a 4-to-1 ratio. It got a lot quicker, which coincidentally it was interesting to see the speed of Dale Jr.'s impact to the wall at Fontana versus Arie's impact with the wall back in '98. Those are the kinds of the speeds that got this thing rolling.

Sicking: Just as a comment. We have analyzed a lot of crashes as best we could to determine impact conditions, and still the best analysis we could make the worse case impact we could analyze was Arie's wreck at the IROC race. 170 miles an hour. We have tested well above that. Getting to that speed, we wound up having to be 6-to-1 cable-versus-tow system. I learned a lot more about towing systems than I ever wanted to know.

Q: Gary, this question is for you. When can we see NASCAR applying this, this season, next season, or is it even on the schedule?

Nelson: The project has been taking steps, They're excited all along as it goes to the next level. And the step today is to announce it being installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now, what we're going to do, NASCAR standpoint, is what we've really been doing all along, monitor the process, see how it's working. Understand what we call the real world. You know testing in controlled circumstances at airport runway in the middle of Nebraska, you can't do a lot. We've come a long way with it. Now seeing -- like Dean says -- a car that is spinning as it hits, the different kinds of things. We really want to pay close attention to it and work very close with Tony, Brian, and University of Nebraska and help move this to the next level. But when, how, that has -- we have to get a little more data to make those kinds of answers.

Q: Any figures on G-load reductions at the driver level with or without the wall?

Barnhart: Again, I think, Chris, at that point in time there's just so many variables, because in the crash tests we have done, I think we've ranged between 100 miles an hour and I think our fastest, Dean, is 158 or -- yeah, 153 miles an hour. And the angles have been between 20 degrees and 25 1/2 degrees. And when you add in the different masses of the car between the stock cars and the others, the numbers have been kind of all over the place, Chris. So it would be difficult to give any kind of sign. Just suffice it to say we are seeing a reduction in the forces, which was our original goal with the design of the wall.

Q: Could you just talk about was there any one thing that you had to overcome that was the toughest thing, whether it was snagging, stymied at all.

Sicking: To be honest with you, our biggest challenge was getting the car up to speed. Being able to control the car get it up to 150 miles per hour, deliver the energy into the wall. We only have a 3,000-foot runway, and we had to get the car up to 150 miles an hour in that distance. That was the biggest challenge. With regard to the design of the barrier, there were a tremendous number of challenges from the material. Identifying the right material, identifying the right energy absorber and tuning of the absorber for the various vehicles for both the stock car and the race vehicle, the open-wheel car. Those are very difficult problems, and we continue to work on them.

Q: Brian, this might be for you. In the press release it said the barriers are in place for practice. Does that mean that they may not be in position for the race? Is there any reason why it just says practice?

Barnhart: I think that's probably just semantics of the statement they're in place, meaning they're going to be in place May 5th, Opening Day. Certainly our intention, they're going to be in place and continue to move forward with the design as it goes throughout the month. I mean, it is our intention to have them in place all month long, including the race.

Nation: Brian, let me follow up and ask if there were problems with the wall at practice, what would you do at that point?

Barnhart: Obviously, we would respond accordingly. As Gary mentioned, obviously NASCAR is going to be monitoring our progress throughout the month. I certainly don't want to give him too many chances to get a whole lot of information from it. But let's just face it, it is the month of May. There will be impacts into the wall. And if we do determine that there are issues with this wall that cannot be addressed with the current design, then as quickly as it went up, it can actually come down quicker, and we can address it under those situations. We certainly don't anticipate that we're very excited about the future and the prospects of this wall and certainly moving forward as we go.

Q: Brian, just to follow up with that. Are there any plans -- I guess, this would be for Tony or Gary as well. Are any plans to keep this in place for any event other than Indy 500?

Barnhart: Obviously, we have kept all of our partners, and Tony probably would be best to address this, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Obviously, running NASCAR Winston Cup Series with Brickyard 400 and Formula One car here in September United States Grand Prix. All the bodies have been notified of the progress, what we're doing, where we're going. Each sanctioning body will make their determination whether they will use the barrier at their event based on the proceeds. At this point, Indy Racing League, Indianapolis Motor Speedway chose to put it up for the start of practice at the Motor Speedway for Indianapolis 500. Our intention is to leave it all up all month, including the race, if we get positive feedback. Continue to slowly develop the barrier. At that point, NASCAR will make the decision whether they go with it in August. And, of course, September the United States Grand Prix. The FIA gets two events under their belt to see if they want it in place for USGP.

George: I also think that two Formula One teams have expressed interest in providing the wall. May even do some further testing in the near term.

Q: Dr. Sicking, this to me is the most significant barrier development regarding automobiles I have seen since I have been watching safety. Can you take us down the road? I can see other people experimenting on their own with this type of barrier. What interest has there been from the National Highway Transportation? Just happen to pass an exit two days ago where snagging took a very small car and made a bad accident out of it. Can you take us five years down the road?

Sicking: This barrier -- again, highways is where we make a living. We do most of our work on highway safety devices. And the barrier we developed for this racing application is a little on the pricey side for highway usage. We don't expect a widespread application. Most of the problems that this barrier would be designed to protect would be when you have a very hazardous location, for example, a sharp curve inside of a tunnel or in depressed area through urban areas. When you take the freeway through urban areas, a lot of times they recess the highway and have these vertical concrete walls right next to the travelway. Those situations, yeah, some locations where there's very high accident frequency with number of injuries and fatalities, those would be applications for this barrier. The other thing that we can do is apply these basic principals to our current barrier research, and we do barrier research for 11 states ranging from Connecticut to Texas to Montana, and we do development for all of those states, and I am sure that this work will have a positive impact on the barriers used in those 11 states.

Q: For the past couple years everybody we've been talking to said the soft walls are two or four years away. Did this come together a little faster than you guys thought? If so, what happened to make it come along?

Barnhart: I don't know if it's any faster. I think Dean can probably address this as well, since we took the project to them after Arie's crash in August of '98. Obviously, that tells you you're talking about a four-year time span to get to the point where we are now. And this, by no means, is going to be the finished product. It's the first introduction into a real-world application, and as data is gathered from each incident, we will continue to evolve and development the wall and continue to improve it hopefully. I think Dean can probably address a little bit more about the timeline with the introduction of any safety device.

Sicking: Actually, this has been pretty slow. We had ran into a lot of problems, and one of the biggest ones was that we had the snowiest winter that I can remember a couple of winters ago that really slowed this project down. I think it shut our program down for about four months because our site was covered with snow. Hard to get a vehicle up to 150 miles an hour on the snow. So it didn't go as fast as we would have liked, but we're very pleased with the outcome and we've enjoyed the support that IRL -- and patience that IRL showed with us whenever our site was down for four months due to snow.

Q: How difficult would it be for -- to balance the demand for getting these things up with the sort of take it slow kind of evaluate as you go along. Obviously, if this is a successful barrier, there will be a calamity for this to be up at virtually every racetrack where motorsports competes yesterday.

Sicking: I think the people who control that are you. The demand for this wall is going to be controlled by the press more than anyone else.

George: General design for the Speedway here, again, it may have applications in other similar types of facility. We don't really know how this particular design will -- high bank or smaller racetracks. A lot of variables yet to be sorted through and final determination. Certainly, road courses and things like that. Certain tracks with different corners require a whole different thought process, and this is not the answer to all racing concerns.

Sicking: I think Brian mentioned it earlier, every racetrack is different. When we go to a high-bank, short-radius curve, that's a very difficult change in our design. We've never tested a barrier on a radius at all, much less 300 or 400 foot radius that is not very -- not uncommon in NASCAR venues. So there are a number of significant challenges left to adapt this barrier to some of those tracks.

Nation: We will have two final questions. Dick Mittman and Howdy Bell. Then we will do one-on-ones.

Q: Dr. Sicking, often more than one car hits the wall at the same time and accidents during race. Sometimes instantaneously, other times within a fraction of a second. Has that been tested and what compression will the first impact have an effect on the second impact?

Sicking: We can't tow two cars at once. So we never tested that. We thought about that in terms of looking at the accident histories. And if you go back and look at the accident histories, with the exception of perhaps Earnhardt, most of the fatalities are single-vehicle into the wall primary impact. I think Earnhardt would be more of an exception to that. When you look at his impact in particular, the overall energy of that impact with both vehicles combined, was still below the severity and energy level we've subjected this barrier to. So although I think you have a good point and this is something we hope to learn a lot about, it's not something we can test. And it's something that we hope we've anticipated properly, but we need to see something happen in the real world to help us understand it better.

Barnhart: As you can see by the video that we have, if you have a multi-car crash, obviously. The first driver in the wall is going to get the benefits of the wall. As you can see how quickly the wall returned to its original position, a second driver may not get 100 percent of the benefits, but he is going to get a significant portion of the benefits of this wall. So even in a worst-case scenario, the first driver receiving the benefits of it, the second one getting a significant portion of them. That, again, is a better scenario than the one that currently exists.

Q: You mentioned several times you're going to monitor them. How do you monitor them? Mount cameras, electronic equipment for the month of May? How does that work?

Barnhart: We will do a little bit of that. We have -- obviously, with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway we have cameras available using the technology involved with the race control booth from the United States Grand Prix camera. We're going to locate some of those cameras to those areas we anticipate high-probability impact areas just based on historical data. Also use the crash data from the cars themselves. Obviously, go out and inspect the wall after the accident and just continue to monitor just as we do after we pull the test cars at Nebraska, we will do basically the same process on track now.

Nation: Thank you. Just to reiterate, Tony George said the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prides itself at being a leader in innovation. This is not the first or last development Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League have deployed this wall in the real-world testing environment while all the world is watching here during May. That shows the confidence we have in it, but at the same time, there are questions you have yet to be answered. These questions are going to take place and be answered right in front of your eyes. We hope that you all keep that in mind as we go through the month of May. Right now, we're going to take about 15 minutes for one-on-ones and assess what the weather situation is. And if we could, perhaps some could be done in here and some out in the lobby. Spread out a little bit. Thank you very much for coming. We will make an announcement in a few minutes about the buses.

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Series Automotive , IndyCar , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony George