IRL: Indy 500: SAFER barrier first impact press conference

86th Indianapolis 500 Press conference after first impact of SAFER barrier. May 5, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Brian Barnhart, Kevin Forbes Note: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently installed the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy ...

86th Indianapolis 500
Press conference after first impact of SAFER barrier.
May 5, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Brian Barnhart, Kevin Forbes

Note: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently installed the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier in all four turns of the historic 2.5-mile oval in an effort to enhance safety for drivers competing at the track. Indy Racing League veteran Robby McGehee became the first driver to hit the barrier when he crashed in Turn 3 on Opening Day of the 86th Indianapolis 500 on May 5. Following is the transcript from the press conference after that impact:

Brian Barnhart (Vice President of Operations, Indy Racing League): "OK. Thanks, Ron. Actually I was interested in those times (caution-period time due to accident), too, because I wasn't aware of how long we were down. I think we probably took a little extra time since it was the first impact of the SAFER barrier in obviously trying to analyze exactly what had happened out there. One thing that has happened to us in preparation for this, and we were anxious to get the wall up for a real-world atmosphere and a real-world test. I certainly think one thing that happened today is that we tested on the high-extreme end right away because that was an enormous impact by Robby (McGehee). He was running at speed, 218, 219 mph. Just the angle of impact. It was a very big impact. Preliminary again, we are still trying to analyze the data, but I would say first-hand first analysis of the wall, we are very encouraged by what we saw out there. Robby never lost consciousness out there. Ron, I don't want to speak for the final, but I was with Dr. (Henry) Bock (Indy Racing League director of medical services) out on the track just a minute ago when he got word from Methodist, and Robby has no broken bones and will be released. That is very encouraging because that was a big hit, and we did learn as we anticipated we would in real-world atmosphere. You have a spinning car in a yaw angle. What it looks like happened is that Robby had some sort of a failure in the left rear of the car. You can tell in the skid marks as the car is in a yaw angle, the four skids. The skid off his left rear is not a solid black line. It has wiggles to it meaning it has unloaded the left-rear corner. Also as the car has rotated 45 and then 90 degrees, the right front is not touching the track. Only the left front is leaving the skid as it is going up. A couple of things that impact tells you is that he has had a failure in the left rear of the car to cause the car to lose control; he has the right front up in the air, meaning he is not scrubbing a lot of speed; and that means the car has impacted the wall at a very high, high velocity for one, and obviously just looking at the video of it, you guys can see as well as anybody it is about a 90-degree spin with a very solid rearward impact. Based on what we've seen, the wall behaved in a very, very encouraging manner. We really like what we see. As I said, Robby never lost consciousness. The car did not snag along the wall. It slid along. It didn't have a rebound angle. The wall did not become detached. The foam performed flawlessly behind. A lot of the issues that were identified with the PEDS wall in 1998 have been addressed as we talked about, and we think the wall behaved in a very encouraging fashion. We are really pleased for the first test, especially since the first test in a real-world atmosphere is probably on the upper-level extremes."

Ron Green (Director of Media Relations, Indy Racing League): "We are also fortunate to have Kevin Forbes join us. Kevin is the director of engineering and construction for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kevin, I appreciate your time. We know it has already been a long day just to get the Opening Day of practice underway. We saw some damage on the lower part of the wall on the video. It looked like a puncture. Can you elaborate on what we were seeing there?"

Kevin Forbes (Director of Engineering and Construction, Indianapolis Motor Speedway): "Sure. Ron, thank you very much. Actually due to the testing that had been done over and over in Nebraska, the damage that you all saw and that we saw at close inspection was very much expected. It is very much in line with the damage that had been done while the tests were conducted in Nebraska. It was anticipated even to the point that we had a repair kit that was available on one of our repair trucks. The actual size of one gouge was so much in line with what we were expecting that the patch plates that we already had pre-made fit exactly over the patch. Reiterating what Brian said, it is very much what we had anticipated. It behaved as predicated. Some of the concerns we had just simply going through something that has never been tried before -- has been tested but not in a real-world situation -- everything held up very well. Other that the puncture that occurred in a couple of the tubes, the remainder of the tubes were virtually undamaged. The cable restraining devices, only one had just a very, very slight kink in the cable. This is 3/8-diameter cable, we could virtually take that cable and kink it ourselves. That tells you that the stresses and strains applied to that cable were very low, very much in line with what we were anticipating. The extruded polystyrene foam bundles that actually provide some of that deceleration, they were undamaged, virtually undamaged. We had two small pieces that came loose. Those were removed. The patches were welded in place, and the track went back green."

Green: "Both Kevin and Brian are anxious to go back and check both data and video, but they do have time for a few questions."

Q: "Were you able to look at the crash data, and do you know how many g's he hit with?"

Barnhart: "We have done a preliminary analysis of the data-impact recorders that are onboard the cars. His initial impact when the back end of the car, the gearbox, hit the wall was 40 g's. When the right front slid in and slapped in, he spiked to a 72.7. Those were the numbers that we've downloaded at this point and time. Again, our purpose of the wall and what we are trying to do is lower the g-forces on the driver and the car to an area where he is less likely to be injured. Those are encouraging numbers from what you see there. Obviously, we have a fairly large databank of numbers from crashes over the years. What we have in just preliminarily comparing them that is a substantial reduction from cars that have similar yaw angles, similar velocities and similar angles of impact. We are encouraged by that. There are a lot of factors that go into crashes, but there are a lot of reasons to believe at least preliminarily the wall had a lot to do with that reduction in force."

Q: "For Brian or Kevin or both. Do you need two, three or four more crashes before you get a true sense of the wall's reaction, or do you feel like just this one incident, because of the severity of it, gives you that basis?"

Barnhart: "My response to that would be, I think this will be a continuing evolution rather it is three, four or 30 or 40 or 300 or 400. Safety in our sport in every area, whether it is the wall or any other aspect of the car, is an ongoing development. I think that is going to be the case with this wall, as well."

Forbes: "Science I don't think would ever accept just one experiment as reason to believe success or failure has occurred. Obviously in our mind this is number 20. Nineteen have occurred prior to this in Nebraska. This is number 20. If you could graph the results of the previous 19, this would fall right in line with the other characteristics of the impact. But in our mind, it is number one in a real-world application. It's obviously going to take several more before we even get kind of a feel for what it is really going to do."

Q: "It appeared in the video that the car was almost airborne after it hit the wall, almost flipped over. Was there any catching? Did the fence catch the car at all and maybe help in that at all? What is your opinion on that?"

Barnhart: "I don't think the wall contributed to the airborne factor of what you are talking about. What does is because it has suffered a failure in the left rear of some sort. If you watch the car, there is one television replay I've seen that shows the car while it is spinning, because the left rear has failed due to the cross weight of the car, the right front is in the air. That already tells you right now the back end is down, the front end is up. As it hits and impacts the wall, since the angle of the car already has it with basically reverse weight, if you will, the car hits the wall, it continues to drive the rear down, and as the right front turns around to slap the wall, that is not uncommon. I think that is any time you have had a failure mechanical like that car has had, that is what has contributed to the airborneness of the car or what it has done. Again, like I say, if you watch the replay, when the car hits in and slaps the right front in though the one thing that we really like is the rebound angle, I mean, it continued along the SAFER wall, slid down into the north short chute without being propelled back into oncoming traffic. Obviously, there is significant damage to the car, which we expect. You don't talk about soft. There isn't anything soft about it. It is still a significant barrier these guys run into. It needs to be when you run the speed they are."

Q: "If this happened on Race Day, would it have been something that could have been maybe cleaned up in 15 minutes if you were pressed to get it, or is it too early to tell?"

Barnhart: "I think it could have been, Robin. They did such a good job with the one gouge he is talking about, just watching them zip the patches on and weld those in place so quick, we stood and talked a lot about the damage that was done to the bottom panel and rather we would continue under those conditions. Ultimately, we obviously decided we would since we ran the rest of the day. I think the next thing that has happened since the is real-world application, one, Kevin and his crew are already talking about, 'OK what are we going to do on Race Day should this happen?' I think, and I'll let Kevin address it here, I certainly think this would be a scenario where we would have a 15-minute clean-up. In other words, while they are cleaning up the wreck and the debris from the wrecked race car, one crew is dedicated to the wall -- we're not going to slow the race down any."

Forbes: "We intentionally stood out there, just trying to really analyze what had happened and what if this were Race Day conditions. This is the first real test of this brand-new device. We really wanted to take that moment to gather as much data as we could about the impact, about the result, about what we would do if this were Race Day, about what we would repair and we may not have to repair, how we would repair it. We were trying to assess all that right then while we still had the chance. We were out there considerably (longer) than, I think, we really had to be just so we could document that information and make sure it provides us a game for Race Day conditions."

Q: "First to clarify what Will asked you: Was there a grabbing at the impact point where the gearbox went in, if that is indeed what made the hole, there was no grabbing at the gearbox to kind of flip the car?"

Barnhart: "It doesn't appear to be. As the car has slid along, if you look at the length of it, our rear wings are to give you a little bit of an idea how square the car went backward into the wall, our rear wings are 43 inches in width. You can see the two end fences clearly defined in the paint on the SAFER wall, and, I think, Kevin measured them, and it was 46 inches. So as the car is still going that rate downstream as it is. It went straight back in. It doesn't appear to because of the distance from where the gearbox angled and hit in to where the right front slapped in was a considerable distance down the racetrack, and it didn't look like it snagged or held the car in any fashion that we are uncomfortable with."

Forbes: "Something that must be recognized is that in many cases, almost most cases, where you have the same kind of impact with the concrete wall that we had out there, concrete walls were so historically accepted no one really cared about the fact that we had some 4-, 5- and 6-inch-deep holes in those concrete walls. So really the damage that is being done to those steel tubes is virtually no different than the damage that used to be done to our concrete walls."

Q: "What I was going to have you do is put in real human talk here: You talked a lot about how the g's were substantially less, but this is an impact that we have seen that would have hurt some people over the last few races and few years. This is really a worst-case scenario, backing in. Can you talk about how you really feel about it because you really think he would have been really hurt in this accident?"

Forbes: "The best way to answer that, and I will try to do this in real-world terms. The bottom line is that acceleration, rather it is accelerating going forward or accelerating coming to a rest, it is absolutely undeniably a function of time. The shorter the time, the higher the acceleration, or in this case, the deceleration. If you hit a concrete wall, the time is so short to bring that car to a stop that the g's are going to be some number. If in the same instance, if it takes even a couple of thousandths of a second to slow that car down, give it more time to slow down, the g's in the same scenario physically, absolutely, undeniably will be less. That is precisely what this wall does. The moment that car impacts that wall, that wall starts to move. As that wall is moving it is slowing that car down over a distance. This distance is several inches. Before the distance was zero. There was virtually no time for deceleration, which means the g's would be very high. This wall will slow that car down over more time than a concrete wall, the g's will be less on the same exact conditions on the two different kinds of barriers, the g's will be less on the SAFER wall."

Barnhart: "Thank you, engineer Forbes. What he is talking about, the shorter time and you have heard this word associated in all of our accident investigations, everything you are talking about when you are asking how many forces, the one word you always hear is spike. That is one what that concrete wall creates is that short time. It creates that sharp spike. If you look at our graph on this one, what he just explained is that we have increased the time duration. Instead of a spike up the page on that thing like we have, we have a nice rounded curve where the thing is lasting much longer. That is why we have, you know, instead of a peak on a mountain going up you just have a little rolling hill on the grass. That is about as real-world terms as I can put it."

Green: "We will take our last question from Marlo, but before we do, we need some clarification over here. You actually did do some repair under the yellow, correct?"

Forbes: "That is correct. The repair probably took three or four minutes."

Q: "You talked about the repair kits you guys have on the truck. What kind of preparations did you have before today? Did you practice with the safety crew like a pit stop repairing this barrier?"

Forbes: "We didn't practice like a pit stop, we just simply went over the scenarios. We went over what would happen if we had to replace the foam, what would happen if the SAFER wall was pushed up against the concrete wall and didn't come back to its normal position. We had devices to repair that. We have standby foam bundles ready. We have the repair plates, which again we so expected the damage we saw out there. We just kind of went over the scenarios. The people who are effecting these kind of repairs are very experienced in this work. We would just kind of mull over in our minds a scenario. We would have the firemen and safety crews kind of assess the damage. We would come out and see what was necessary. If it was more than a simple foam replacement, then we have a crew that has welding equipment, repair plates, those kinds of things. And it, in fact, went just like that today."


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Brian Barnhart