It’s a sensational situation: Within 24 hours, two IndyCars equipped with Chevrolet aero kits took flight at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the short chute exiting the first turn of the legendary 2.5-mile oval.
Practice for the 99th Indianapolis 500 has had more big accidents from Monday through Thursday than I can remember for all of last year’s meeting.
This is the first year of use for Chevrolet and Honda aero kits, and it’s bound to have its ramifications. The aero kits change how cars can work around one another and how they react to the oval track and its considerable, hour-by-hour climate changes.
You can’t simulate Indianapolis in the vacuum of CFD (computational fluid dynamics) or through windtunnel or other simulations. It just can’t be done.
As we’ve seen, with Helio Castroneves’ flying escapade in the first turn on Wednesday and yesterday, when Barber winner Josef Newgarden crashed in nearly the same place, simulations of this track just don’t translate.
Chevy’s quick fix
After Castroneves’ flight on Wednesday afternoon, Chevrolet teams were told to remove the center wicker bill that runs the length of each car’s nose. This was after CFD studies, and Chevrolet felt the wicker might have been a partial contributor to the liftoff.
But then Newgarden’s crash happened too, from which he appeared to emerge shaken but otherwise altogether, so the IndyCar garage is exploding with ways to fix – or demands to fix – whatever is causing these accidents to occur in this manner.
IndyCar already reduced the size of its spec floor this year, and implemented large holes to help reduce the chances of takeoff in a high-speed spinning situation. But when we experiment with aerodynamics in a real-world situation, as we have at this racetrack, we are bound to have ramifications we cannot explain in scientific fashion because, hey, we haven’t done this before.
We also have the human element involved, as drivers tend to react to situations in different manners. And whether either of these incidents was due to driver error, I don’t know.
In my opinion, the third major accident where Pippa Mann failed to recognize a slowing car in front of her and had to check up, sending her car on a wild ride and damaging the Dallara tub to the point of needing an Aerodine repair, certainly qualifies as such. The other two are still up to conjecture.
No knee-jerk reactions
In any case, I do believe it is in IndyCar’s best interest not to suppose the sky is falling and to change its rules to suit these particular incidents. Yes, do due diligence on cause, effect – as you should – but don’t say “no this, no that, let’s change everything” on the morrow before the qualifying weekend.
The 99th Indianapolis 500 is too important a race to dilute. It has been the thrill of choice for drivers since 1911 and they all know the consequences they face when they get behind the wheel.
Yes, let’s look to improve safety but, please, no knee-jerk reactions.