Q&A: IndyCar’s Frye on Wickens shunt and consequences

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Q&A: IndyCar’s Frye on Wickens shunt and consequences
David Malsher
By: David Malsher
Aug 24, 2018, 5:09 PM

IndyCar president of competition and operations Jay Frye has answered questions from select media members on Robert Wickens’ huge crash at Pocono Raceway, analysis of car damage and catchfence damage, and windscreens.

Everybody has been complimentary about the tub [and how it withstood the impact]. Can you give us your perspective?
We were very encouraged by how the car held up, certainly not satisfied though, because the driver was injured. We’ll never be satisfied until that doesn’t happen. But it’s going to be weeks for us to go through this with a fine-tooth comb. The initial review of how the parts and pieces held up. This new kit has the driver side impact [anti-intrusion] pieces that we think was an important element to the way the car held up. There were also five or six other things that we’ve done to the car over the past few months, safety updates, and again they did their job. But as I say, we’re never satisfied… Driver safety is our number one priority.

Have you got any facts and figures in terms of G-force of impact, what speed he hit, etc?
Interestingly enough, no. It’s not done yet. It was a violent one and we’re trying to get the data out of the [black-] box.

You think the anti-intrusion panels meant the injuries were not as bad as they could have been?
Yes, and there’s other stuff. Things have been moved to the bottom, there’s way less parts and pieces. This is just an opinion, but the debris field – it was big but think how big it would have been with last year’s car. This car has way less parts and pieces than last year’s car. Think about the rear-wheel guards [as used on the Dallara DW12 2012-’17]. So thinking of the by-products, the good things about this car, the radiator piece, the side-impact piece, things moved to the bottom.

Takuma Sato had a pretty big incident at Texas [mid-March] in a tire test, and we learned some stuff off that car, applied it to this car in time for Indy 500. We drilled holes in the upper beam at the drivers’ side, so it progressively crushed; it was too rigid. So this was done before we got out on track at the 500.

So this thing evolves, and we’re never satisfied, but we’re very encouraged.

I understand Wickens’ onboard extinguisher came loose and that’s what did a lot of the damage to his feet. Are you looking to relocate it?
That’s part of the stuff we learned – what happened to the car, how can we make it better. I don’t know if it’s completely true what you said, but it was loose. So that’s something we’ll analyze to make better going forward. It’s very early in this whole process. The race was last Sunday, we do what we can at the track, we come back and take the car to the shop and start going through it, with Dallara involved. And huge kudos to them in this whole process – they build really good racecars.

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Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
1/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato crash at Pocono

James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato crash at Pocono
2/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
3/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
4/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
5/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
6/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
7/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
8/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
9/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
10/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono

Robert Wickens crash at Pocono
11/13

Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / LAT Images

IndyCar officials at the site of the crash

IndyCar officials at the site of the crash
12/13

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / LAT Images

IndyCar officials at the site of the crash

IndyCar officials at the site of the crash
13/13

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / LAT Images

A lot of sofa experts have come out and said, ‘How about taller SAFER barriers, so if a car does get up, it gets into a SAFER barrier rather than a fence?’ Can you give an explanation as to why or why not that may be a solution?
As much of an expert as those people are, I am too. But what’s the data? I mean, look at the windscreen. Everybody has said, ‘Just put it on the car’, but there’s a cause and effect to everything you do, and the negative effect could outweigh the positive effect. That’s why we’re doing all the elaborate testing we’re doing.

So any time you have a situation like this, you look at what was good about it, what was bad about it, did it do its job, and how long it took to fix it. There’s all manner of things that you can look to improve.

There were some complaints that it took too long to get information. Can you walk through the communication process?
In general, if you look at the magnitude of what happened, there were five drivers in the care center, and one of them was injured enough that he had to be transported. So our prime concern at that time is to make sure we’re looking after the drivers, looking after their families. Looking back, there were probably 10 or 15 minutes where we could do better next time in terms of processes and how we do things. There was an error so we can do better next time. But again, think of the magnitude of what happened – how often do you bring five drivers into the care center at once?

We saw a lot of head movement in the stills and the slo-mo. Did Robert’s HANS device withstand the accident?
I’m not aware of it not [doing so]. This week we will go through it all – we’ve had different groups collect different data that are experts at different things. I was told that his helmet was fine, so I’m interpreting there was nothing wrong there.

And the windscreen testing – I understand you’re doing impact testing on that at the moment?
With the windscreen testing, we’re about a month behind and the reason for that is the testing. PPG is a phenomenal partner and we talked to them Monday. It just takes time to get these things started, and we’re hoping the first week of September we’ll do some testing – the basic stuff – and the second round of testing will be a more military-style affair.

There are four prototypes and they were layered; the production piece will be a vacuum-formed one-piece. We learned a lot between Scott [Dixon at Phoenix] and Josef [Newgarden at Indy]. With Josef, it was high speed and with Scott, we had the day, dusk and dark. We learned a lot about helmets. Both drivers had different helmets, both drivers had different shields, both drivers had different kind of tear-offs. All those things made a difference.

Does seeing how close it was for Ryan Hunter-Reay as Wickens went over the top of him bring forward the talk of the screen?
We haven’t talked a lot about the screen lately, but behind the scenes it’s still full-speed ahead, whether last Sunday’s accident had happened or not.

Do you buy Tony Cotman’s logic that there’s no better alternative to a catchfence out there currently? He said there are some people in Europe working on fences…
We are part of ACCUS (Automobile Competition Committee for the United States) and FIA and so we are very aware of what goes on globally. Like with the car, we’re encouraged but not satisfied, and we always want to look to be the leader in safety and help any way we can. We will have a huge amount of data from last week to go through and see what we can do better and be part of that solution.

Tony is obviously someone we rely on a lot, he sits on the FIA commission for courses, so he is really a frontline person, he will get it first. In the same way that there’s got to be more we can do to the car, there’s got to be more we can do about the fences. It always evolves, you learn something every time. So did the fence do its job? Yeah, it did what it was supposed to do, but could it be better? Absolutely.

What was the process at Pocono to determine whether the fence was repaired so that it was safe to race again?
The biggest determining factor was the guys who fixed it. The Pocono guys were there, it’s their fence. Our guys were there, to work with the Pocono people and kudos to them – they were phenomenal. So when our safety guys who do this for a living every week and follow us around, when they say we’re good to go, we’re good to go.

So you refute Sebastien Bourdais’ comments [“When we saw the extent of the damage, I could have had a pretty good idea that it wasn’t going to get fixed properly. And it wasn’t. Cables were loose, and it was just like… it was pretty lousy.”]
He was not at the scene. He was doing it from a visual perspective. A couple of angles you looked at it, it was different-looking, but another angle it looked fine. It’s just how you looked at it. But again, we’ll look back at how long it took, what materials were to hand – all this stuff – to check it was done 100 percent correctly. We think it was safe, but we will look at what we can to make it better, make it quicker.

Did anyone else express dissatisfaction?
Not that I’m aware of. Our guys are really good, and they take our drivers’ safety as seriously as anybody, if not more. We rely on them and they were all out there.

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About this article

Series IndyCar
Author David Malsher
Article type Interview