Drivers back IndyCar, wreck concerns remain for Indy 500

May 19, 2015, 3:30 PM
Ryan Hunter-Reay reacts after watching the wreck of James Hinchcliffe, of Canada, during practice f...
Ryan Hunter-Reay reacts after watching the wreck of James Hinchcliffe, of Canada, during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Monday, May 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

DETROIT (AP) — Looking no worse for wear a couple days after his car flipped through the air at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ed Carpenter sized up next weekend’s big race.

After several scary accidents over the past week, will the Indianapolis 500 be more of the same?

“Potentially,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know that there’s a solution in place.”

Carpenter was at Belle Isle on Tuesday, helping promote IndyCar’s stop in Detroit at the end of May. First, though, comes the Indy 500 on Sunday. Scott Dixon won the pole, but only after officials reined in horsepower and slowed the cars down following a few frightening crashes.

Over a five-day period, three drivers hit the walls at Indianapolis and all ended up going airborne. Helio Castroneves crashed in practice Wednesday. The next day, Josef Newgarden flipped his car. On Sunday, Carpenter went flying into the second turn catch-fence.

Those three all drive for Chevrolet, though much of the focus was on the new aero kits in place on all IndyCars.

“The first part of the issue — the crashes — that’s normal. That’s part of our sport. That’s something that we all know can happen and does happen,” Carpenter said. “The second part of what’s happening after a crash, that’s a concerning part, but IndyCar, they’re always at the leading edge of safety and innovation, and between them and Chevrolet, I’m confident they’ll come to a safe solution.”

For the long term, perhaps. But there’s a limit to what can be done between now and Sunday’s race, the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” In the immediate aftermath of Carpenter’s crash, IndyCar officials eliminated the extra horsepower the cars were supposed to have for qualifying. They also required drivers to run in the slower race-day setup and turned qualifying into a non-points event.

“I think what you saw — most accidents or all the accidents we’ve seen came when we were preparing for qualifying,” Carpenter said. “In race configuration, the cars are easier to drive, a little more forgiving, so I think the racing is going to be similar to what it’s been the past couple of years. Hopefully we can keep it clean and everyone can keep it going in the right direction and keep all four wheels down.”

IndyCar said Tuesday that the aero kits were developed during six offseason tests at Homestead, Texas, Phoenix and Fontana. But the crashes raised questions about testing and how hard it is to simulate conditions at Indy, which is not like the other ovals in various ways.

“Indy’s unique to the series,” Carpenter said. “The specification we run there is different than anywhere else. I tested at Texas. People have tested other places, but Indy’s Indy. It’s different.”

And it’s not always easy to test for what a car will do when it crashes.

“You don’t crash in testing. It doesn’t happen. You never crash in testing,” driver Simon Pagenaud said while in Milwaukee helping promote a race there in July. “So unless you have crash dummy drivers that are willing to crash, you’re not going to have a car backward until race weekend.”

If there was anything reassuring about the crashes involving Castroneves, Newgarden and Carpenter, it’s that all three were OK afterward.

“It made me feel real good about the safety of the car, the fact that IndyCar has always been pushing toward safety,” Pagenaud said.

But not everyone came away unscathed. James Hinchcliffe needed surgery after injuring his thigh in an accident Monday at Indianapolis. His crash was different from the others, but it was another jarring reminder of the risks drivers take when they race.

A risk that seems particularly noticeable this week.

“Crashing at Indianapolis, it’s not a new thing,” Dixon said while at a Speeding to Read event with more than 3,000 students and faculty at Texas Motor Speedway. “The last thing you want to see is something similar to what happened with James, is when you can’t do anything, when the car fails, and you’ve got no chance to rectify it.”

Crashes may not be any more likely than usual on Sunday — but the severity is an obvious concern.

“Nothing’s changed as far as the race will go,” defending series champion Will Power said. “It’s just a matter of what happens when someone goes backward.”

___

AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas and Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Drivers back IndyCar, wreck concerns remain for Indy 500