INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Questions concerning the level of safety headed into the Indianapolis 500 continued to mount Monday after James Hinchcliffe was injured in a crash.
Hinchcliffe’s accident was caused by a suspension failure, and his car spun hard into the wall before sliding back near the apron and nearly flipping over. It titled onto two wheels, then settled back on all four.
His accident followed three incidents last week in which cars went airborne, and IndyCar on Sunday scrambled to implement rules changes before qualifying.
Even with slower speeds and reduced horsepower, drivers remain uncertain what will happen when 33 cars are running full throttle Sunday in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“Tough day for IndyCar — one of my good friends is hurt and in the hospital. While he’s having surgery, we’re driving around the track,” 2013 winner Tony Kanaan said.
“We need to understand that we went on the track today to understand what we need to make a better race on Sunday for the fans.”
Ed Carpenter, the only driver/owner in the series and an Indianapolis Motor Speedway standout, said no one is certain cars won’t go airborne this Sunday. It was his rollover that finally led IndyCar to make changes before qualifying.
“I think that’s a concern for everybody,” said Carpenter, who believes IndyCar “at this point, they’re doing the right thing. We’re trying to understand what’s going on.”
Carpenter was one of three Chevrolet drivers who went airborne since last Wednesday. The fence he sailed into required repairs after the collision.
The first Honda car that crashed in practice was driven by Pippa Mann. Her car did not lift after slamming hard into the attenuator at the back end of pit lane. Hinchcliffe’s accident was caused by a broken suspension part.
IndyCar CEO Mark Miles and Derrick Walker, the series’ president of competition and operations, responded to safety concerns Sunday by eliminating the extra horsepower the cars were supposed to have for qualifying. They also required all drivers to run in the slower race setup and turning qualifying into a non-points chase.
The changes resulted in slower speeds and caused more drama off the track than on it as teams thrashed to get ready and IndyCar tried to find a solution.
What IndyCar settled on led to a trouble-free qualifying session, and Hinchcliffe’s accident Monday was unrelated to the previous issues. IndyCar suspended Monday’s practice while they investigated, and when the session resumed, the drivers staged an impressive, racy, and trouble-free session.
While most agreed Monday that Miles and Walker made the right call, Carpenter believes the short-term fix is not a long-term solution.
“I think we really need to understand what all the issues are,” he said. “Everyone has opinions, whether it’s the aero kit, an underwing issue or whatever it is, we need to find out.”
Walker and Miles have already acknowledged that the series and both engine manufacturers will continue to run computer simulated tests before IndyCar’s second oval race, June 6 at Texas.
Many observers have wondered if the problems are the new oval aero kits, which are making their speedway debut at Indy.
The perception before Monday was that it was merely a problem Chevy had because it was using a smaller rear wing and had openings in the bottom of each side pod. Walker has cited various reasons unrelated to the aerokits for the three Chevrolet flips.
Hinchcliffe is the first driver injured, and Walker may have foreshadowed on Sunday that Honda wasn’t immune from potential problems.
“Just because we’ve seen three incidents happen with a Chevrolet, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t three more Hondas out there that are likely to happen or could happen,” Walker said then. “I can assure you Honda does not believe that they have any issue, but then again, they will admit that right now we don’t have that answer.”
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