IndyCar released its findings Thursday about the multicar accident that killed Dan Wheldon at the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, following a two-month investigation.
While IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and president of operations Brian Barnhart determined a “perfect storm” of factors were responsible, there were several key findings revealed.
Barnhart explained that Wheldon suffered two major forces to his head, the second of which was responsible for producing the non-survivable blunt force trauma. Wheldon had reduced his throttle from 100 percent to 55 percent and, one second before impact, to 10 percent. His speed had decelerated from a terminal velocity of 224mph to 165mph when he made contact with Charlie Kimball, and was launched airborne for approximately 325ft.
The moment of impact recorded an impact of 24Gs longitudinally, and -30Gs vertically. He went airborne with the car rolling toward the right and into the SAFER barrier. Barnhart explained the analysis from that point:
“The chassis impacted a post along the right side of the tub, and created a deep defect in the tub that extended from the pedal bulkhead, along the upper border of the tub, that went through the cockpit. The pole intruded in the cockpit and made contact with the driver's helmet and head. His injury was limited to his head. He had two forces – the first through a head injury criteria that usually doesn't produce an injury. During that crash sequence, the data measured 12-13 impacts, and one of those impacts measured a measurable head injury criteria.
“The second force produced the non-survivable blunt force trauma. The SAFER barrier and fence appeared to have functioned. The impact with the fence was location, direction and chance result.”
While Barnhart acknowledged the post, stationed inside the catch fencing on the track, was the cause of the non-survivable injury, a position of it being outside the fencing would not have changed the outcome.
“The second head force that Dan experienced was with the post, with the exposure of the cockpit to the post,” he said. “The fence appeared to perform as designed. From a fencing standpoint, there's no indication that the outcome would have been different. It this case, it doesn't appear to have made any difference.
Regarding the car count, a 34-car record field for the series and the track, Barnhart said that was not a responsible issue as the track was projected to accommodate a maximum of 37 cars, per minimum pit space and available track space. The 34 cars broke down to 233ft of space, per car, on track.
Of a greater concern, Barnhart said the Las Vegas Motor Speedway's track geometry created “limitless” boundaries for the drivers to explore different racing lines. The progressive banking and high grip levels were largely responsible for a greater degree of pack racing than had been experienced at other 1.5-mile ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway or Chicagoland Speedway.
“What was also witnessed was almost unlimited movement, and that's (down to) the track geometry,” Barnhart said. “Almost unrestricted movement was experienced. That increased the chance of car-to-car contact, and made it more difficult to predict the movement of each car and driver. The accident likelihood was increased. But the current of the track geometry appears to have been causal.
“We've had pack racing before on other 1.5-high banked ovals, there was always a limit. But the upper lane at Texas or Chicago, with lower grip level, what was evident at Las Vegas was that the entire track was usable and it was limitless.”
Bernard estimated that with the findings released, he hopes to have the full 2012 series schedule announced either Thursday or Friday. Asked whether he'd ever want to return to Las Vegas, Bernard said he'd prefer to do so “only under the right circumstances.”