Double Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk and former Marlboro 500 winner Mark Blundell have called on the IZOD IndyCar Series to act to curb teams employing fuel-saving strategies on ovals in the aftermath of Mike Conway's accident.
The Briton sustained broken vertebrae and compound fractures to his left leg when his Dreyer & Reinbold car vaulted over the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay's Andretti Autosport Dallara during this year's Indianapolis event. The accident happened when Hunter-Reay's car began to run out of fuel while trying to make it to the finish in eighth place.
Blundell – now Conway's business manager – believes that the series should consider introducing regulations to prevent a similar accident in the future, adding that the 26-year-old Conway – who will require a further operation following the five-hour one he had on Monday – could not have avoided hitting Hunter-Reay.
"What happened on Sunday could have been avoided," Blundell told AUTOSPORT. "There could have been a fatality, not just on track, but also in the crowd.
"They need to do something about it so that it doesn't happen again. If you haven't driven an Indy car at those speeds, you could never understand, but there is nothing a driver can do in those situations. If a driver has run out of fuel and is coasting on the racing line, you simply have no time to react at all."
Blundell wants to see rules introduced to ensure that drivers have to finish the race on a minimum amount of fuel – to avoid running out altogether – or be forced to run on the low line of the track if they are in fuel-saving mode, so that faster runners know to avoid them.
Several drivers were lapping off their optimum pace in a bid to make their fuel go the distance on Sunday.
"The Indy Racing League needs to look at it," he said. "There should be one that forces drivers to run on the low line if they are in fuel-saving mode, or stay up high out of the way, but either way never take the racing line with the speed differences involved because it can be as much as 80mph.
"They were black-flagging drivers for blocking during the race, which is fair enough, because that is dangerous, but the speed differential was only between 2 and 5mph. There were cars at the end of the race going 150mph while others were doing 220.
"Mike had a strategy that saw him running flat-out for 500 miles and that's the name of the game – 500 miles. Plus, race control had several laps to assess the difference in speed between the leaders low on fuel and the guys coming back through the pack at full racing speed. There should be a mechanism in place to avoid this happening again.
"The bottom line," he added, "is that they need to introduce a rule to ensure drivers finish with fuel in the tank. That would take some of this kind of thing away."
In a statement, the league's president of competition, Brian Barnhart, explained that IndyCar always tells competitors to head for the apron if their car hits trouble and that this was the case on Sunday.
"Like every other race, when a car is running out of fuel or having a mechanical problem, we implore the driver to move as quickly as possible to the apron of the track and out of the way of traffic," said Barnhart. "With the timing of the incident at Indy, Ryan's car just began to sputter and there was no time for him to pull out of the line of traffic before impact was made."
Luyendyk (above), who won the 1990 and '97 Indy 500s and coached Conway in this year's event, said that while it was understandable that drivers were allowed to try and save fuel at the end of the race, it was unacceptable for cars to run out altogether on fast ovals.
"The IRL needs to change the rules, because normally if you're running way off the pace on an oval they black flag you to prevent accidents because of the huge speed difference – the closing rates are so great," he said. "In this case they let everybody out, which is understandable because all the front-runners were off the pace saving fuel with a few laps left, but to actually run out of fuel cannot happen on an oval especially with the speeds and speed differential.
"Mike had nowhere to go, he was running 220mph laps and most others [were running] around 200. I believe there is a rule in F1 to have 1.5 gallons of fuel left in the car at the conclusion of a race. It would be a good rule to have that here."