ROBBIE BUHL Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team co-owner, ex-driver
While we cannot be complacent, we also have to accept that this is a dangerous sport and we will never be able to eliminate the risks 100 percent. The possibility of cars going airborne at an oval is always going to be there because a) they're traveling at 220mph, b) they're light, c) they're open wheel, and d) there's always going to be a critical angle where the aerodynamics stop acting as downforce.
So, although we can obviously never deal in absolutes, we need to look at preventing the accidents rather than curing the effects of them. What I mean by that is, looking at ways to lessen the likelihood of IndyCars making contact, and to me, that means getting the cars harder to drive so they don't pack up as much. There needs to be a bigger difference between straightline speed and corner speed, so drivers have to back off, creating variance between driving styles, so we've got two cars running side by side into a corner instead of a pack of 12 all tripping over each other.
Should the worst happen and cars make contact, I hope the new car's rear “bumper” works. It's been mounted centrally, and extends to the full width of the rear tires, so that's a big leverage point. It's probably not that hard to break off, so I'm not sure how effective it would be if another car's front wing or wheel made contact with it. And, if it breaks, is it just another part that can fall on the track and cause another hazard? I think it may be worth re-examining that.
PAUL TRACY Driver
The Vegas oval gave us the type of pack racing that only a new, high-grip surface provides, exactly the way Kentucky and Texas started out when they were freshly paved. As their surfaces have weathered, those two tracks have lost some grip, gotten bumpier and you can't really run three-wide anymore. The two Texas races this year were fine – lots of two-wide racing but everyone fairly strung out.
Do you slow the cars down? No, because then they're easier to drive so you get more pack racing. Do you speed them up? Well, speed alone doesn't make them harder to drive because on a high-grip surface with steep banking, the cars stick anyway: their grip overcomes all their handling characteristics. At Texas in 2001, when we had 900hp, I ran a 238mph lap in practice because the surface was so grippy. We were running negative wing angle on the front and a Handford device on the rear which was giving us lift: we'd have had more downforce by removing the wings completely! So, with 650hp cars, it's even easier to reach that point.
Basically, we shouldn't be on tracks that have so much surface grip and so much banking – the ones designed to make NASCAR cars look fast. We need the virtually flat ones: Milwaukee and Loudon are great, but it seems like the commercial viability of them is dreadful. So, if that means looking outside America, so be it. I think Rockingham in the UK and Lausitzring in Germany were good.
As for the cars themselves, I'm a traditionalist and I like open-wheel cars to truly be open-wheel and open-cockpit. It's eliminating unnecessary risks that we have to focus on – and that includes racing at tracks unsuitable for our cars.
IN DEFENSE OF THE FENCE:
Eddie Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway president
Some of the drivers' unofficial statements in the weeks after the Las Vegas tragedy about the proper placement of materials in the fencing around ovals was interesting, and I understand their response was emotional. Whatever the order of materials around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it was going to be wrong in their eyes. However, according to our engineers who've studied this for years, the way we have it placed at Texas Motor Speedway – from the racetrack to the grandstand it goes SAFER barrier, wall, cables, upright posts, mesh fencing – is the best way and it won't be changed. It is the safest for the drivers and safest for the fans.
The talk of reinforced Perspex- or plexiglass-type material as a substitute for fencing is just talk and has never been tested in any scientific setting at all. If we knew it worked, that would be a great concept worth looking at, sure. But how thick would such a material have to be to absorb the impact of a flying racecar at 220mph? And how soon would it yellow and distort the views of the people in the grandstands?
And then there is the expense. It goes without saying that all of us in the sport want it to be safer, and whatever we can do we will do. But there has to be a cost analysis brought in, too. If foot-thick plexiglass around a 1.5-mile track costs you X amount of dollars to purchase and install, and we make Y amount of dollars from an IndyCar race and there's a huge difference between X and Y, then where's our return on any investment?
I know I'm going to get blasted for that comment by angry people saying, “Well, what's a life worth?” I'm saying every life is precious, and therefore if IndyCar were to decide that such an investment was necessary, then we'd probably be better off saying, “OK, we won't run IndyCars.” If you're not making a lot of money, you're not in a position to make a demand.
What I do know is that the series needs oval venues if it wants to be competitive and have a role in American motorsports because we're an oval-track country and IndyCar is a series known around the world because of an oval race. And I'll tell you another thing: while there is all this uncertainty over the oval races, we're not able to start selling tickets to our IndyCar race…
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the January 2012 issue of RACER magazine, which is NOT available on newsstands. CLICK HERE to subscribe.