On Thursday, the Izod IndyCar Series released a report announcing the results of the investigation surrounding Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.
In the crash, Wheldon's car was launched airborne and his head ultimately hit a vertical post on the catchfence -- a "non-survivable injury."
Thirty-four drivers participated in the race on that Sunday and were spread out four-wide on the track when the crash happened.
"Racing grooves not only restrict drivers' naturally aggressive racing behavior, but make the location of another competitor's car on the racetrack more predictable," the report said.
But when the race began at Vegas, the packed 34-car field was all over the track—movement series officials did not expect despite drivers' warnings.
"The ability of the drivers to race from the bottom of the racetrack all the way up to the wall and run limitless is not a condition we've experienced before," IndyCar President Brian Barnhart said. "I don't think we were expecting it to be any different from what we'd experienced in the last decade at places like Chicagoland, Kentucky, Fontana and Texas. …
"We were never expecting to be able to run from the top to the bottom (at Las Vegas)."
Drivers were able to run all over the track because of Las Vegas' new pavement and configuration. The track was repaved and banked with progressive banking in 2006. Progressive banking allows cars to run the high line at a comparable speed to the lesser-banked low-line.
That, combined with the extreme downforce of an IndyCar, meant that the conditions in the 12 laps before that fateful crash were not unlike a restrictor plate race at Daytona or Talladega -- just with cars with open cockpits going approximately 30 mph faster.
The report said that Wheldon had slowed to 165 mph before he launched off of the car in front of him and his car flew into the fence. His head hit a vertical support pole inside of the catchfence, but Barnhart said that it would not have mattered if the fence was inside or outside of the fence fabric.
IndyCar's 2012 schedule still hasn't been announced and CEO Randy Bernard said that he hoped to have it out on Friday. Will Texas Motor Speedway be on it? That remains to be seen. While its pavement is older and the groove is smaller, it's a similar track to Las Vegas.
The IndyCar Series needs high-banked ovals. But it needs them safely. Ovals have produced the most compelling racing recently, but unfortunately, the pack racing was a main cause of the drama. The non-oval races in 2011 tended to be snooze-fests, and the 2012 schedule will be mostly road and street races. But if a short break from high-banked oval racing is necessary to work on driver safety and the long-term sustainability of the sport, then so be it.
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- Sports & Recreation/Motor Racing
- Dan Wheldon
- Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- Las Vegas
- Izod IndyCar Series