It was a sad return to Pocono for IndyCar yesterday, not least because the rain on Sunday forced the race to be abandoned until the following Monday. It was of course the scene of the incident which killed Justin Wilson, around this exact time last year.
Within a few opening laps of the race, similar-looking crashes to Sage Karem’s from Takuma Sato and later on by championship leader Simon Pagenaud made us all hold our breaths. But it wasn’t until the pit stop phase did we see a truly frightening incident which could’ve been a lot worse than it turned out to be.
Leaving his pit box after his third pit stop, Alexander Rossi seemed to just misjudge the closing speed between himself and Charlie Kimball, launching the Indy 500 winner into the air. His left-front wheel then striked the car of Helio Castronves, going over the top of the nosecone before resting in the middle of the fast lane.
Fortunately, it was the cars that took all the hits, with Castroneves looking seemingly unscathed when he eventually got out to retire. But amid the calls for extra head protection in single seaters, this is yet another incident to raise the eyebrows of those responsible for ensuring the safety of the drivers.
My views on extra protection – whether it be a halo or windscreen – have changed since I wrote about it pre-season earlier this year. For me, aesthetically it made the cars looked dumbed down. I want the sport to look dangerous, and this was making it all look rather PG.
I still think a solution for large errant bits of debris needs to be found, but in a situation like we had yesterday it seems another ‘freak accident’ must be added to the list we’ve accumulated so far.
Admittedly I don’t think the drivers we’re at the greatest risk yesterday, that went to the mechanics and pitwall crews that Rossi’s uncontrollable car seemed to be heading towards. Flashes of another BTCC-like incident like we had in Snetterton went through my head before we seen the replay. Not good.
As for the driver’s part, there is an easy solution that isn’t as drastic as fitting extra head protection to this. Adopt a similar sort of ‘pit box’ system to Formula 1, as opposed to making it an open free-for all. For me this sort of setup only works with Touring Cars or NASCAR, where cars can’t be launched into mid-air halfway down the fast lane.
It may not be the tradition from IndyCar’s point of view, but is making the cockpits of open-wheel racing cars more closed a part of that tradition either?