Roger Diez: Danger of catch fencing for open-wheel cars
In an accident at the IndyCar race at Pocono last Sunday, driver Robert Wickens was severely injured in an accident that eerily resembled the crash that killed Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas seven years ago. Wickens made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay in turn two and launched into the catch fence, which shredded his car and sent it into a violent spin. Wickens was airlifted from the track with injuries to his legs, right arm, and spine. He underwent surgery to place rods and screws in his spine on Monday, and surgeries on his right arm and lower extremities later in the week. Wickens also underwent a series of precautionary tests that found no indication of further injury. The severity of his spinal cord injury is still unknown, and the team will not replace him in the No. 6 Honda for Saturday’s race at Gateway. A subdued Alexander Rossi went onto win the race after a lengthy red flag, advancing him to 29 points behind championship leader Scott Dixon.
Wickens’ accident once again points out the danger of catch fencing for open-wheel cars. Although stock cars don’t seem to suffer the same effect, the fencing still doesn’t prevent parts from penetrating, as has been demonstrated more than once. Great strides have been made in track safety, particularly the SAFER barriers that absorb crash energy, but it’s time to put our technology to work finding a better solution to what’s above those barriers. Finding a clear material that won’t block fans’ vision but still contain a 3,000 pound stock car is a challenge, but if we could send men to the moon we should be able to figure something out.
In more cheerful news, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series saw a different winner at Bristol, as Kurt Busch locked himself into the playoffs with his first victory in 2018. It was his 30th win in NASCAR’s top series, and set a record. He and brother Kyle, with 49 series wins, become the first brother act in NASCAR Cup history to achieve 30 or more wins apiece. And Chevrolet made some gains in its struggle to be competitive with the new Camaro body, as Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Ganassi entry and the No. 9 Hendrick Racing Camaro of Chase Elliott finished second and third respectively. There are now nine drivers who are locked into the 16-car playoff field by virtue of wins, with only two races remaining in the “regular” season. Kyle Busch is still on track to become the regular season champion, with 43 points in hand over second place Kevin Harvick. Between them the pair have won 13 of the 24 point races run so far this season.
NASCAR’s Cup drivers have a rare weekend off this week, but the Xfinity series races today at the four-mile-long Road America road course. “Million Dollar Bill” Elliott is coming out of retirement to compete in the event. Also, the Camping World Truck series (to be renamed the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck series for 2019) will race on Sunday on the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course.
After a four week layoff, Formula One is back in action on Sunday at the fastest circuit on the schedule, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton goes into the race with a 24 point lead over his arch-rival, Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. Hamilton has won at Spa three times, and failed to finish on four occasions. If he can win on Sunday, he will join the legendary Jim Clark and Ferrari pilot Kimi Raikkonen as the only drivers to conquer this daunting track four times.