At the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, the MavTV 500, won by Graham Rahal, could have been one of the best Indy Car races of the year. Eighty lead changes with 4 to 6 cars racing for position most of the day made it an extremely exciting race to watch. Cars racing side by side with only inches between them, two, three or even five grooves in the turns made you want to turn away from the TV. Even if you taped it you wouldn’t fast forward because you wouldn’t wan to miss any of the action. There was a great finish between Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan marred by a a crass that involved Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay sending Briscoe into the infield grass flipping. Briscoe credited the Dallara chassis and the padding around the whole cockpit along with his Hans device for saving him from any injuries.
Apparently, a few drivers and members of some prominent race teams thought it was far to dangerous to race that close together at speeds in excess of 210 miles per hour. They were quick to point out that this was the same formula that contributed to Dan Wheldon’s death a few year sago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track similar to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, while others saw the race and said it was very competitive and thrilling. Automobile racing has never been a totally save sport, so how do we have this kind of competition and thrilling action without it being too dangerous?
We have a few factors to investigate to understand just what is happening. Aerodynamics are what makes race cars go so fast especially through the turns. During practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 some of the cards got upside down so Indy Car officials added some more down force to keep the cards from getting airborne. They mandated the same aero package for Fontana to prevent the cars from flipping and it also stuck them to the track and created wheel to wheel racing at 210 plus.
It seems to me that all the knowledge that we have today can fix this problem. The factors involved are tires, aerodynamics, engine horsepower and last but not least the tracks and specifically the amount of bank that are in the turns. Often we forget that the modern one mile and two mile tracks were built mailing for stock cars because they drew the biggest crowds. Banked tracks were made for close racing, door handle to door handle. So how do we accommodate stock cards and open wheel cars so that both can put on a good show with close competition on the same track? First and foremost, slow them both down – maximum speed 185 to 195 MPH. We are not building airplanes and the trained eye cannot tell the difference between 185 MPH and 215 MPH. That’s why there is a huge sign in turn one at Fontana to tell us how fast they are going. We need to take away some down force so they can’t flat foot it around the track. Then the drivers will need to brake for the turns. Some drivers that complained about how dangerous it currently is will also be upset with less down force. Racing is a competition between drivers with speed adding to the danger factor. So slow them down. It will still have all the factors to make a great show thus lessening the chance of someone getting badly hurt.
I have always been in favor of less bank, but to rebuild some race tracks would be very expensive. Motorsports could stand an overhaul before it destroys itself. Whether they change the tracks or slow the cards down, they need to consider what brings people to the races. We want to see brave, talented drivers side by side, allowing them to show off their skills the safest way possible.