Fortunate escape for Westbrook (LAT photo)
Good news was in limited supply after the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Prototype entrants packed up and left Daytona International Speedway earlier this week, but a few positive items have just emerged.
Drivers Richard Westbrook and Joao Barbosa were mostly unhurt in their respective Continental tire blowouts and airborne episodes, leading their teams and families to breathe a collective sigh of relief. And now, with a few days to let everything settle after the scary incident, Westbrook, whose crash was possibly the most violent seen in a Daytona Prototype to date, says no additional injuries have arisen since Tuesday’s flight at 192mph.
?I’ve got a few bumps and bruises, but I’m generally fine and just happy to be home and with family,? Westbrook told RACER after returning to England. ?I’m doing really good, to be honest, and I’m really thankful the car was so strong. It was everything around me that was turned into complete junk. The cockpit was fine and did its job. The crash boxes did their bit and I’m very fortunate.
?We’d never really seen a DP go through something like that, so there’s always that little question in the back of your mind whether it will come through OK or not, and I’m thankful that it did.?
The factory Chevrolet driver suffered two tire failures in testing on Tuesday, both with sets of brand-new tires at the 20-lap mark, and while the first blowout was caught before any damage was done, the second instance turned his No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP around and sent it skyward.
?It was like a dream, really; I’ve never had a big crash like that before,? he said. ?The tire went; I got into a slide and thought I could catch it. Then everything went quiet as the car lifted. It was the weirdest sensation. I knew something strange was going on, then realized I was airborne, and I thought it was going to really hurt because I was spinning in the air, was disorientated, but knew I was pretty high up because it went quiet for so long.
?My immediate concern was if I was going to end up in the grandstands, and it was not going to be good. I hit the top of the catch fencing, which is what brought me back down, and then went into a series of rolls, which were impacts, and I’d never had such big impacts like that before. I’m just lucky because nine times out of 10, a crash like that would have ended up far worse. I’m definitely going to church on Sunday and thanking the Big Boss for looking down on me…?
With the sheer violence of his crash in mind, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn Westbrook came away from the high-speed rolls and tumbling without a concussion. He credits the additional safety measures taken by SDR owner Troy Flis and the entire Michigan-based team for outfitting his Coyote chassis with extra head and neck protection.
?We put a neck support into the car ” which is not mandatory, surprisingly ” about halfway through last year and I would definitely urge IMSA and the other teams to install one, because I know it helped me quite a bit in the accident. With the doors flying off and being pretty exposed and scraping along the catch fencing, the fact that I was kept inside the car with the neck support and nets and such, I really think the other teams should add it in.
?I felt myself, especially my head, not being thrown around much, which was a huge plus. I should be celebrating right now?I need to enter the lottery this weekend?I’ll pick your numbers for you, if you like. I really did dodge a bullet.?
Along with Westbrook’s physical and mental state, good fortune also visited the two teams that saw their Corvette DPs undergo varying degrees of damage at Daytona. According the Coyote Racecars CEO Gary Nelson, very few of the bolt-on parts were salvageable on the No. 90 SDR car, but the chassis itself can be repaired.
Nelson, who also oversees the AXR team, told RACER their damaged car, which took a less severe hit, is also repairable, but with limited time until the next round of testing resumes in mid-December, deciding whether to repair both cars or to commit to going forward with a new and/or backup chassis solutions is the biggest decision to make.
?Both cars held up very well,? he said. ?We looked at both chassis today after they were stripped down, and you try and analyze what strengths and weaknesses they have. From the first look, we’re pretty pleased with how durable they are. Most of the stuff that got hurt can be replaced ” the stuff that bolts onto the frame itself, but you have to look deeper to see if you can use the chassis, or if it needs fixing first before getting new parts going onto it.?
Both Coyotes were placed on a chassis jig to measure if and how much twisting and bending took place during their crashes, leading Nelson and SDR owner Troy Flis to now make the call on conducting hurried rebuilding processes or going with something fresh to use in the coming weeks.
Stepping back to the high temperatures experienced with the right-rear tires on Tuesday, Nelson says he and AXR engineer Iain Watt saw the issue develop shortly after the morning session began and made quick adjustments to counter the problem.
?Right from the first practice we noticed higher than normal temperatures on the right rear in the inside,? Nelson added. ?We started taking camber out and started adjusting tire pressures. Anytime you see the temperatures on one side that are significantly higher than the other, that’s what you do to try and even them out. While we were doing that, we saw the (SDR) car have their crash, so then we took another big swing at things. We’d only do short runs, then come in and check everything. We didn’t see a lot of cause for alarm.
?We saw the temperatures come down to the range we were comfortable with on the right rear, and then on our last run of the day, we came in took a good look at the tires, monitored the pressures, and they didn’t have a lot of laps on them, everything looked normal, Joao went out and ran some normal laps and there was about two minutes left in the session, we told him to come on in, and he didn’t get all the way around.
?We first looked at it as the (SDR) car may have been an anomaly, but after all the precautions we took throughout the day to not abuse the (right rear) tire, and the warning signs had gone away, our crash changed everybody’s thinking.?
Two P2 cars tested alongside the 2013- and 2014-spec DPs on Tuesday, with Extreme Speed Motorsports’ HPD ARX-03b serving as the most competitive P2 car to deliver feedback on how its Continental tires handled Daytona’s banking.
According to Honda Performance Development technical director Roger Griffiths, the ESM car struggled with a temperature problem of a different kind while running in the low-drag ?Le Mans? aero kit configuration.
?Our biggest issue was that we couldn’t get enough temperature into the tires,? he told RACER. ?Our challenge is how to make the tire work with a P2 car. We struggled with getting enough heat into ours, so that will be a major item to address.?
HPD’s P2 chassis has been most commonly run with Michelins or Dunlops, giving the manufacturer plenty of setup data and fitment experience to draw from. As they found with ESM during the November tests, the diameter of the Continentals, at least with the 2013 tires that were used, presents a problem while at speed.
?The tire is a little bit taller than the Michelin or Dunlop at the rear,? Griffiths explained. ?That’s causing contact with the bodywork, and we’ll need to come back with a better solution for the race. It’s taller than we’d expected to find, and we’ll need to come up with a [bodywork] fix that, but it’s a manageable solution.?
ISSUES IN PC, TOO
Like the DPs at Daytona, the PC cars in attendance had varied experiences with their Continentals. Some teams reported having no problems, while others, including the championship-winning CORE autosport team, had to work through concerns with the right-rear tire.
?From my side, we had the beginning of an issue,? CORE team manager Morgan Brady told RACER. ?Nothing as severe as was experienced on the DP side; it’s a different car with different mechanical and aerodynamic loadings, but we had an issue on a tire that had done two stints, which is significantly more than some had done, and it was on the inner shoulder of the right rear.
?I would call it a delamination ” a baseball-sized delamination ” on the inside shoulder. We saw the elevated temperatures initially, tuned it out, and then the temperatures came down. If you add up all your data points, it’s a widespread issue across all the tires, and stopping the (Prototype and PC) test was the right call so they can get things under control and some remedies on the way.?
After speaking with a dozen or more drivers, team managers and owners from within the Prototype and PC paddock since Tuesday, one thing is clear: most of them are not looking forward to being the guinea pigs when the TUDOR Championship announces whatever changes to its tires or other specifications for Daytona.
?Give (one of the series officials) my helmet and let them go do the tire testing, because I don’t want to be the one to find out if they got it right or wrong,? said one driver who did not want to be named. He wasn’t the only one to make such a comment, and to be fair, it’s a valid argument.
With such a significant change to the overall DP package for 2014 ” 60 percent more downforce, carbon brakes, more power, less weight ” it would seem that having all of those changes validated under extreme conditions at Sebring and Daytona with a series-owned test car might be the way to go.
When the IndyCar Series unveiled its new chassis, aero and engine package in 2012, a number of controlled road course and oval tests were conducted by the series with a test chassis, a nominated team to run the program on behalf of the series, a dedicated test driver and series-designed testing plan to evaluate all of the key performance data. Once the package met its objectives in real-world conditions, the series released cars to their teams.
It’s very much of a hindsight item to mention, but as the Daytona crashed demonstrated, there are enough gray areas with the 2014 DP package to question whether the teams should be doing all of the on-track discovery for the TUDOR Championship ” and at great expense to SDR and AXR, so far ” or whether the series should be putting its own car, team and nominated driver at risk while venturing into the unknown.
Time is tight, but the series has been presented with a perfect opportunity to hit the pause button, find the solutions to the tire and flight issues, and test them on their own before letting their teams take to the high banks on their own.