IndyCar’s technical department was encouraged by its findings after examining the new 2018 side impact safety structures that were put to the test during Takuma Sato’s big crash last week at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver slid high in Turn 2, hit the wall with the right side of his No. 30 Honda, then veered across the track and hit the inside wall at a high rate of speed before sliding all the way down to Turn 3, where another slight impact was made before the battered car came to a halt near the middle of Turns 3 and 4.
In performing a postmortem on the heavily-revised Universal Aero Kit 18 sidepods that contain robust crash structures, IndyCar’s Tino Belli says the upgraded safety pieces performed as expected.
“This was the first big hit it’s seen,” Belli told RACER. “We’ve been inspecting it intensely for a number of days, and it performed very well. Takuma was flat through Turns 1 and 2, got high and up into the grey, and pancaked the right-hand side – it was a flush hit – that buckled the right-front suspension, and that left him to be a passenger at the point, and then he went into the inside wall at a 30-degree angle with the left-front at about 185 mph.
“The left-front suspension buckled, the front wing stayed with the car as intended with the tethers, and that front suspension came back into the radiator inlet area and stopped against the dash bulkhead. It was a fast hit. The side impact structure was cracked in four or five paces; it took a lot of load and provided a lot of energy absorption, as intended.”
Sato’s crash at one of IndyCar’s fastest tracks gave Belli, IndyCar director of engineering Jeff Horton, and chassis manufacturer Dallara with more valuable information to compare and contrast to the previous bodywork and side impact technology used through 2017.
“Takuma got up out of the car with no injuries whatsoever,” Belli continued. “There were no intrusions into the cockpit; the Zylon panels were not penetrated, and there was no load transferred to the driver in the way Sebastien Bourdais’  Indy [500 qualifying] crash fed a lot of force into his hip.”
The Texas impact has also given IndyCar’s technical department a few ideas on improvements to make going forward.
“In a lot of the parts this year, we have a Zylon weave included that is very tough so it held together; we didn’t have a lot of debris from this crash,” Belli said. “We’ll look to include it in more areas. We think we can make some changes to some current parts that will improve how things crush in a side impact to improve how they deform progressively. The radiator crushed significantly, and we moved that forward to help deform in an impact, and it performed quite well.
“Everything really worked, I’d say, 98 or 99 percent as we intended. And now we will work on making a few things better after seeing how the car performed in a sizeable impact. There’s always lessons to be learned and applied.”