Q: I have been badgering you all year for windscreens on Indy cars. But now I have changed my mind. After Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso had their big accident at Spa, where Leclerc was pretty certainly saved, or at least well-protected, by the stupid-looking Halo, and also after Ryan Hunter Reay’s near miss following poor Wickens’ car just missing his head at Pocono, I think we need both. We don’t want these guys (and gals) hurt. Isn’t it obvious we need both? Why isn’t this obvious?
RM: An IndyCar driver at banked ovals like Texas and Iowa (and maybe Richmond some day) has to look way down the track, and a Halo impedes his vision – that’s been a concern since Day 1. And the distortion and reflection at Indy during an earlier test with the windscreen was a concern for the drivers, so again, it’s just not bolting on a screen or Halo. IndyCar is doing as much testing as possible before making any decision.
Q: All this talk about the catch fencing has me thinking about a point I haven’t seen raised. It would seem to me that most of the existing catch fencing would have been designed and (at least the structure) installed pre-SAFER Barrier, which means that all the structural components are directly behind the existing concrete walls. When the car impacts the SAFER Barrier, it now has additional area (whatever the distance is between the concrete wall and the SAFER Barrier) to travel before reaching the catch fence.
I am far from an engineer and maybe this has been accounted for and has no impact, but that would seem to increase the time the car has to get airborne and contact the fence. At the very least, it has to have some impact on the angle of the car as it reaches the fence. Is there any possibility that there needs to be a rethink of where the fence is mounted rather than a change in the fence itself? Perhaps on top of the concrete wall, or even between the wall and SAFER Barrier to lessen that distance?
Tom Current, Oconomowoc, WI
RM: All I can tell you is that IndyCar uses Tony Cotman’s judgment (he’s on the FIA’s Circuit Commission) on tracks, fences, runoffs, walls, etc. and like he said in the story I wrote after Pocono, there are people trying to make something better, but right now this is the best we’ve got. I don’t know what might work and I appreciate that yourself and a lot of fans have submitted ideas, but I can’t answer this topic with any degree of knowledge.
Q: A lot of people have been complaining about attendance at ovals, especially Pocono. I’ve been going to Pocono since 2015, and this year had the best crowd yet. The stands there are very long so it looks very sparse. I know Pocono doesn’t sell tickets for seating down towards Turns 1 and 3 because there’s no need to open those sections at this time. This was very obvious on TV during the red flag, as the camera showed the cars stopping on pit road. Since Pocono has a race sponsor in ABC Supply, it should have a banner made up with the ABC Supply 500 logo on it and secure it over that section of stands. I saw this done during a F1 race this year where two sections of unused stands had a Fly Emirates banner stretched over them so you wouldn’t notice the empty seats. I would rather see a banner advertising “Joe’s Corner Pizza” than empty seats. I can’t believe this would cost too much compared to the TV advertising exposure they would get.
RM: It did seem like the best crowd and, much like last weekend at Portland, the fans who showed were definitely IndyCar-savvy and passionate and fun to chat with in the paddock. IMS will likely cover up seats this weekend at the Brickyard, and I like your ABC suggestion, but I imagine each track has its own stance on that topic.
Q: I read some of the back and forth between Massa and Rahal on the Halo vs windscreen issue. The windscreen might do a better job of fending off debris, but the Halo appeared to keep an entire car off Leclerc’s head. The windscreen doesn’t appear to be designed to do that. Is it?
Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, CA
RM: No, I think the windscreen is designed to deflect debris, tires, suspension pieces that are thrown back into the driver’s face and it’s ironic that something like it might have prevented Massa’s injuries. But a windscreen would not have helped RHR at Pocono, and Ed Jones got clipped in his helmet by a flying car at Portland, so a few bullets have been dodged lately.
Q: I read Felipe Massa’s comments regarding a need for safety improvements in IndyCar and Formula 1. Today I see Formula 1 raising wing heights and adjusting mirror placement for better rear driver visibility. After the deaths of Jules Bianchi and Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson, the time is past to improve safety. The Belgian GP and Wickens accidents prove points. Having a Bianchi sticker on your helmet isn’t enough. We can argue money isn’t there to replace all fencing. Perhaps higher SAFER walls with plexiglass angled tops could divert cars back to track. The halo flat-out works in F1 and F2. To not have at least the shield and no timetable is dangerous and irresponsible. Massa was 100% right. Fuel cells came after drivers burned, and so did gravel traps and tree removal. Shame on IndyCar. Even NASCAR made the Car of Tomorrow after Earnhardt died, Petty died and Ernie Irvin suffered head injuries. Defending IndyCar instead of drivers and fans and journalists forcing change is a cop-out. Use your voice.
Craig Bailey, Palm Bay, FL
RM: Shame on IndyCar? You think NASCAR is more proactive about safety than IndyCar? You are sadly mistaken. NASCAR did nothing until it lost its biggest star, while IndyCar has always been the leader in safety teams, demanding better walls, inventing the SAFER Barrier and runoff areas, and adopting the HANs Device. IndyCar is testing the windscreen but still has more questions than answers at the moment, and it’s not as simple as just slapping one on a car. F1 doesn’t run ovals and that changes everything when you’re talking about visibility for the driver. Plexiglas was looked at but had a major issue that would have impacted the paying customer. And Massa hasn’t a clue about what IndyCar is doing or is looking at, so he’s just another opinion with no substantial information.
Q: I appreciated the time you took on the air to let Mario Andretti talk about driver safety and his history with advocating for it during the red flag at Pocono. He’s certainly seen a lot of incidents over the years, and been involved in his fair share. It shouldn’t be surprising that he doesn’t have some “back in my day it was tough, so too bad, that’s the way it ought to be” attitude, but it was still a breath of fresh air compared to internet commenters who have never put their life on the line in an open-wheel cockpit complaining about tradition and history when it comes to the aeroscreen or the F1 Halos. Also glad the camera showed you shaking Pietro Fittipaldi’s hand after your brief interview with him after his crash. Good kid. Brave as hell. Too bad his final results at Gateway didn’t match some of his practice times.
RM: Even though he thrived and survived in the deadliest era of IndyCar and F1, Mario has always supported safety improvements and he’s always worth listening to about most topics. He understands the lure of danger in racing and that it’s part of the job description, but also supports making it as safe as possible. Pietro is a great kid with a lot of spunk.