Inside CART's 2001 Texas debacle: The lead-up

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Inside CART's 2001 Texas debacle: The lead-up

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Inside CART's 2001 Texas debacle: The lead-up


Oriol Servia: I remember, and this is before even feeling dizzy or anything, just being on track, during practice, you would feel the Gs and all that, but this was first time that a guy would slow to go to the pits and everything was a close call. You couldn’t react fast enough. For some reason, the brain – at least mine – was not processing fast enough to adjust to what was coming at me at that speed.

Then we realized it wasn’t the actual speed of going 230 average at Texas; it was like the brain was not getting enough juice to process normally. Honestly, I remember like if it was today. I was trying to look up far ahead like I always do on ovals, and I still didn’t have enough time to anticipate what was happening. The brain wasn’t just processing it. That was the bottom line. When we started doing longer runs, we all realized that there was something really wrong.

I didn’t really get dizzy while driving, but the second I would come into the pits, the world was all of a sudden spinning around and you had to breathe hard to regain yourself, like almost when you feel like your blood sugar is low and you have to sit down and breathe to get control of yourself.

Helio Castroneves: driver, Team Penske: After the first session, I was like, man, I’m kind of dizzy. There was a lot of doubt in my mind at that moment.

The second and final practice session got underway on Friday, and it’s here where every person interviewed cited the same event that shook the CART paddock.

Chris Kneifel: The one that caught everyone’s attention was Gugelmin.

Dr. Steven Olvey: We had two big crashes that weekend. The first one was Mauricio Gugelmin and the other was Cristiano da Matta. They were two crashes that nobody understood. The drivers had no idea. When you looked at the video, they weren’t in any trouble. And when the mechanics looked at the cars, there was nothing that broke on the car, like a wheel rim or a shock or anything. And they both crashed.

Mauricio was really lucky. His crash was really severe. Mauricio could have been hurt badly, but he just lucked out where he hit the wall. The car was pretty substantial, and Mauricio is pretty substantial, so he got through the thing without being hurt, but it could have been real bad. He was 66 Gs at the first hit in Turn 2 and then went all the way down to the third turn and hit the wall again at 113 Gs. The reason why Gugelmin crashed was a mystery to everybody; we hadn’t figured out why.

As an oval novice, Minassian initially thought that the sensations he was struggling with simply came with the territory. Motorsport Images

Robin Miller: I was standing right there on the inside when he crashed and it was like nothing I’d ever heard. It kept going on and on. It was a crash for the ages. Olvey and [Dr. Terry] Trammel jumped over the fence and here’s this car; I don’t think it had any wheels left on it. And Gugelmin, the first thing he said to Olvey and Trammel was, ‘I tried to get this thing as close to you guys as I could!’

To have that presence of mind… I mean, he was ****ing bruised. It didn’t break anything, but it bruised him from head to toe. And then da Matta’s crash was almost as spectacular. You were just like, ‘Holy ****ing cow. The thing never stopped crashing.’

Helio Castroneves: I was on track at the time and saw the marks from the crash at Turn 2, and he was like a pinball crashing back and forth down the track and the marks kept going.

Scott Dixon: driver, Pacwest Racing: Probably the strongest memory I have is going and seeing my teammate Mo Gugelmin that night in the hospital. He was already black and blue.

Chris Kneifel: He lost control of his car in the middle of Turn 2 and ended up three-quarters of a mile away by pit entrance. Wally Dallenbach always called Speedway crashes ‘quarter-milers.’ So you had a crash at Indy, you crash at Michigan, crash at California Speedway, he called them ‘quarter-milers’ because that’s how far it would be from where the guy crashed to where he came to a stop. Well, with Gugelmin, this was a ‘three-quarter-miler,’ just to put a little context on it. Unbelievable.

And just the ferociousness and the power, the speed of it. He had some very large high-G impacts, all of them just ricocheted him and kicked him down the road further. So the fact that he literally had a body full of bruises, but no other significant injuries, that was certainly a blessing. But the guy had three enormous crashes all in one.

The crash broke the front of Gugelmin’s Reynard chassis away from the car, exposing his feet. As Dr. Olvey recounts in his book Rapid Response, stopping short of the infield wall at Turn 4 saved his lower legs from being damaged. But the visuals of the enormous crash stunned many of his fellow drivers. Gulgelmin did not take part in the rest of the event.

After the second session reached the checkered flag, more drivers gathered privately to compare notes on their experiences behind the steering wheel.

Scott Dixon: I remember the intensity of seeing some of the looks on some the older guy’s faces, like why this was just stupid. I remember looking at some of their reactions and I’m like, ‘****, this is not good.’ But I was just waiting for the team to tell me what to do. I was 20 or 21, and not very smart.

Helio Castroneves: I remember hearing Patrick Carpentier saying he kind of blacked out, and a lot of people saying ‘I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened.’

Oriol Servia: As a race car driver, nine times out of 10 fans ask you, ‘How does it feel to go so fast?’ And usually, it’s the same answer. ‘Yeah, it’s fast, but you get used to it right away, you’ve been doing it all your life, etc.’ Plus, even when I talked about the fastest I’ve ever been in a car, it was at Fontana in 2002 in a race. I hit a top speed of 257mph. So when I talk about that, and people ask me how it feels, I always say, ‘Well, funny enough, it feels slow because every movement at that speed is like being in a plane. It’s very slow. Your hands move very slowly, the car reacts very slowly, you set up for the corner, and it turns.’ Even when you’re fighting another car at that speed, maybe you were passing a guy that is 256, so it’s a 1mph difference. Everything happens slow, right?

When you lose control is when you realize the speed and how fast the wall comes to you. Driving normally, speed is really not a factor in our minds. It really is not. You’re used to it. Texas was the first time that I felt different.

Look for the second installment of this series tomorrow