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Rank Driver Points
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33 Pippa Mann 21
34 Martin Plowman 18
35 Buddy Lazier 11
36 Franck Montagny 8
Houston (IndyCar), We have a problem

by Mark J. Cipolloni
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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The exposed driver's head in an open wheel car is the likely area where a driver can suffer a fatal injury.  It is believed this is what happened to Dan Wheldon when his car became airborne at Las Vegas Motor Speedway - he went head first into the catch fencing where one of the steel poles likely hit his head causing an unsurvivable blunt force head injury. 

This is not the first time the catch fence posts killed a driver.  In fact besides killing drivers, they have also maimed and crippled.

In one photo the entire roll hoop was sheared off the car so this is likely what happened.  If this is true then you would want the drivers head protected more in the new car than the existing car. 

Compare the two cars below, the new Dallara and the existing one.  From where we sit the driver's head appears to be more exposed in the new car than the existing one.  And assuming IndyCar wants to still race on ovals, well it's back to the drawing board boys.  And while you're at it fix those hideous looking sidepods that not only make the car look bad, they offer very little protection to the driver as they are lower than the existing ones.

And then further down I offer a solution to the problem of the exposed heads in IndyCar racing.  Ryan Briscoe suggests that in the future closed cockpits should be considered to help improve safety.

Writing on Twitter he said: "I'd like to see future IndyCar/Open wheelers with closed cockpits one day, like modern Le Mans LMP1 cars have today."

Existing Dallara - Note exposure of drivers head
New Dallara - note exposure of driver's head (ouch - worse than existing car)
Adrian Newey designed concept car with canopy - Now that is the car IndyCar should have built - it's safer and the fans would have loved it.  Wow!
McLaren F1 car fitted with a canopy

FIA test showing how a canopy can protect an open wheel driver.  Watch it all

The work has been carried out by FIA Institute Technical Advisor, Andy Mellor, along with Institute Research Consultants Peter Wright and Hubert Gramlin. Prompted by the F1 Technical Working Group, which comprises senior engineers from F1 teams as well as FIA technical people, they’ve been looking into the possible benefits – and drawbacks – of adding some form of additional protection to the open-cockpit area of F1 cars.

“The aim was simple: to fire a Formula One wheel and tire, together weighing 20kg, at 225km/h into, first, a polycarbonate windshield and, second, a jet fighter canopy made from aerospace-spec polycarbonate, and measure what happens (all close-up observations being recorded by strategically positioned high-speed film cameras).”

The canopy was the same as used on an F-16 fighter jet. The FIA Institute team wanted to see how it would cope with an F1 wheel and tire.

The answer was that whereas the windshield shattered, the F-16 canopy deflected the object away from the cockpit where the driver would be seated, says Mellor, “It was possible to see that the windshield did manage to deflect the wheel over the space that would be occupied by the driver’s helmet, but in so doing it sustained significant damage.

“The canopy, however, deflected the wheel assembly suffering no permanent deformation. And viewing the canopy impact in slow motion shows it flexing to absorb impact energy, before ‘launching’ the wheel and tire away. ”

The results are currently with the F1 Technical Working Group. It is the first stage of the process. According to IQ, any debate on implementation would have to take account of a number of known drawbacks, such as: Visibility, Optical quality, Ventilation, Cleaning, Access and Emergency exit of the driver.

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