Iowa Speedway the first to incorporate Alternative Backup Structure Iowa Speedway has broken the safety barrier, so to speak.
The SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barrier – developed by the Indy Racing League and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility to reduce the severity of impacts by race cars -- was first installed in all four turns at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002. Subsequent installations of the system around the globe have been retro-fit to existing concrete walls of racetracks.
That changed with the design and construction of Iowa Speedway, which hosts the IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series this weekend for the first time. At the suggestion of Indy Racing League senior technical director Phil Casey, the track became the first to install the new Alternative Backup Structure around the entire perimeter of the 0.875-mile racing surface.
The new system incorporates anchored steel posts (67.2 inches apart) with bundles of closed-cell polystyrene foam between them and the (40-inch tall, 28-feet long) square structural steel tubing (8 inches each, stitch welded at seams every 12 inches) that comprises the "soft wall."
The original SAFER Barrier design was based on the theory that the barrier absorbs a portion of the kinetic energy released when a race car makes contact with the wall. The energy is dissipated along a longer portion of the wall, instead of the car recoiling onto the track. All 12 ovals on the IndyCar Series schedule contain the SAFER Barrier.
"Racetracks that are already built have cement walls, so it was easy to put the SAFER Barrier and the foam against the cement walls," Casey said. "If you have temporary circuits like road courses or building a new racetrack, you need a way to put up SAFER Barriers and it's so expensive to put up cement walls (about $4 million on a mile racetrack). Consequently, the Alternative Backup Structure saves about a third of the cost."
Impacts in early races at the speedway have supported data of development and testing by the University of Nebraska group.
"It's very strong," Casey said. "There was considerable testing. A few ARCA cars and Silver Crowns have hit it and it performed well."
A similar structure – a steel post imbedded in a concrete barrier with the foam and steel tubing fronting it -- could soon be incorporated in sections of road/street courses (selected corners) and ovals (pit lane walls, inside racetrack).
"Any new facility or road course that needs it in high-speed corners, the recommendation would be to put the latest generation in," Casey said.
The sanctioning body also is working with the University of Nebraska team on development of a pit lane attenuator system (nose of pit lane wall), which is entering the testing phase. Upon impact, the device compacts (slides on a center rail) to absorb the energy.
"There is always room for development," Casey said.