IndyCar will have safer car Wheldon helped develop IndyCar will be under scrutiny to deliver answers following Dan Wheldon's death in Sunday's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon was helping to provide them.
Rideless after winning a second Indianapolis 500 in May, Wheldon was chosen to be the development driver of the Izod IndyCar Series' new car that will debut in 2012. For months, he has been working with Dallara to prepare and test the car.
Among the safety features: bodywork covering the rear tires, to prevent Indy cars from being launched as Wheldon's was on lap 11 of the Izod World Championship.
Wheldon's car ran over another car spinning in turn two, and the aerial ride was horrific. The car appeared to flip upside down before slamming the outside wall and the fencing above it, then being struck by disabled trailing cars.
"Without a doubt, the worst thing I've ever seen in my racing career," said Davey Hamilton, who was seriously injured in a 2001 crash at Texas. "It's sad, man. Sad."
The incident started when Wade Cunningham slowed in turn one after light contact with fellow rookie James Hinchcliffe. At speeds in excess of 220 mph, the chain reaction of the back third of the record 34-car field was unavoidable.
Wheldon's wasn't the only car to become airborne. Will Power's did, too, and still pictures of it flying gave the appearance of the photograph being doctored.
While Wheldon suffered fatal injuries, Power escaped with only a sore back. He was similarly taken to nearby University Medical Center for observation and later released.
Rookies JR Hildebrand and Pippa Mann were hospitalized, their areas of concern not revealed. IndyCar officials said Mann has a hand injury.
Townsend Bell, Tomas Scheckter, Paul Tracy, EJ Viso, Alex Lloyd, Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira and rookies James Jakes, Charlie Kimball and Jay Howard also were involved but not injured.
"It was chaos," said Lloyd, who drove the car bover which Power vaulted. "All of a sudden the whole track just gets lit up (with fire)."
Tracy said the video he saw showed Wheldon hitting his back wheel and flying "over the top of me."
"It was a horrendous accident," Tracy said.
The rest of the field made one more lap around the 11/2-mile track before being called to pit road. The debris that came sliding off the high-banked second turn was almost too vast to describe. There were smoldering pieces scattered across the backstretch. Smoke billowed.
"It was like a movie when they're trying to make it as gnarly as possible," Danica Patrick said.
"I've never seen anything like it," Ryan Briscoe said. "The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from 'Terminator' or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere. So it was scary."
The 34-car field represented the largest IndyCar has seen outside the Indianapolis 500, which Wheldon twice won. Every car in qualifying circled the oval in the 50-second bracket. Helio Castroneves said he saw a lot of drivers "dodging each other" in the race.
Said Cunningham: "In this kind of racing, there's not much room for error. I'm not thrilled about it."
Dario Franchitti, who won the season title with the race ruled incomplete, said he and other veterans had warned IndyCar that the mixture of speed, banking and driving inexperience was volatile, but he said an evaluation of Sunday's mess will be reserved for another day.
Hinchcliffe said series officials understood the risks and did as much as they could to minimize them.
"At the end of the day, the series isn't stupid," he said. "They've been around racing a long time.
"If one small thing goes wrong, it has very bad consequences."
Wheldon was the first IndyCar driver killed since Paul Dana died in a morning warm-up at the season opener in March 2006 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race, held a few hours later, was won by Wheldon.
A return to this track next year is scheduled Oct. 14, and IndyCar will come with safer cars. Wheldon helped develop the prototype, but he'll be missing. IndyStar
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