IndyCar drivers fret about fence at Texas track
After a third Indianapolis 500 victory, a runner-up finish in Detroit and a surge from 13th to fourth in the Izod IndyCar Series points standings, Dario Franchitti will enter Saturday's Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway with many reasons to smile. But the three-time defending series champion admittedly is feeling trepidation, too.
|TMS fence with poles on racing side rather than spectator side of catch fence....just like Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Dan Wheldon was killed. This very TMS catch fence destroyed Davey Hamilton's feet and ankles in a 2001 IndyCar crash|
"It's not going to be my favorite race of the year," Franchitti told USA TODAY Sports recently. "But I'm going there and absolutely will try to win it."
Texas will mark the first race on a high-banked, 1.5-oval since Dan Wheldon's Oct. 16 death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and drivers have fretted for months about the Fort Worth track, which will be the only one of its kind on this season's schedule. Much of the focus has been on the design of the catchfencing that serves to keep cars from flying into the grandstands.
Wheldon died when his head struck a catch fence post after his Dallara-Honda sailed 325 feet through the air in a fiery, 15-car crash. At Las Vegas, the poles are positioned on the inside of the mesh fencing -- as they are at Texas.
That led many drivers to lobby for moving the poles outside the fence. "I'm not a fence engineer," veteran Oriol Servia said. "I just know I'd rather slide through the wire before I hit a pole."
An IndyCar report on Wheldon's crash said there was no evidence the location of the fence and the pole "would have changed the consequences of the accident" but the preferred placement of the meshing would be on the track side of the post.
Dr. Dean Sicking, director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Institute in Lincoln, Neb., that created the SAFER barrier, said changing the pole location would have only a "miniscule" impact.
"If they're proposing Texas should twist its netting around to the front, I can't see that being beneficial," Sicking said. "A few years ago, we looked at all the fence crashes we could find. We didn't find any that fell in a category that would have been improved if the netting had been in front of the pole."
Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said his track wouldn't change its catchfencing until another design is recommended.
"Until something tells us there's a better way, there's nothing to consider or discuss," Gossage said. "If there were, would we do it? You bet."
Franchitti also has lobbied Texas to move the posts behind the fence.
"Common sense would say that's safer, but I think all fencing could be improved upon," the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver said. "What that would look like, I don't know. But I think we need to get some very smart people on it. We're going to push hard for that." Indy Star