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Latest IRL News and Commentary

Safer barrier to debut at Indy

May 1, 2002







Photos and diagrams of new wall
Photo: Indy Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 1, 2002 – Motorsports history will be made this May when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be the first superspeedway to use an energy-absorbing barrier in its turns during competition.

The SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier is in place for practice for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500, which begins Sunday, May 5.

Video of SAFER Wall System installation (QuickTime) Dial-up | Broadband

Under development by the Indy Racing League and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility since 1998, the SAFER barrier has been designed for multiple impacts by Indy Racing cars and stock cars during an event. NASCAR joined in the development of the project in September 2000.

“Since our founding in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always been a leader in automotive safety and innovation,” said Tony George, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League. “Today’s announcement of a new energy-absorbing barrier represents another milestone in this long history, and it will not be the last.

“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the month of May is the perfect time to install and test the SAFER barrier. The amount of time teams and drivers have to practice leading up to the race will allow us to get feedback on the barrier. Though we hope it doesn’t happen, the odds are likely that the barrier will be impacted during those practice periods, which will allow us to evaluate its performance before we get to racing conditions.”

 total of 4,240 feet of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s permanent outside wall will be covered with the energy-absorbing barrier for May. Each turn of the speedway will have 1,060 feet of barrier and another 60 feet of transition element approaching the actual energy-absorbing barrier.

“The goal of this wall is to reduce the forces seen on the car to a range that lessens the likelihood of the driver being injured,” said Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League. “This barrier has really evolved since the first PEDS barrier was put in place in 1998.”

The new energy-absorbing barrier is constructed in 20-foot modules. Each module consists of four rectangular steel tubes, welded together, to form a unified element. The modules are connected with four internal steel splices. Bundles of 2-inch-thick sheets of extruded, closed-cell polystyrene are placed between the concrete wall and the steel tubing modules every 10 feet. Six or seven sheets of polystyrene are used in each bundle, depending on the location on the module.

“One of the prerequisites presented to us was to create a barrier robust enough to absorb an incredible impact and yet maintain its integrity so the event could continue with little or no delay for repair,” said Dr. Dean Sicking, director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “The principle behind the wall is it provides a continuous barrier system that will remain parallel to the track and move back as a unit as it dissipates energy. The need for that movement is to prevent pocketing, which is where the barrier wraps around the front of the car, which extremely increases deceleration.”

Under the direction of IMS Director of Engineering and Construction Kevin Forbes, an entire turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be fitted with the barrier in less than two days. Attachment times would vary at other facilities depending on the length of track, height of wall and other variables.

“NASCAR has appreciated working with Tony George and his team,” said Gary Nelson, managing director of NASCAR competition. “We are optimistic about the new SAFER wall, and we are looking forward to its development.”

The SAFER barrier will be painted white to match the Speedway’s traditional wall color.
“We believe this barrier is an appropriate solution for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Forbes said. “It should be able to be adapted to many other tracks, but each will have to be evaluated separately.”

Safety Improvements and Innovations Timeline for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

●1911: Inaugural Indianapolis 500 winner Ray Harroun employs what is believed to have been the first rear-view mirror on his No. 32 Marmon “Wasp.”
●1921: The Duesenberg Motor Company team, operated by Fred and Augie Duesenberg, introduces the use of four-wheel hydraulic brakes.
●1925: Front-wheel drive is used at the Speedway for the first time on a privately owned Miller entry, driven by Dave Lewis and Bennett Hill, that finishes second.
●Early 1930s: Magnetic particle inspection (Magnaflux) of key safety-related components, such as steering shafts, is implemented.
●1933: Oil capacity restricted to 6 gallons; oil can no longer be added after the race begins.
●1935: The first installation of colored warning lights (green and yellow) completed at the Speedway in time for the 1935 Indianapolis 500.
●1935: Helmets are made mandatory, a first for motor racing. They were not required in European grand prix racing until 1952.
●1936: First mandatory driver’s test is instituted, requiring that all new drivers show their skills at various speeds before they are allowed to practice for the “500.”
●1936: Inside concrete wall removed and safety aprons substituted.
●1938: Pit wall constructed to separate crews’ work area from pit area, thus providing a safer working environment for crews during practice.
●1948: New emergency medical center constructed, expanded in 1972, and still in use today with state-of-the-art trauma center equipment.
●1957: Pit area is completely redesigned with safety in mind. A second wall is added, separating pit lane from the racing surface.
●1959: All drivers required to wear fire-retardant uniforms, and roll bars are required on cars.
●1964: New safety cable is installed on outer edge of entire track.
●1965: Only methanol fuel – which is much less volatile than gasoline – is permitted. All cars must be equipped with a rupture-resistant fuel cell, and on-board fuel capacity is limited to 75 gallons. A minimum of two pit stops is required for each car (increased to three in 1968 and four in 1972).
●1974: Onboard fuel capacity is reduced to a maximum of 40 gallons.
●1979: “Packup” procedure established, whereby the Pace Car enters the track during cautions to regulate the speed of the field.
●1991: Revolutionary energy-absorbing attenuator is added at pit entrance.
●1993: Crash data recorders, developed by Delphi Automotive Systems, are placed in cars competing in the Indianapolis 500. This is the first application of this groundbreaking technology in motorsports.
●1993: New outside walls and larger, higher safety fences installed. New warning strips and warm-up lanes installed.
●1998: First version of PEDS Barrier (Polyethylene Energy Dissipating System) installed inside exit of Turn 4 in time for the 82nd Indianapolis 500. The wall consists of 5-foot-long, overlapping impact plates made of polyethylene. Each plate contains two cylinders made of the same material and measuring 16 inches in diameter.
●1999: The second-generation PEDS Barrier, PEDS-2, is installed inside the exit of Turn 4, replacing the PEDS Barrier. PEDS-2 contains an additional, smaller, polyethylene cylinder inside the original PEDS cylinder to add strength to the system.
●1999: Debris fence added in North Pits, separating pit lane from grandstands and enhancing fan safety. Additional debris fence added south along pit lane in 2001.
●2001: Race Control Camera System installed.

QUOTES

Reaction from Indy Racing League drivers and team owners about the SAFER wall system announced May 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The system will be used starting with Opening Day for the 86th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 5 (quotes listed in alphabetical order):

JOHN BARNES (Co-owner, Pennzoil Panther Racing, 2001 Indy Racing League champions): "I'm very happy with the outcome of the 'soft wall' work that the IRL, NASCAR and the University of Nebraska have done. It looks very encouraging. I have seen some of the tests that have been conducted, and from where they started and where they finished it looks very good. It just shows how important safety is to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and these two great racing leagues. I know this undertaking has been very exhausting to all involved."

BILLY BOAT (1998 Indianapolis 500 pole winner): "The installation of the soft walls clearly shows that the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are at the forefront of new safety technology and driver safety. Hopefully this is just the first track of many to implement the changes."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (2001 Indianapolis 500 winner): "Safety first. I am glad we are coming up with something to protect the drivers. We are trying everything we can to make the cars safer; I am glad the tracks are willing to step up with this new system."

EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (1998 Indianapolis 500 winner): "The Indy Racing League has done a good job of getting everybody in a room and asking how do we make our cars safer, everyone from teams and drivers to chassis, engine and gearbox manufacturers. Over the past six years, we have reinvented open-wheel oval racing. The safety of these cars has improved dramatically. The next logical step had to be making the walls softer. On paper this sounds easy, but it has taken a huge investment in time, research and money. It took Tony's (George) commitment to make this happen."

BUDDY LAZIER (1996 Indianapolis 500 winner): "I think it is awesome. As a race driver that has suffered a serious injury, it is very, very comforting to know the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway go far and beyond what they have to do. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always been the center of innovation. Once again they lead the industry."

GREG RAY (2000 Indianapolis 500 pole winner, 1999 Indy Racing League champion): "What I have heard on the outside is that the walls will be at places on the racetrack where on normal racing line if you're in the race, it's not going to affect the racetrack. It's not going to affect the width; it's not going to affect the track out or turn-in points like that. But if something goes wrong after turn-in and before the exit of the corner, I think the walls are meant to be in a position to where it could soften the blow of the concrete in a very sharp-angle accident. I'm sure they've done a lot of testing, and they've done a lot of computer simulations. I'm sure it will be an improvement. On this particular soft wall, this is brand-new technology for all of us; this is really cutting edge. As it gets implemented and things happen, we'll continue to learn. There's no doubt that everybody involved in the sport, everybody involved in the industry, needs to have open communication to talk about safety issues."

SAM SCHMIDT (Owner, Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "I'm extremely proactive of anything that will decrease the effects of impact of the wall. I applaud Tony (George) for taking such a proactive stance. A lot of people only get fired up when something bad happens. Tony has been working relatively quietly on this for some time. He has invested a great deal of time and money. I think it is a step in the right direction. Obviously, it is not the complete answer. We live in a dangerous sport. If we can at least eliminate this (injuries) from happening one time out of 10, then it is worth it."

AL UNSER JR. (Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner):"I think it's great that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is implementing something that has been talked about for years on how to improve the safety of racing, in general. It does not surprise me at all that, again, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the leader in technology in safety all across the world. I think it's wonderful. It's great that it is happening at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because they are the ones that have developed all of the safety technology and have been the leader in safety across the board from cars or racetracks or anything."

--IMS--

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