IRL 10 mph slower and seemingly safer

Believe it or not, there is a point in racing where cars can get too fast. Just ask the IRL, which this season took the bold step of slowing its cars down in the name of safety. It reduced engine size from 3.5 to 3 liters starting with the Indianapolis 500, along with aerodynamic changes.

Speeds fell nearly 10 mph (to about 220 mph at Indianapolis) than the previous year. The object was making races safer, particularly after Kenny Brack was seriously injured in a horrific wreck at Texas in the 2003 season finale.

"Looking back, it was an excellent move," says Brian Barnhart, the circuit's president and chief of operations. "We got tremendous cooperation from manufacturers, and our reliability actually increased (in terms of laps run)."

The IRL's accident rate on the eight tracks it shares with NASCAR was nearly identical. NASCAR, which runs about 1,600 more miles and fields nearly twice as many cars (43) a race as the IRL (22), averaged 1.5 accidents per 100 miles. The IRL averaged 1.1.

At 0.75-mile Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, both circuits averaged 2.7 wrecks per 100 miles. Only at Chicagoland (1.7) did the open-wheel series average more wrecks than NASCAR (1.0).

"I think there are some similarities between us and NASCAR at those shared tracks," Barnhart says. "Environments that breed accidents (contributed) to the reduction in speeds, which helped reduce accidents." Like NASCAR, rookies had the most accidents: Mark Taylor and Ed Carpenter each had six. Series champion Tony Kanaan had no incidents. USA TODAY

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