IndyCar drivers not sweating safety despite string of crashes

Alex Tagliani

Race car drivers are a different breed.

How else does one go over 200mph just inches away from other cars for lap after lap after lap?

It is also the only way to explain the resiliency that many of them have after watching or suffering through massive accidents and climbing right back into the cockpit at the first opportunity.

This month at Indianapolis has seen three scary airborne accidents involving Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter, all of whom emerged unharmed.

James Hinchcliffe was not so lucky when a piece of suspension broke on his car in a practice run on Monday, sending him caroming into the wall at over 228mph. The impact shoved a piece of the broken suspension into the cockpit, causing serious wounds in both thighs and putting the 28-year-old Canadian's life in jeopardy due to massive blood loss. Only the timely actions by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway safety crew and emergency personnel saved Hinchcliffe's life.

However, a few hours after Hinchcliffe's crash saw almost 30 cars on track practicing for the Indianapolis 500, bobbing and weaving through traffic as if they were on a lazy Sunday afternoon drive.

"I think as drivers we are always very resilient," said Scott Goodyear, former IndyCar driver and current commentator for the series on ABC. "Our mindset is it’s not going to happen to us."

Alex Tagliani of A.J. Foyt Racing will start his seventh Indy 500 on Sunday. The 41-year-old Canadian has witnessed some of the more horrific open-wheel racing accidents in recent times.

In 2001 at Lausitzring in Germany, Tagliani and Alex Zanardi collided in a huge crash that cost Zanardi both legs.

In 2011, Tagliani was in the field at Las Vegas when teammate Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car crash.

Yet Tagliani has a perverse understanding and acceptance of the risks involved in high-speed racing.

"The mindset of the driver is they hope that they are the people that never crash, yet we are conscious of certain risks," Tagliani said.

While a cause for concern for IndyCar in its quest to be on the cutting-edge of safety, the fact that cars are getting airborne does not seen to have Tagliani on edge.

"People are quite surprised and they go crazy when cars fly up in the air, but you have to remember we are traveling at speeds that an airplane takes off at," Tagliani said. "So if a plane can take off at the end of a runway at that kind of speed then if something happens and you crash, there is a good chance the car will lift up in the air."

In 2001, Goodyear suffered a crash similar to Hinchcliffe's at the 500 and broke his back, effectively ending his racing career.

Hinchcliffe's extensive injuries on Monday came from a broken part and not the result of a significant gap in safety technology

"(My crash) was at an angle very similar to Hinchcliffe's and suffered my injury," Goodyear said. "The SAFER barriers and other advancements have improved things tremendously."

While drivers today seem to not fear much, Tagliani did mention one thing he would not care to do, perhaps further elevating the confidence in the current safety technology.

"I promise you very few drivers would be willing to step into a car 20 years old and go around at the speed we are doing," Tagliani said. "Knowing what we know today and the progress we have had in safety in 20 years, there would be nobody willing to drive those cars."

As Indy cars change and evolve, different safety issues will present themselves as they have this month.

Meanwhile, drivers will continue to take to the track at breathtaking speeds without a second thought

"Our safety isn't perfect and sometimes things remind us that we need to continue to push forward," Tagliani said. "We need to continue to improve and not really relax because things can always get better."

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