Drivers descend on Indianapolis for preseason meetings

The fourth floor of the media center at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can accommodate more than 250 journalists. There was hardly an empty seat to be found Jan. 13 as IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights drivers and team officials gathered for the annual preseason meeting with Indy Racing League officials.

Brian Barnhart, the league’s president of competition and operations, kicked off a series of presentations by league and manufacturer representatives regarding continuing safety initiatives and technical packages.

While in Indianapolis, each driver also completed a comprehensive fitness examination, which included eye and audiology testing, bloodwork and a head-to-toe physical. An electrocardiogram and a 30-minute computer test that measures reaction time also were administered to get a baseline. Drivers also provided immunization records.

“The emphasis more is on getting driver physicals and paperwork completed before any preseason testing and Open Tests take place," Barnhart said. “The physicals used to rotate on an annual basis around the ‘500,’ which made May so busy.

“Secondly, it gives us an opportunity with everyone in the room to explain any rulebook, operational or technical specification changes."

Preparations for the 2009 season also took place Jan. 10 when the Delphi Safety Team conducted its annual training session regarding how to approach different situations on the racetrack. Because of the IndyCar Series’ and Firestone Indy Lights’ diverse schedules, a one-approach-fits-all plan isn’t prudent.

“We have to approach road courses different than we do ovals or street courses," said Mike Yates, the Indy Racing League’s assistant track safety coordinator. “We used to have one tactical approach to a race car; everybody had a responsibility when they came off the truck. Guys who took a fire extinguisher or oil dry container to a scene now on a road course they might not need those but might need to just start the car. So they’ll probably come off the truck with our electric starter and a quick jack. It might save the driver a lap or prevent a full-course yellow."

Every member of the 16-person race crew (firefighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses) assigned to one of four Honda vehicles also reviewed protocols, usage of the Holmatro rescue power tools, wrecker hookups and practiced driver extraction and stabilization.

“We wanted each person to go through each station four times – once as a crew leader, once as firefighter 1, once as firefighter 2 and then to the paramedic position," Yates said. “That way they get a better overall understanding of the scenarios. The more diverse our racing gets the more you have to keep on top of this stuff. Fortunately, we have really good and experienced people."

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