IndyCar: Pocono horror crash reignites head protection debate

The horrific crash in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway has reignited the debate regarding the future of driver head protection in IndyCar.

From the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, IndyCar heads to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.

The 200-lap ABC Supply 500 around the three-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Pocono Raceway triangle in Long Pond, Pennsylvania was a relatively clean race, as it included a 189-lap green flag run.

But heading into the 15th race of the 17-race season this Saturday, the cleanliness of this past Sunday’s race isn’t what has fans and drivers talking. In fact, the exact opposite has unfortunately been what it has taken to steal the spotlight away from all of the Fernando Alonso rumors that had been brewing heading into the race at Pocono.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot made contact coming to the green flag before the race officially started, forcing a restart to take place just a few laps later.

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens got fantastic restarts, moving from fourth and sixth place to third and fourth, respectively, through the first turn. Wickens had a run on Hunter-Reay for third going into turn two, but the two drivers made contact.

Hunter-Reay’s #28 Honda spun up the track, taking Wickens’s #6 Honda with it. The #6 Honda then got up above the SAFER barrier and into the catch fence before it was sent into a violent spin. It came across the top of the #28 Honda before landing on the track, continuing to spin violently before coming to a rest.

One angle of the crash shows just how close the #6 Honda was to Hunter-Reay’s head before it landed on the track.

To top it off, the race at Gateway featured a similar start last year. Tony Kanaan spun out before the green flag flew, and when the green flag officially flew, Will Power spun out, causing Ed Carpenter to spin as well. When Carpenter’s #20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet hit Power’s #12 Team Penske Chevrolet, the #20 Chevrolet went up above the SAFER barrier, coming within inches of Power’s head multiple times in the process.

Here is a video of this wreck.

Similar wrecks — at least in the cases of the drivers in the cars below the airborne cars — have now taken place twice in the last year, and IndyCar is headed to the venue at which this wreck happened last year not even one week after a similar wreck took place this year at a completely different type of track in a completely different type of corner.

At this point, in regard to more driver head protection, there really should no longer be a debate. The debates should be about when and how, not if, new head protection will be implemented, especially after the recent deaths of Dan Wheldon (2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and Justin Wilson (2015 at Pocono Raceway) stemming from impact to their helmets as a result of crashes.

A windscreen has already been tested by IndyCar, but is this the answer? Upon first glance, a windscreen does not look like it would protect against debris flying in from the side or airborne cars.

As much as IndyCar fans don’t want to hear it, the introduction of the halo device could be in the cards. This device was mandated by Formula 1 and Formula 2 this year, and believe it or not, it has already served its purpose on several occasions. It is set to be mandated by Formula E next season.

The cars used in IndyCar are constantly evolving. While the drivers are willing to take the inevitable risks of driving at over 200 miles per hour whenever they strap into the cockpit even without a windscreen or a halo device, eventually head protection will evolve to a far greater extent as well.

The events of the last 12 months have illustrated that a massive change could be imminent.

 

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What will be done about IndyCar driver head protection and when? Is a windscreen the answer, or will IndyCar follow in the footsteps of Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula E by introducing a halo device?