INDIANAPOLIS — IndyCar officials announced today that 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed when his helmet struck a fence post which tore through his race car.
Wheldon was one of 15 drivers involved in a fiery crash on lap 11 of the October 16 series finale at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“The accident was significant due to the number of race cars damaged, but more importantly through the non-survivable injuries to Dan Wheldon,” said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard.
The report detailed how Wheldon’s #77 car made contact with the left rear tire of Charlie Kimball’s car at 165 mph, sending Wheldon into the air. “The chassis of the 77 impacted a vertical post along the right side of the tub that created a deep defect in the tub that extended from the pedal bulk head, along the upper border of the tub and through the cockpit,” IndyCar President of Operations Brian Barnhart said. “As the race car passed by, the pole intruded into the cockpit and made contact with the driver’s helmeted head.”
There had been speculation on what created the tragedy on the 1.5-mile oval track. The official report identified several contributing variables which combined to create “a perfect storm.”
Barhnart said the investigation revealed “nearly unlimited movement on the track surface under race conditions. This capability of relatively free movement on the track without restraints of natural racing grooves must be attributed to the overall track geometry beyond banking.” Traditionally each race track has one or two racing grooves which limits a driver’s ability to utilize the entire track surface.
“The ability of the drivers to race from the bottom of the racetrack all the way up to the wall and run limitless is not a condition we’ve experienced before,” added Barnhart.
One factor which was eliminated during the investigation was the size of the starting field. “The 34-car starting field was determined to be acceptable based on factors such as length and width of the racetrack and pit space capability, and review of the incident supports the conclusion,” investigators concluded.
When the 2012 IndyCar schedule is released, Las Vegas will be missing. “Las Vegas is a great city, a resort destination. Our fans, our sponsors and everyone likes Las Vegas and it’s a great place for the race,” said Bernard. “But I don’t want to go back there if the conditions aren’t right and it’s not safe for our race cars.”
The Las Vegas race was the final event on the IndyCar schedule to utilize the IR3 Dallara chassis, which has been driven more than two million miles with Wheldon’s being the first fatality. Italian automaker Dallara, which recently moved into a new facility just south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was poised to ship out the new DW12 chassis, named in honor of Wheldon who had logged more than 2,000 miles testing the new design.
(This article is copyright 2011 by Eric Scott Miller.)