Not really sure how I feel. I’m torn. Do I want the entertainment… the moments or even in this case, the entirety of the race that makes me sit on the edge of my seat, jump out of my skin, verbalize gibberish and yell out loud?
I love adrenaline, I want excitement. Races like the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA yesterday are the ones we thirst for, as Verizon IndyCar Series fans.
While the drivers are in the safest Indy car’s that have ever existed, the risks that they have to take in situations with added downforce like today in Fontana are pushing limits that lead guys like Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya to question, “What ARE we doing?!” They acknowledged the entertainment factor, but in the same breath, referred to it as stupid. They explained that it (pack racing) is something they can’t get away from once out there. Power referred to it as insane, and even though the safety engineering of these vehicles is astounding, they are not fool proof. Mikhail Aleshin, James Hinchcliffe and Dario Franchitti have all been hospitalized due to severe incidents that occurred while piloting the DW-12 in the past couple seasons. Two of those were in a practice, with the latter of the three in a race situation.
The point to drive home however, is this: the drivers survived these horrifying accidents. Their lives were saved because of the car they were driving. Racing has inherent risks that come along with it – that is simply its nature. These are risks that we are all acutely aware of – we, meaning the drivers themselves, the crews that work with the teams, the media members that find themselves feet or even inches from the action and even the fans, who understand the risk of simply being an in-person observer of this sport. No one is denying the danger. Tony Kanaan, who was quite vocal yesterday about the dangers of pack racing, addressed the reality of racing risks after Hinchcliffe’s accident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month:
“Every time we hop in that race car, we don’t know if we’re going to come out of it. That’s what we have to live with. That’s what makes us different than other people. That’s why not everybody can do this. It’s tough. It’s not easy to see a friend of yours get hurt or to lose a friend, but this is the sport we chose. I’m not trying to be rude, but if people feel uncomfortable about that, then I think they should not be in a race car.”
A huge portion of why these drivers continue to climb into the cockpit every week is due to the confidence they have in these incredible racing machines, created by Dallara.
So what is the right answer for IndyCar when racing on ovals? Parade laps or pack racing? Is there a happy compromise? No one can deny the excitement that we all felt in the midst of yesterday’s competition. The moments when things went wrong were equally as thrilling, but obviously sparked by a different emotion… fear.
If fear stopped us from pursuing greatness, then let’s be honest, we wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have anything to write about and you wouldn’t be reading this article or any other racing pieces. In reality, motorsport would cease to exist as we know it.
I know there are a lot of polarizing opinions out there and frankly I was surprised by the starkly opposing feedback from drivers post-race yesterday:
I think the race we witnessed was one of the best of the year. Fontana absolutely gave us the best oval competition this season thus far and ranked right up there overall with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and the Honda Indy Toronto weekends.
There will always be risk in motorsports – it’s one of the main elements of racing. So we proceed with the best equipment, the ever-evolving technology, the most talented drivers, the incredibly skilled crew members and the wickedly intelligent racing engineers in this sport as we continue pushing the limits and perfecting this amazing on-track product. Feedback from those that pilot these rockets on wheels is crucial and I hope that those who make the race situation determinations take all feedback into consideration, the positive and the negative, in order to create the safest environment possible for everyone involved. Entertainment will always be secondary to safety, and while that balance is forever being improved upon, these recent seasons have shown that IndyCar is succeeding in finding that niche where both can co-exist in spectacular fashion.
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