Monday, August 20, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Rambling On About Pocono

Despite a two-hour red flag, IndyCar had its fourth-fastest 500-mile race in history. In other news, a familiar last name won in NASCAR. There were loads of disqualifications at Silverstone including both Toyotas and it put an America on the top step overall in an FIA World Endurance Championship race for the first time in the series short history. A certain Frenchman continues to have a successful season no matter what he drivers and it has me wondering if a driver has ever won a single-seater championship and a sports car championship in the same year? I am sure it has been done but it has likely been a while. I was at Pocono Raceway all day yesterday. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Rambling On About Pocono
Where do I start?

I am running out of items on motorsports experience checklist. A lot have happened at Pocono alone. Brutally hot summer afternoon, check (Pocono 2013). Soaked through boots and socks, check (New Jersey Motorsports Park 2008). NASCAR night race, check (Richmond 2010). Rain delayed to a Monday, check (Pocono 2016). Two-hour red flag, check (Pocono 2018). Unfortunately, a fatality, check. We don't need to go on.

What is a two-hour red flag like? Surprisingly, the crowd didn't get antsy. Perhaps it was the circumstances. It wasn't the time to be selfish. I think many of us were weighing our options. Do we stay? Do we go? Do we ever comeback? Will the race ever comeback? It wouldn't have been the first time a one-race extension was ignored days after it was announced.

It is waiting. None of us wanted to see another driver die. I think a lot of us had been there before. In the split second the accident occurred, "not again" is all you can say to yourself. Justin Wilson's accident wasn't like that but nobody wants to leave a racetrack to see family and friends while somebody never will.

When a car gets in a catchfence we think of Dan Wheldon. With Wickens' accident in the moment you aren't sure what hit, all you know the car has been torn to pieces. At the track we sat waiting for a replay. We didn't want to marvel at the spectacle of an accident. We wanted to know. We wanted information. We wanted to see for ourselves how bad it was. No one was going to clap. We wanted understanding. We wanted to prepare ourselves. On a cloudy day, we wanted not to be in the dark.

I wrote on the five-year anniversary of Wheldon's accident about how we not achieved a better solution to catchfences in the five years since Wheldon's death. It seemed like nobody was working on it. We weren't hearing of prototypes or models or a track taking the initiative and planning to roll out a new catchfence system.

After this incident, you hope it sparks a reminder to tracks and series that this could be better and not only in a way that doesn't tear a car to pieces and potentially hurt a driver but is also easier and quicker to repair if necessary.

One common alternative to fences is extending the wall to the height of the fence and having cars glance off a concrete or metal barrier oppose to, well... catching a car but a catchfence not only catches but tears a part a car. The title only describes half of what it does.

I am sure there are downsides to if the barrier was one wall. Wickens would have hit and then still had to come back down in the middle of a dozen vehicles starting to decelerate from 200 MPH. Things can still go wrong and that is part of motorsports. Sometimes things cannot be prevented.

Nobody wants drivers to get hurt or killed but it is motorsports and it cannot be eradicated. Think about what these drivers are doing and let's go with Pocono specifically. Top speed is over 220 MPH. The cars are going over 200 MPH in each three corners, each one slightly different then the one before it. There is about a grove-and-a-half in turn one, turn two is too narrow to go side-by-side and turn three is too flat for side-by-side. Things go wrong and sometimes what we don't want to happen do.

Every other sport has injuries. We don't want to see ACL tears, broken legs or shoulders or concussions but when you have athletes giving it 100% against other athletes of equal capability over who is better things bodies break. Injuries are going to happen in motorsports and, unfortunately, deaths will happen. We can continue to make cars safer and safer. We can make the catchfence safer. Sometimes if it is going to happen it is going to happen and that is a hard reality to accept. We work to make it less likely but some days everything we do will not be enough.

Going back to the wall idea. Pocono has grandstands only along the front straightaway. In my mind, it is the best track to extend the wall up and remove the catchfencing at least from the entrance of turn one all the way to the exit of turn three. It seems odd to leave 3/4 of a mile of catchfencing, especially at a place where not only drivers but spectators could be hurt but if you put a wall there then many of the seats will see nothing. Nothing would be visible on the front straightaway. I sit in row 47 at Pocono. The only seats higher than where I sit is the 300 level and those are about five rows of $150 tickets. If there was a ten-foot concrete wall in place instead of a catchfence on the front straightaway I wouldn't be able to see the cars in front of me. All I would be able to see in front of me is pit road. I would be able to see the rest of the track but the important part would become hidden and that would be a disaster for a track.

In an effort to keep drivers safe and still provide a fan-friendly experience, tracks have to balance the options. Using Pocono as the example, I think a wall could replace a catchfence around the entire track besides the front straightaway. There would be some trackside campers along the Long Pond straightaway between turn two and turn three that would become redundant and you would probably piss a lot of people off but it is give and take and there is plenty of room inside of Pocono for those campers.

We have only broken the surface of what I want to say after this Pocono race. I think I could write each day about it from here until Gateway. I think over the next day or two or three I will write here and there about what comes to mind, what I think is right and what I think I am wrong about.

We all want Robert Wickens to get better and be back in a car as soon as possible. His wonderful rookie season has been cut short in a horrific accident. I think we can all agree we want him to return better than ever when he is healed and I think we all agree we want steps to be made to decrease the likelihood of a repeat of Wickens accident in the future, preferably sooner rather than later.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Alexander Rossi but did you know...

Kurt Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Bristol. Kyle Larson won the Grand National Series race. Johnny Sauter won the Truck series race.

The #3 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13-Gibson of Gustavo Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Mathis Beche won the 6 Hours of Silverstone after both Toyotas were disqualified. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer won in GTE-Am.

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson of Jean-Éric Vergne, Romain Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola won European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Silverstone, the team's third consecutive victory. The #3 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Matthew Bell, Garett Grist and Anthony Wells won in LMP3. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Liam Griffin, Alex MacDowell and Miguel Molina won in GTE.

The #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Connor De Phillippi and Alexander Sims won the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway. The #14 3GT Racing Lexus of Kyle Marcelli and Dominik Baumann won in GT Daytona, the team's second victory of the season.

Hiroaki Ishiura won the Super Formula race from Motegi.

Ott Tänak won Rallye Deutschland.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has its final oval race and its final night race of the season from Gateway.
Formula One is back from summer break at Spa-Francorchamps.
MotoGP will be at Silverstone.
NASCAR's Cup series is off but the Grand National series will be at Road America and the Truck series will be at Mosport.
The Suzuka 10 Hours will be held, the second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters visits Misano and will not only race at night but Alex Zanardi will be there!
Supercars makes it debut at Tailem Bend.