IndyCar – Tuesday Talk

Tuesday Talk is a weekly rumor/opinion section about happenings in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights, Pro Mazda Series and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series. All opinions expressed within should be considered as 100% accurate and infallible, because everyone knows I’m never wrong.

Houston. Wow. What an event. Taking away all the ancillary factors, Houston wasn’t a bad race. The field was pretty racy. Just go back and look at the box scores. Bourdais went from 13th to 5th. Servia went from 21st to 7th. Vautier went from 22nd to 11th. Saavedra went from 24th to 12th and ran in the Top 5 for a good part of the event. Then in the first race, there were also some surprises in the order. Basically, remove Dixon dominance and the whole last lap crash in the second race, and it’s not a bad event at all. The Reliant Park Circuit is a very quick, very bumpy surface. On street circuits like that, where the surface acts as an equalizer, the better drivers tend to shine. Justin Wilson was top 5 all weekend. Simona got her first IICS podium. I’m looking forward to this vent being back on the schedule in 2014.

Time to tackle the elephant in the room. Yes, Dario’s crash was nasty. However, it never struck me as a fatality type accident. I thought he’d have some spinal compression issues (which he did) and lower extremity injuries (which he did; broken ankle.) What has to be said is the IR-12 did an excellent job protecting the driver. Let’s look at previous IndyCar history. In the 90′s, the old Reynards and Lolas were notorious for lower extremity injuries. Anyone remember the Jeff Andretti crash at Indy? well, Dallara responded to those injuries by placing the driver further  back in the car. The days of the nose of the monocoque ripping off are gone. Go back and have another look at the first lap crash in the 1995 Indy 500 to remember the “good ol days.” The sight of Stan Fox’s exposed legs remains with me to this day. Then there’s the spinal compression issues. The early Dallara and G-Force designs were notorious for breaking spines. Even though the G-Force chassis went the way of the Dodo, Dallara realized the IR-03 and IR-05 models still had a tendancy for spinal issues. They responded by changing the design of the cockpit for the IR-12. Dario’s back injury is the first one in the IR-12 era, but that chassis also dropped from 10 feet in the air. Not much can be done to prevent that kind of injury. All I know is just five years ago, Dario probably is in much worse shape.

To me, the biggest failure in the Dario Franchitti accident was the location of the grandstands. I have a hard time understanding why grandstands are located at the exit of a high speed turn on a temporary street course.  If the stands has just been 20 yards uptrack from where they were, nothing goes into the stands. Also, has therre been lateral stabilizing cables in the fencing, I doubt there’s a serious fence failure. It is important to remember though, that as race fans, we assume some of the risk of being a race fan. One of those possibilities is a fence failure or debris in the stands. Shoot, who remembers the overhead camera failure at Charlotte in the NASCAR race? Another concern is the failure of Dario’s SWEMS system. SWEMS is Suspension Wheel/Wing Energy Management System. It’s the tethers used to secure the wheels and rear wing to the car in case of accident. One of Dario’s wheels was sent flying over the fence, which indicates a SWEMS failure. There are a minimum of three SWEMS connections per wheel. The actual tethers are made of Zylon, and designed to operate under a load of up to 100 Kilonewtons, or 22,480 pounds of force. I’d be interested to know if there’s a good reason why the tether failed.

We here at Open Paddock were among the first to report Tony Kanaan to Ganassi, but it was made official Friday in Houston. No shock. The interesting bit of news? Ganassi to Chevrolet. I know the Chipster has been critical of Honda this year, but I find it amusing that he’s decided to leave just when Honda seems to have things turned around. Another deciding factor may be that Sam Schmidt Racing seems to be the Honda factory team instead of Chip Ganassi Racing. Even then, Ganassi is at least second on Chevy’s lineup behind Penske. If I’m Andretti, I consider a move to Honda for 2014. The Andrettis have a great relationship with Honda, and you’e going to be the #2 team at worst. Other than Schmidt and Ganassi, nobody else has confirmed engine plans for 2014.

I’m not ready to declare Sage Karam GOAT, but the kid is a bit of a badass.

It’s interesting to see how Carlos Munoz has dropped off in the 2nd half of the Lights season. Meanwhile, Chaves and Hawksworth have really stepped things up. Instead of the 2013 Firestone IndyLights season being the Carlos Munoz Invitation as it appeared early on, the championship is now down to the two Schmidt teammates, Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves. Jack Hawksworth has scraped back into a respectable third position despite having serious issues after winning the first race of the season at St. Pete. I wonder if Munoz is looking too much towards 2014.

Matty Brabs just keeps being Matty Brabs. Nothing to see here.

CAPE Motorsports continues to be the dominant team in USF2000. Scott Hargrove and  Neil Alberico both had outstanding seasons, with Hargrove just nipping out his teammate for the championship. There’s some seriouis young talent rising up through the USF2000 ranks right now. Ever since Dan Andersen rescued the series, car counts are drasticall up, costs are down, and the racing is amazing. I’m looking forward to Winterfest so I can get a better look at the future of American open wheel racing.

Special shout out to Peter Portante, for his 10th place finish in his first season in USF2000. Great job!