Hopefully a recently announced change to the refueling system for the 2010 IndyCar season will see a reduction in the number of premature drive-offs and fuel spills that lead to the fiery pit-lane incidents that we saw in 2009. Two such incidents stand out in my mind: Meira’s fire at Indianapolis, and Tony “The Torch” Kanaan’s fire in Edmonton. In both of these incidents, fuel was sprayed over the driver and car during a refueling stop and was ignited by the exhaust manifold. These situations are often caused by premature drive-offs by the driver. Whether its the driver’s fault or the fault of their crew chief, its the driver that usually pays the price. Tony Kanaan ended up with burns to his hands and face as a result of the fire at Edmonton. This problem is not only seen in IndyCar, but in all series where there is refueling. In 2008, one of Gil de Ferran’s crew members was severely burned at Mid-Ohio during a refueling incident, and in Formula 1 there have been several examples of drivers rolling down pit lane dragging their refueling rig.
Formula 1 had attempted to address this issue by banning refueling all together. The IndyCar series has taken a different approach. Honda Performance Development, HPD, has created a system that prevents the car from shifting out of neutral until the fuel rig clears the car by a specified distance. Using a proximity sensor, as opposed to a mechanical switch sensor such as Ferrari attempted to deploy in Formula 1, makes a lot of sense. With this system, HPD hopes that the fuel probe, and also the person holding the fuel probe will always be clear of the car before it is allowed to roll away. Keep in mind that the person responsible for refueling the car is the ONLY person who is actually leaning over the car. The tire changers are in a position that if the car starts to roll away, they can clear out easily and quickly. Getting clear in a hurry is much more difficult for the refueler and this new system should go a long way toward reducing the number of fires on pit lane and keeping the refueler as safe as possible.