IndyCar officials announced Thursday that a third-party investigation into the death of two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon is complete. The investigation found several factors led to the 15-car pileup on October 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
IndyCar President of Operations Brian Barnhart says Wheldon‘s car became airborne and hit a vertical post of the track fencing. The fence post intruded through the cockpit and hit Wheldon‘s helmeted head, which produced his lethal injury. IndyCar analyzed data from accident recorders, videotape, still pictures, physical evidence and eyewitness reports from drivers and determined Wheldon’s death was a “perfect storm” of events.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and Barnhart say this accident could have happened on any track, at any time, but the dynamic of the car and the overall track geometry at las vegas was one of the factors contributing to the crash. Indycar says the Las Vegas track differed from other ovals in that the geometry permitted unrestricted movement, different from most tracks where there are normally racing grooves.
However, both downplayed the number of cars on the track as being a factor. They say the field of 34 cars was acceptable, and they claim the track could have safely held 37 cars. IndyCar says extensive testing was completed leading up to the Las Vegas race, with 2,910 laps of practice before race day.
Bernard says the 2012 season ushers in the era of a new race car and the opportunity for safety advancements. The 2012 Dallara Chassis enhances safety components, such as side intrusion panels and wheel tethers, along with a lengthened cockpit and a floating headrest which works with the frontal head restraint attacked to the helmet.
IndyCar says many of the safety advancements were made possible due to Wheldon‘s extensive testing of the new car. The first scheduled oval race is the Indianapolis 500 in May. Indycar will not run in Las Vegas this year.