Driver Safety: Helio Castroneves Indy Flip is analyzed

Motor Racing is always on the edge.   Thursdays crash and subsequent flip of the Helio Castroneves / Roger Penske Racing Indy Car is another example of how sensitive things are at the edge of technology and science.   One small change to a car can affect other elements of the car’s performance.   That appears to be what has happened here, in the desire to increase speeds and stability another affect might have been created which ended with the car loosing contact with the pavement and Helio going for a rocket ship ride of another nature.   


Helio Castroneves flip draws wide range of opinions from drivers, officials

INDIANAPOLIS – When INDYCAR introduced Aero Kits for both Honda and Chevrolet for competition in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series there was always the chance the “Laws of Unintended Consequences” would develop. That’s when making a change to one thing can create something unexpected.

It happened Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves spun 180 degrees in the first turn, air got underneath the rear of his car and it flipped over. After a brief flight the car landed upside-down before bouncing back to land on all four wheels.

INDYCAR officials and its partners are doing a thorough investigation to better understand why Castroneves car went airborne. One reason may be an additional piece that goes over the sidepod and onto the rear wheel cover that creates a more smooth and streamlined piece. Castroneves and a few other Chevrolet drivers are using that part that driver Townsend Bell, the fastest driver on Wednesday at 230.121 miles per hour, called the “Helio Lift Kit.”

Team owner Roger Penske believed the whicker that runs the length of the nose of Castroneves’ car pinned the front of it to the ground allowing the rear to lift.

INDYCAR President Derrick Walker was asked if additional holes in the bottom of the cars floorboard could help keep air from getting underneath the rear of the car.

“It’s not as simple at drilling holes, that’s for sure,” Walker said. “The hole in the floor was a forward lift problem we had. This was a situation where the car went up rearwards and that is a whole different can of worms. We are looking at all of our information to determine what actually happened.

“It’s a little early to make a leap. There is a lot more to be learned before we jump to any conclusions.”

Walker won’t say if any changes will be made to the car prior to this weekend’s qualifications for the 99th Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a very complex problem with air flow and to manage it,” Walker said. “We have to quantify what it is before we can imagine a solution.”

Ironically, the driver had been penalized eight championships points by Walker and INDYCAR for avoidable contact from the first lap of last Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Castroneves was informed of the penalty Tuesday night and INDYCAR announced it on Wednesday morning.

“As we looked at more video we realized more of what had happened,” Walker said. “Instead of it being a racing incident of drivers squeezing into the corner it went from that to a mistake so we decided to penalized Castroneves for running into the back of another car at the start of the race.

“Helio took the news like the pro that he is. We discussed it and we sat one-on-one. He didn’t agree with the penalty. He understood it but was the ultimate professional.”

Ideas ranged from adding “roof flaps” to the cars similar to those on NASCAR stock cars but Walker said those would not work on an IndyCar.

“In reality we have looked at the NASCAR flaps and the engineers that we asked at the time came back and said at the speeds we go those flaps wouldn’t work quick enough and our body shape is vastly different than a NASCAR,” Walker said. “You can’t make that jump but we have looked at those devices to see how to reduce lift. You never stop looking at trying to make it better.”

Team Penske President Tim Cindric had his crew immediately prepare a backup car to get Castroneves back on track in the final 20 minutes of practice on Wednesday.

“The hit got a little bit of everything,” Cindric said. “The tub and engine are good but we are replacing everything else by now – all four corners and the wings. You are never ready for a car to fly that high. I think INDYCAR will continue to look at the different angles and evaluate that spin and see what can be done in a calculated way.

“There are a lot of things you can do in your backyard that might not make any difference.”

Scott Dixon of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing said as a driver he is concerned to see what happened to Castroneves’ car.

“You don’t want to see a crash or a car go upside down, but the main thing is Helio got out and is all right,” Dixon said. “There is concern all the way around. It’s never as easy as cutting holes in the floor of the car. Aerodynamics is a very intricate science. Nobody knows the answer because if they did we would know how to fix it.”

Owen Snyder is the head of assembly and technical and safety support for Dallara, the chassis maker that every IndyCar team uses. Chevrolet teams use one Aero Kit and Honda teams one that is different.

“It’s a bit difficult because we didn’t do a Dallara Aero Kit; we built the undertrays for keeping the cars from getting air underneath,” Snyder explained. “As the Aero Kit was happening it included most of the Dallara body parts. By the time it came to fruition a lot more parts got changed and opened up to the manufacturers so it’s pretty delicate as to what we knowledgeable about. We still don’t have any data from either manufacturer. It’s not our business or job other from the safety part of it to help IndyCar and the drivers. We are out of the engineering side of it.

“You have to look at these Aero Kit pieces individually and how they act with everything. We don’t have that knowledge so it makes it difficult. Luckily, Helio walked away from it pretty unscathed. It was a nice, slow almost soft landing.

“This is a dangerous sport. It’s still auto racing and the speeds are up there. Always something new will happen when you get into that next realm of speed. It’s a big combination of a lot of unknowns with the new superspeedway Aero Kits with the new undertray.”

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