The NTT IndyCar Series is America’s premier open-wheel form of racing and has gone through an awful lot of changes when it comes to safety innovation within motorsport. Dr. Thomas Hanna worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1936 and 1960, circuit owner Tony George appointed him to the role of chief medical officer to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and under Hanna’s direction, the circuit built an infield care facility with state of the art equipment so that drivers could be stabilized at the track before being transferred to a downtown hospital for further treatment.
When Olvey was a medical student he saw that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was looking for volunteers to work at the track on race day and during practice and qualifying and this is when he got to know Dr.Hanna.
Olvey got to know Dr.Terry Trammall as they both worked for IU Health in Indianapolis and became friends through the love of IndyCar and they had a running joke that Olvey would examine drivers who were injured and that Trammell would put them back together.
IndyCar has been at the forefront of safety innovation in motorsport for many years with the introduction in 2002 by Tony George of the SAFER barrier which replaced the Armco barriers around tracks. SAFER stands for Steel And Foam Energy Reduction which had been under development in a partnership between IndyCar and the University of Nebraska Lincoln Roadside Safety Department.
The SAFER barrier has now become the standard barrier for race tracks around the world, not just in IndyCar and NASCAR in the United States, but also in Formula One with the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi which has the SAFER barrier all around it.
The ABB FIA Formula E world championship has also adopted the SAFER barrier around the city circuits as this is the unique situation about this championship as it is run around city street circuits.
The IndyCar Series is the only open-wheel category to have a traveling safety team, the AMR Safety team who travel to the races with the series which is great because not only are they on the scene of an accident within seconds of a car having an incident when they get to the scene they know the driver which is a real comfort to the driver and this will be beneficial to their families knowing that the paramedics and firefighters on the scene of an accident know the driver.
The trucks used by the AMR safety team are equipped with the latest tools to help with the extraction of the driver should the need arise. The driver’s race seat is designed in such a way that if necessary the AMR safety team can lift the driver from the car while they are still in their seat.
The NTT IndyCar Series also introduced the Head and Neck Safety device which goes around the driver’s neck. The device is attached to the driver’s helmet and helped protect drivers against serious neck and spinal injuries.
The HANS device is now FIA mandated across other motorsports around the world including Formula One.
IndyCar has worked incredibly hard to enhance safety in the sport which has been adopted by other sports. The NTT IndyCar Series has worked with General Motors when it comes to data recovery and management with the sensors around the car like a black box on an airplane.
The SAFER barrier should be introduced to general road use as it would help to bring down the cases of serious injuries in crashes where cars have hit the central reservation.
During my research, I found that placing SAFER barriers on the edge of roads that are notorious for accidents would dramatically reduce the incidents of serious injury or death in the event of a head-on collision.
When golf legend Tiger Woods was involved in a single-car collision his accident happened at a spot in California that has had numerous accidents some of which have been fatal. In Ireland for example, concrete barriers have been used as dividers on north and south-bound roads and it would be beneficial and cost-effective for the government to implement the SAFER barrier as it could lead to fewer fatalities.
The introduction of the SAFER barrier technology would be extremely beneficial for road users not just in Ireland but in the United States and across the world.
The technology used for the SAFER barrier is extremely easy to adapt for road users such as the photographs that are shown above.
The International Council Of Motorsport Sciences based in Indianapolis has played a key role in shaping the safety and introducing the new safety features in motorsport and has been very helpful to me in granting me access to people and giving me advice during my research.
The NTT IndyCar Series introduced the Aeroscreen, a windscreen that combined the F1-style Halo anti-roll bar with a windshield that features tearoff’s similar to the visor tear-offs that the drivers use. When it comes to enhanced safety the NTT IndyCar Series has introduced the Aeroscreen which was developed in conjunction with IndyCar, Dallara, PPG, and Red Bull Advanced Technologies based in Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom. The aeroscreen was trialed by Formula One however, following tests Formula One decided to introduce the halo.
The halo was adopted by the ABB FIA Formula E world championship and the SAFER barrier was recently introduced in the sport and arguably saved British driver Alex Lynn’s life last weekend when the Mahindra Racing driver suffered a huge crash when his car went airborne and landed upside down before hitting the SAFER barrier at the end of the straight.
When it comes to the Aeroscreen, this technology could be adopted by car manufacturers that would reduce the incidents of shattered windscreens in the event of an accident as in a head-on collision the windscreen could shatter causing injury.
When it comes to protecting fans at the race track, catch fencing is no longer the answer. It is also not fair to expect fans to be seated far away from the action but we also want to make sure that fans are safe.
Dr. Stephen Olvey, who worked as chief medical director to the CART championship and continues to serve as a consultant to IndyCar says that the sport needs to get rid of catch fencing as the problem is not the fencing itself but the posts around the circuit.
The idea is that the NTT IndyCar Series adopt a similar system to that of the NHL where the catch fencing would be replaced by a shield that runs around the length of the circuit.
The fencing would be easy to implement and I also believe that the innovations in safety in racing, such as the three-point safety harness should be incorporated into road car production as it could prevent serious lacerations following accidents.
When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series relativeness to road safety, the information that tire supplier Firestone learn on the race track has a direct impact on the development of their road tire development in terms of how they can improve the durability of their road tires in relation to how the tire grips the road surface.
In conclusion, it is my opinion that motorsport and the road car manufacturers and governments around the world should co-operate more with each other to help improve safety on the roads.
The SAFER barrier should be adapted for general road use to avoid serious injury or even death, the aeroscreen could be adapted for road car production.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, affectionately known as the Brickyard has been used to test and develop road cars for years.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank the International Council of Motorsport Science, the NTT IndyCar Series, and Dr. Stephen Olvey for their help and support.