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IndyCar: Safety Improvements Developing After Hinchcliffe Crash

May 28, 2015
Marshall Pruett

The Verizon IndyCar Series and chassis manufacturer Dallara are working on new methods to prevent future injuries like the one suffered by driver James Hinchcliffe.

The Canadian’s crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 took place after a suspension component failed, and in the ensuing high-speed impact with the Turn 3 wall, a right-front wishbone entered his No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara DW12 chassis, where it penetrated his lower extremities. In response to the crash, the series and Dallara mandated the installation of new wishbone “pads” for the race (BELOW, in purple), and made the welding of a rod between the wishbone legs optional.

The metal pads, as shown in the rendering, are affixed to the rear leg of the lower front wishbones at their mounting points and create more surface area to reduce the likelihood of a wishbone leg piercing the chassis in an impact. The wishbone rod addition, which was given the green light two days before the Indy 500, was a regular item found on Indy cars prior to the DW12 (pictured, BOTTOM), and were created to prevent wishbone intrusions from happening.

Although the rods have not stopped every intrusion, the welded tubes have been an enormous help to reduce intrusions by having a welded metal barrier to push against the chassis and keep wishbone mounting points from being freely driven into the cockpit.

With less than 48 hours to respond prior to the Indy 500, most IndyCar teams said they will have the rods added prior to the next oval race in Texas on June 6.

“We did the pads and didn’t do the tubes – didn’t feel it was appropriate to weld everything without the proper time for heat treating and testing,” said CFH Racing team manager Tim Broyles, who echoed the sentiments of many team managers who spoke with RACER.

“We suggested it to IndyCar earlier in the week, but with the time left to do the solution when it came down, there wasn’t enough time to make the suspension modifications and shake the cars down after a fairly substantial disassembly and reassembly before the race, so we will have it done before the next oval race,” added Rob Edwards, Andretti Autosport’s director of race operations and engineering.

Indy 500 winners Team Penske were one of few to compete on Sunday with the anti-intrusion pads and wishbone rods on their cars.

“We did it for Indy,” said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. “It wasn’t easy, but we sat down, said this is what we need to do and this is what we’re going to do. We try and do whatever we can on those fronts.”

The series and Dallara made safety upgrades to the spec DW12s (ABOVE) ahead of the 2014 season, adding more Zylon anti-intrusion material to the cockpit area and down the sides of the chassis where drivers legs rest inside the carbon fiber tub.

Depending on the angle of an impact and where a wishbone is bent and pushed into the tub, situations like the one experienced by Hinchcliffe – and other drivers before him – are almost impossible to prevent in every instance with a chassis made from carbon fiber. According to Broyles, Dallara has been looking at other ways to reduce the chances of cockpit intrusions, and his team has supported their efforts since Hinchcliffe’s crash.

“Dallara has some ideas they’d like to try – came by our shop – that they’re looking at before Texas,” he said. “They’re taking a very active role in coming up with solutions so we don’t have to go through that again. And since they aren’t involved in the aero kits, they’re having to get an understanding on aero loads, breaking loads, and we’re trying to help any way we can with that data. I’m confident with the approach they’re taking and what they’re doing.”

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports technical director Nick Snyder also applauded the efforts of Dallara and IndyCar in the wake of Hinchcliffe’s crash.

“I was fairly involved in most of the conversations with them because we have the car here so we were sending pictures back and forth on how the penetration happened, and I think everything they’re doing is positive and headed in the right direction,” Snyder said.

“You’re never going to prevent metal from penetrating a carbon fiber tub; if everything aligns the way it did, you’ll have something break through, but anything we can do as teams to help prevent it in the future is the right way to go.”

Snyder says Dallara and IndyCar could take a page from the Italian manufacturer's previous Indy car chassis in an effort to further safeguard drivers in the DW12, but cautions against adding too much weight to the front of the car.

“The only thing we had on the last car that isn’t on this car is a stainless steel plate that was bonded to the outside of the tub,” he added. “That was bonded onto the Dallara IR03 – they called it the ‘TK Bulletin’ – when the wishbone pushed through [Tony Kanaan] at Motegi. I think that idea is bouncing around still. It’s a little bit more difficult with this car because of how the underwing mounts, but I know it’s been in discussion.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that came out once they find a way to install it and make the underwing removable. But as far as the bits they’ve added with the pads and the bars, it’s a good reaction. And we need to draw a line as to what’s too much – we don’t want to turn the cars into tanks, because then you create other problems.”

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