An investigation into the August accident that killed driver Justin Wilson has resulted in no recommendations for immediate safety changes in race cars, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said.
But changes could be in line by 2017, including some sort of canopy or enclosed cockpit or surrounding apron to protect drivers, Miles told USA Today.
The 37-year-old Wilson was struck in the head from a piece of debris that flew off Sage Karam’s wrecked car during a race at Pocono Raceway. Wilson died the following day in a Pennsylvania hospital.
“What the report provides is a lot of technical data about the energy involved and the forces and exactly what happened and all of that,” Miles told USA Today. “I don’t think there were any revelations. I think for everybody, with or without the report, all of us hope to be able to make progress in finding ways to make the cockpit safer and to reduce the risks.
“So for example, there may be some short-term measures like tethering some parts that weren’t this year, but could be. That’s a work in progress. But I don’t want to give the sense that was because of anything revealed in the accident investigation. What you think happened, happened there.”
One area that has received considerable discussion is the potential for enclosed cockpits or canopies in Indy cars. But the development of such a device will take time, prompting Miles to predict that if canopies or capsules are ultimately added as a safety precaution, it likely would not occur until at least the 2017 season.
“You’re not going to see a change to the car for next year in this regard just because I don’t think it’s possible,” Miles said. “… These are technical challenges and it’s hard to imagine that anything transformative will happen this year. At this point, I wouldn’t rule out 2017, but the research has to be done, the development has to be done to answer the questions as to what can be done by when.”
Addressing specifically the investigation of Wilson’s accident, Miles said, “It reinforces the risks, I think, of the open cockpit and further energizes efforts in motorsport to try to reduce those risks.”
But devising a cockpit or canopy – if either is adopted – will take considerable development and testing time. Miles said he’s had lengthy discussions with officials from groups such as NASA and the aerospace industry that provide cockpits for entities such as jet fighters.
He added that Formula 1 officials have also been studying enclosed cockpits for quite some time, particularly things such as ingress/egress from within the cockpit, as well as heat buildup inside.
“Obviously, the foundational point is whether there’s a solution which protects the driver and there may be no solution which provides complete protection if you get into a situation like in Las Vegas (where driver Dan Wheldon died as a result of head injuries when he stuck a catch fence support),” Miles said. “But it’s how much more safe can you make it while proving for not having unintended consequences.”
Miles said that in addition to canopies and enclosed cockpits, IndyCar is also looking at other variations and the potential risk vs. rewards of those as well.
“This is not necessarily about a completely closed cockpit,” Miles said. “It could be more of an apron. If something hits that … it’s possible (the object) could be propelled higher and further and an unintended consequence could be the risk of something going into the crowd.
“It doesn’t necessarily knock it down and put it on the track if something was coming at a car like that, especially something like a tire that has energy in it.
“What is clear to me is we’ve got an outside perspective as do our safety people, on the long list of things you have to address. … Hopefully something meaningful can happen.”