NASCAR safety advocate Dr. John Melvin passes away


Dr. John Melvin, whose numerous contributions to the field of driver safety helped make NASCAR safer, has passed away. Melvin served as a safety consultant for the sanctioning body over the last 13 years.

In addition to helping push the HANS (head and neck restraint) device to the sport’s drivers, Melvin was an early developer of “black box” data recording for race cars.

He also was a proponent for stronger driver’s seat construction, improved seat belts, and the use of the SAFER (steel and foam energy reduction) Barrier at race tracks.

Melvin took on his role with NASCAR three years after retiring from General Motors, where he worked for 40 years as a scientist for automotive safety. He was also a former engineer and professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

NASCAR president Mike Helton released the following statement this morning:

“NASCAR and the entire motorsports industry lost a giant on Thursday with the passing of Dr. John Melvin. Dr. Melvin was a pioneer in the field of driver safety, particularly in the area of driver restraint systems. His many contributions as a safety consultant to NASCAR for more than 13 years forever changed the sport. We lost a colleague, and a friend.

“NASCAR extends its condolences to Dr. Melvin’s family and friends. He will be greatly missed by the entire racing community.”

Also paying tribute to Melvin this morning is former Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, one of many drivers that have benefited from Melvin’s innovations:

Auto racing will never be completely immune to disaster. But thanks to the work of Melvin and others like him, the sport is a better place for all who choose to compete in it.

We extend our own condolences to his family and friends at this time.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.