Jean-Eric Vergne has been given a 10 place grid penalty for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix after his wheel broke free from his car at the end of the second practice session in Barcelona today.
The Toro Rosso driver was released from the pits with five minutes remaining, but the team failed to properly attach the left rear tire onto the STR9 car. As he came through the opening complex of corners, it came free and bounced through the gravel. Thankfully, it did not make any contact with another car and was eventually recovered by a marshal.
The FIA has taken a zero tolerance approach to loose wheels ever since the 2013 German Grand Prix, where a cameraman was struck by an errant wheel in the pit lane during the race. Thankfully, he escaped unharmed, but a precedent has now been set.
Daniel Ricciardo was the last driver to be handed a penalty, receiving a 10 place grid drop for the Bahrain Grand Prix after the team released him without properly attaching the tire on his car.
Toro Rosso has also been fined €30,000 by the FIA for the unsafe release.
Although it may seem like a harsh penalty for a minor error, bouncing wheels can be very dangerous. F2 racer Henry Surtees died back in 2009 after a wheel came loose from another car and struck his head.
With safety being so important, this penalty will hopefully ensure that a little more care is taken by the teams during pit stops.
In a continuing effort to help fans keep track of the on track action, SuperMotocross is in the process of developing and implementing leader lights for the unified series.
Currently Supercross (SMX) utilizes stanchions in the infield that are triggered manually by a race official. At least two stanchions are used in each race as a way to draw the eye to the leader, which is especially useful in the tight confines of the stadium series when lapping often begins before the halfway mark in the 22-bike field. This system has been in place for the past two decades.
Later this year, a fully automated system will move to the bike itself to replace the old system. At that point, fans will be able to identify the leader regardless of where he is on track.
The leader lights were tested in the second Anaheim round this year. An example can be seen at the 1:45 mark in the video above on the No. 69 bike.
“What we don’t want to do is move too fast, where it’s confusing to people,” said Mike Muye, senior director of operations for Supercross and SMX in a press release. “We’ve really just focused on the leader at this point with the thought that maybe down the road we’ll introduce others.”
Scheduled to debut with the first SuperMotocross World Championship race at zMax Dragway, located just outside the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 3D carbon fiber-printed LED light will be affixed to each motorcycle. Ten timing loops positioned around the track will trigger the lights of the leader, which will turn green.
SMX’s partner LiveTime Scoring helped develop and implement the system that has been tested in some form or fashion since 2019.
When the leader lights are successfully deployed, SuperMotocross will explore expanding the system to identify the second- and third-place riders. Depending on need and fan acceptance, more positions could be added.
SuperMotocross is exploring future enhancements, including allowing for live fan interaction with the lights and ways to use the lighting system during the race’s opening ceremony.
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