IndyCar still working toward solution to stop debris strikes

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DETROIT (AP) Tony Kanaan was not injured when struck in the hand by a piece of debris during the Indianapolis 500 and the incident was barely noticed during the historic 100th running of the race.

Yet it was a reminder of an issue that has had tragic consequences in the past. Justin Wilson was killed last August when he was struck in the head by a piece of debris during a race at Pocono.

The deaths of Wilson and Formula One’s Jules Bianchi from head injuries have created discussions on how to protect open-wheel drivers. F1 is planning further tests this month on a protective halo device, which could be implemented in time for the 2017 season.

Kanaan said Friday finding the right solution for IndyCar is complicated, but series leadership is on the right track.

“What we’ve been doing lately is a lot of studies to see how we’re going to fix that,” he said. “We’re all aware of it, I think not just in America but in Europe as well, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the best solution for it.”

Kanaan said the series has been researching several scenarios, but added that canopies aren’t a catch-all solution for every series.

“The biggest challenge we have – F1 doesn’t race in the ovals and they don’t have banking – so the peripheral vision of our cars, you can put a canopy or whatever you want to do, it’s different than the Formula One cars,” Kanaan said.

Bianchi died in July following a long battle to recover from head injuries from a collision with a crane after he went off the track in rainy conditions at the Japanese Grand Prix in October 2014. Wilson died on Aug. 23, a day after being hit in the helmet by debris from another car. Two years ago, James Hinchcliffe sustained a concussion when struck in the head by debris from another car in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

The halo device forms a protective structure around and above a driver’s head. F1’s Red Bull has proposed an alternative, a protective screen. IndyCar driver Will Power said he thinks the windscreen is more protective.

“I think IndyCar are definitely looking at a windscreen,” Power said. “I’m all for it, 100 percent. All for it. It’s the last big step in safety that open-wheel cars need.”

Helio Castroneves has a similar stance on these potential safety measures.

“I’ve seen some pictures regarding – one is a halo, the second one is the windshield, and I’m in favor of it. I think this should be all part of it. All open-wheel (series) should communicate and work together because this is going to benefit everybody,” Castroneves said. “We’ve got to work fast.”

Aside from protecting other drivers, Kanaan said he’s not sure much can be done about the amount of debris on the track when cars crash.

“You’d have to go back in the old days and then have less wings and body parts on the cars, so you don’t have many things flying when you crash,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

It’s a challenge to come up with ideas that protect the heads of drivers without creating additional, unintended safety issues.

“We’re all on the same page,” Kanaan said. “It’s not easy to develop something like that overnight. … To say, `OK, we’re going to fix one problem.’ But what about if you roll over? What about if you talk about ventilation in the car? … It might be safer for preventing debris to come in the car, but what about the other five other issues that we’ve created? If you roll upside down, you catch fire, and you need to get out, how do you do it?”

Kanaan expects a solution before too long – and he says it may not need to be a drastic change.

“It won’t be as big as people think it needs to be. They have some studies that they know exactly how and where it needs to go,” Kanaan said. “We’re not going to look like the popemobile.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds