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Brazilian rookie Matheus Leist is fastest in first IndyCar practice in St. Pete

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The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season is under way.

Rookie Matheus Leist — at 19, the youngest driver on the circuit this season and pilot for A.J. Foyt Racing — was fastest in the first practice session of the new season, Friday on the temporary street course in St. Petersburg, Florida, in preparation for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The young Brazilian covered the circuit in 1:01.7231, his best overall lap of 20 that he took during the session. He also was the fastest Chevrolet driver.

Honda took the next five spots: defending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais (1:01.7719), followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:01.8812), 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi (1:02.0415), Scott Dixon (1:02.0560), rookie Robert Wickens (1:02.1833), 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud (1:02.2162), Will Power (1:02.3069), Leist’s teammate Tony Kanaan (1:02.3370) and Spencer Pigot (1:02.3565).

11th through 20th were rookie Jordan King (1:02.4112), Graham Rahal (1:02.4569), Ed Jones (1:02.4569), rookie Zachary Claman De Melo (1:02.7376), defending series champ Josef Newgarden was 15th fastest in the field (1:02.9667), followed by Zack Veach (1:02.7902), Jack Harvey (1:02.8416), Marco Andretti (1:02.8843), James Hinchcliffe (1:03.0515) and Max Chilton (1:03.3742).

20th through 24th were Charlie Kimball (1:03.6210), 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato (1:03.6243), Gabby Chaves (1:04.1845) and rookie Rene Binder (1:04.8859).

Taking the most laps were De Melo and Harvey, with 21 laps each.

There was three incidents of note – all minor – in the session.

With just under 23 minutes remaining in the session, and while he had the fastest lap at the time, Kanaan spun coming into Turn 4.

Kanaan, who moved to A.J. Foyt Racing during the offseason after four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, was piloting the Chevrolet-powered No. 14 when the rear end broke free.

The car did not make contact with either a wall or another car. The incident brought out the red flag and Kanaan limped his car back to the pits for service.

With about 15:45 left in the session, Hinchcliffe also spun into the run-off area in Turn 10, but quickly got going again.

With just under 10 minutes left, Hunter-Reay spun in Turn 4. But like Kanaan’s spin, there was no contact and Hunter-Reay was able to continue on.

The second IndyCar practice session will start at 3:10 p.m. ET today.

Saturday, there will be a third practice at 11:10 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying at 2:20 p.m. ET.

Sunday, the pre-race warm-up takes place at 8:45 a.m. ET, pre-race ceremonies and driver introductions take place at Noon, with the green flag set to start the season opener at 12:30 p.m. ET.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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