IndyCar drivers believe sport will be safer in 2012

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With IndyCar still reeling from star Dan Wheldon’s death, officials announced on Tuesday that changes for improving safety may be in place prior to the season opening race at St. Petersburg next month.

They said that Fontana, Indianapolis, and Texas will scrap double-file restarts, and that there will be more announcements to come, as indicated by Randy Bernard, IndyCar CEO.

He had just come from the two-day summit on the state of the series in Indianapolis, and did not divulge clues as to what those other announcements might be.

Overall, the changes are geared towards making the courses safer, in an attempt to resuscitate the image of IndyCar following the death of two-time Indy 500 winner Wheldon. Wheldon had been killed in a fatal wreck during the season-finale race last year in Las Vegas. The accident resulted in safety issues being pushed to the forefront, and the drivers who race and risk their lives have found more leeway in framing possible complaints.

Of course, much change has already been set in place.

For example, the series is launching a redesigned car, its first in nine years, of a model that the IndyCar deems its safest ever. The driver seats are set to be surrounded by foam measuring three inches in the cockpit, one inch underneath the seat, and one inch on a panel on the right of the cockpit, designed to reduce the force when the car hit outside walls. Ironically, Wheldon had done majority of the early testing of the model, and he had raved about the safety features added into the car.

IndyCar officials are hopeful for the addition of pods on the rear-wheel to help remove the wheel-to-wheel contact which can cause cars to go airborne, as well.

The schedule of 16 races features only five races on the oval, a number reduced from the eight races out of 17 in last year’s schedule. This was a change that most racers have been willing to embrace ever since Wheldon’s fatal crash.

Interestingly, Bernard described this change as more of a marketability-related adjustment instead of safety, of course, with the exception of Las Vegas.

Beaux Barfield, the new race director replacing Brian Barnhart in charge of race control, talked directly with drivers and reached his decision on the restarts.

He said he could see their very real concerns in their eyes.

When the popular NASCAR double-file restarts were brought to the IndyCar circuit by Bernard last season, drivers with stock car experience were concerned about the dangers it might pose. Among those who made their concerns known were three-time defending champs Danica Patrick and Dario Franchitti.

In response to the concerns raised, Bernard chose to instruct the drivers, known as the most versatile in the world, to make it work. They succeeded, following a dubious beginning at St. Petersburg.

Barfield’s decision was reportedly based on both driver complaints and where the acceleration point was on the track.

Although the double-file restarts may still be back by 2013, when the officials have evaluated the new cars, the drivers are happy that they’re finally getting their say.

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