The Month of May is off to a dubious start.
Now equipped with aerodynamic enhancements, the current IndyCar machine looks drastically different than any that came before it. The DW12 is also faster than it was last year and appears markedly more unstable following the first three days of practice for the Indianapolis 500.
On Wednesday, Helio Castroneves lost control of his Team Penske entry coming out of turn 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, turning backwards and flying into the air before landing hard on his side-pod at the entrance of turn 2.
A similar incident befell Josef Newgarden on Thursday as the Birmingham race winner also lost control of his machine in turn 1. Like Castroneves, Newgarden looped his car around and hit the wall nose first at the exit of the first corner.
His car also went airborne after getting turned backwards, flipping over completely and sliding on his side before coming to a halt.
Both drivers walked away safely from their respective incidents. However, the fact that both crashes involved the new Chevrolet aero kit and visually mirrored each other have resulted in questions about the overall safety of the car.
Simon Pagenaud, another Chevrolet Team Penske contender, was fastest on Thursday with a lap of nearly 229 mph. He insisted that the current car is safe and that IndyCar is always looking for ways to make it safer.
“At the end of the day, we are going over 230 mph in the entry of the corners so if there is a crash, it’s always going to be a big crash.
“I can’t comment on Josef’s crash because I just got out of the race car and I can’t comment on Helio’s crash either. I don’t know what their respective situations were so it’s difficult to say, but this car is plenty plenty safe because both drivers walked away without a scratch. The first thing [Josef] did was adjust his suit and hair so that’s pretty amazing.”
Newgarden was also quick to praise IndyCar and the chasis manufacturer following his release from the infield care center.
“I think Dallara and IndyCar do a great job and so does everyone else involved to make the safest race cars possible,” Newgarden said. “I feel safe in them. We’re always looking for more, but they’re as safe as we can make them right now.”
The aero kits were designed to allow teams to reduce aerodynamic drag while also maintaining sufficient downforce from what they achieved with the standard Dallara tub. The oval kits are also fundamentally different than their road and street course counterparts.
The sanctioning body also allowed teams to test a variety of options and parts on their aero kits over the past few days, which may have resulted in the pair of Chevrolet incidents. Team owner Roger Penske told USA Today on Wednesday that a centerline wicker on the front of the DW12, combined with two mandated large floorboard holes may have aggravated the situation.
“We think that the wicker that’s on the front of the car may have pinned the car down as it was sliding,” Penske said. “You can see it in the pictures. The rear end got a little bit of air and then really caught the air and went up. With the holes in the floor, it exacerbates that.”
Safety is always a moving target in motorsports, but The Greatest Spectacle in Racing has made that target a little more difficult to close in upon this week.
FASTEST TIMES/SPEEDS OF PRACTICE