MADISON, Illinois – Encouraged, not satisfied.
Those were the thoughts of Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, in the aftermath of the violent crash at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 19 that injured Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens.
Wickens continues to recuperate at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, following surgeries to his right arm, both legs and spine. He was last listed in stable condition.
Frye met with a select group of motorsports media on Friday at Gateway Motorsports Park to discuss the incident on Lap 7 of the ABC Supply 500, when Wickens’ car was launched into the track’s catch fence after it made contact with the car of Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Following a preliminary INDYCAR investigation into the crash, Frye said the Dallara chassis and the track fencing both did the jobs they were designed to do. The car dissipated energy from the impact and the safety components built in likely prevented Wickens from sustaining more serious injuries. The fence did its job by keeping the car contained inside the track.
Much more scrutiny is to come on all aspects of what played out that day, from the crash itself to the track repairs to the medical response. It’s standard procedure for INDYCAR to dissect any on-track incident.
“We were very encouraged by how the car held up; certainly not satisfied,” Frye said of Wickens’ No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda. “The reason we're not satisfied is the driver was injured. We'll never be satisfied till we get to the point where that doesn't happen.”
Frye added that the track fencing “did what it's supposed to do. But could it be better? Absolutely.”
That’s precisely where the process leads from here. Learning from the incident to improve the outcome should it happen again. Frye emphasized that INDYCAR and its partners “will go through this thing with a fine-tooth comb.”
“It's very early in this whole process,” he added. “The race was last Sunday. By the time we do what we can at the track, we bring the stuff back (to Indianapolis), we looked at the car at the shop, we'll start going through it.
“Dallara will be involved. Obviously, huge kudos to them on this whole process, too, the crew. They build really good race cars.”
The current Indy car with the universal aero kit attached to the Dallara IR-12 chassis included numerous safety enhancements for 2018. Among them was better side-impact protection by moving the radiators to the sidepod and improving the crushable structure.
“This new kit has the driver side-impact piece that was we think an important element to the way the car held up,” Frye said. “There were also five or six other things we've done to the car over the last few months (since the universal aero kit introduction) that are safety updates that we've had to the car. They all seemed to do their job.
“Again, we're very encouraged by how it performed, but not satisfied. We'll never be satisfied. Driver safety is our No. 1 priority, No. 1 concern.”
One recent improvement was making the beam supporting the side-impact structure less rigid, following information learned from Takuma Sato’s crash during a Texas Motor Speedway test in April. Another example of the constant evolution of INDYCAR safety, Frye believes Wickens benefited from what was learned in the Sato incident.
Frye also insisted that there will be no knee-jerk reactions following Wickens’ crash. The thorough examination of all equipment and data available will take place before any recommendations are made for change to the car or the racetracks. INDYCAR wants to be certain any modifications made are in the right direction.
“There's a cause and effect to everything you do,” Frye said. “If you put something on the car, there could be a negative effect. The negative effect could outweigh the positive effect. That's why we're doing all the elaborate testing we're doing.
“But anytime you have something like this happen, you look at it. What was good about it, bad about it, how could it be better?”
INDYCAR, the sanctioning body for the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder, is a member of ACCUS (Automobile Competition Committee for the United States), the domestic motorsports authority for the FIA (Federation de l’Automobile). All tracks on the INDYCAR schedule must meet ACCUS safety standards before competition is permitted.
Pocono Raceway was no exception. Frye said track officials and the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team approved the fence repair before racing continued after Wickens’ incident.
“The biggest determining factor (for approving the repairs) are the guys who fixed it,” Frye said. “Pocono was there, obviously it’s their fence. Our guys (AMR INDYCAR Safety Team) were there with the Pocono people. Again, kudos to them, their people are phenomenal.
“It was really when our safety guys who do this for a living every week, which is very important. … They say we’re good to go, we're good to go.”
While the thoughts of the INDYCAR community and the motorsports world remain with Wickens and his recovery, the task at hand is to advance the safety process to benefit all drivers in the future.
“It always evolves,” Frye concluded, “and you learn something every time you have something like this.”