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Champions say racing needs to remain vigilant

Dan Wheldon's fatal accident has awakened opinions on safety in all forms of motorsport.
Two British motorsport greats have come out with opposing views on the state of safety provisions in the wake of Dan Wheldon's tragic accident in Las Vegas on Sunday, as the IndyCar Series continues to face criticism for several elements of the fateful season finale.

While sections of the press who would scarcely have given the event a moment's thought prior to the 15-car pile-up which claimed the life of the 33-year old Briton launch into full-on witch-hunts, Nigel Mansell and Sir Jackie Stewart have offered more measured opinions, although both believe that unnecessary risks may have been taken by race organisers at the weekend.

Mansell, who moved to the US-based Champ Car series after winning the F1 world championship in 1992, praised the current level of safety in grand prix racing, and suggested that the Americans could take tips from the top flight. Stewart, who raced in the Indianapolis 500 early in his career, was less enthusiastic about the level of safety in F1, the passionate safety campaigner claiming that improvements could always be made.

"In Indy racing, there is simply nowhere to go," Mansell, who suffered a big hit with the wall in Phoenix at his second CART event before going on to take the series title, told BBC Radio 5Live, "When an accident happens, you are into the wall in a split second. This is why F1 does an exemplary job. The tarmac runs off so the driver has time to decelerate the car."

The Briton was particularly critical of the number of cars allowed to take the start in Las Vegas, with 34 drivers - one more than allowed at the blue riband Indy 500 - lining up for the finale. Wheldon's was the 34th entry, starting in place of the five 'all-stars' the series had hoped to tempt from other disciplines and chasing a $5m bounty if he could win from the back. The rest of the field was made up of seasoned IndyCar competitors, including those chasing the championship, and a number of younger, less experienced racers, some of whom were still in their first season in the series.

"To have 34 cars travelling at at 220mph on a mile-and-a-half long circuit, there are too many cars on the track," Mansell claimed, "The trouble is there are no small accidents when accidents happen. There were a number of rookie drivers and others driving in their first race of the season. The smallest mistakes turn into catastrophic ones and Dan was on the receiving end of it."

Stewart, meanwhile, pointed to modern thinking among race drivers, many of whom believe that there is little danger in making contact with rivals. IndyCar racing, on the ovals particularly, does not have too many instances of deliberate contact, but on-board footage often shows frightening wheel-banging moments of the sort that preceded the pile-up in Vegas.

"We had very few people colliding with each other in my period of racing and thereafter," Stewart, who frequently recalls the death rate in his era of F1, told BBC Radio Scotland, "Now it has become, somehow or other, acceptable and that is a warning.

"Yesterday's accident is sadly a terrible wake-up call and they have to recognise the risk is very real. I think there needs to be more discipline by the governing body. If drivers do consistently collide with each other, there should be heavier penalties. It should be marked down as something that just can't happen."

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Dan Wheldon in his Indy 500 race-winning car, with the winner`s garland and the Borg-Warner Trophy, on the start-finish line of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway marked with its
Sunday, Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR)
10.07.2011- Nigel Mansell
16.07.2017 - Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR) and Lawrence Stroll (CAN) father of Lance Stroll (CDN)
16.07.2017 - Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR) and Lawrence Stroll (CAN) father of Lance Stroll (CDN)
15.07.2017 - Qualifying, Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR) and Zak Brown (USA) McLaren Executive Director
14.07.2017 - Free Practice 2, Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR)
14.07.2017 - Free Practice 2, Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR)
Turn 8 kerb tweaked after Friday accidents
11.06.2017- Race, Sir Patrick Stewart (GBR) Actor
28.05.2017 - Race, Jacky Ickx (BEL), Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) McLaren MCL32 and Eddy Merckx
28.05.2017 - Race, , Eddy Merckx (BEL) and Jacky Ickx (BEL)
28.05.2017 - Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR)
28.05.2017 - Sir Jackie Stewart (GBR)
Jackie Stewart (GBR) at the Amber Lounge Fashion Show.
Jackie Stewart (GBR) at the Amber Lounge Fashion Show.
Amber Lounge Fashion Show guests (L to R): Jackie Stewart (GBR); HSH Prince Albert of Monaco (MON); Chase Carey (USA) Formula One Group Chairman; Sean Bratches (USA) Formula 1 Managing Director, Commercial Operations and Ross Brawn (GBR) Managing Director, Motor Sports.
Amber Lounge Fashion Show guests (L to R): Jackie Stewart (GBR); HSH Prince Albert of Monaco (MON); Chase Carey (USA) Formula One Group Chairman.

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October 18, 2011 1:52 PM

@stuart Would it not bother you if you seen a friend of yours burning at the side of the road and could smell the burning flesh as you passed several times by him? That did actually happen. Jackie isn't the worst of them in fairness.

Droog - Unregistered

October 18, 2011 2:24 PM

I guess it all depends on if you are watching the sport for the accidents, like NASCAR fans usually do, or if you are watching to see the skill of the competitors. I have no problem with safety in F1 right now, but there is a valid point in Jackie's rant. Complacency can get people killed. That's a bit of truth that's hard to dismiss. At the very least, this incident will make people responsible take another look at the measures currently in place and look for holes. The addition of the armour on the F1 driver's visors is a good case in point as to how F1 is aware of risk and reacts to danger. Another program has been the investigation of cockpit covers, recent video of crash tests with F15 style visors show that F1 is not sitting on it's hands when it comes to safety. If only the US promoters could get that philosophy through their wallets.

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