29 March 2011
Injuries add edge to double-file restart row
St Petersburg was dominated by controversy over new-style restarts, with top drivers calling them dangerous while others hailed them for adding new excitement and overtaking opportunities.
The decision to move to double-file restarts for all IndyCar races in 2011 rather than just oval events was controversial even before the green flag came out at St Peterburg, and what followed - a multiple-car wreck at the first corner, followed by a series of starts and stops over the next 15 laps and wrist injuries to Ana Beatriz and Justin Wilson who had been caught up in incidents - offered plenty of proof to those who felt the new style restarts were a major mistake.
"We need to make the show good," said Tony Kanaan in calling for the change to be reconsidered. "I don't think it's good for the show to have the first 15 laps under the yellow. It's crazy."
Given the drivers' concerns that the succession of early yellows would spoil the show for fans, the ABC TV network reported that the St Petersburg event delivered the highest overnight ratings since 2007 for a televised IndyCar race other than the Indy 500. The race's "1.4 rating" is still a fraction compared with NASCAR, but a huge improvement on last year's 0.32 rating for a rain-delayed event and a feeble 0.19 rating in 2009.
Although no one was injured during the first eye-catching multiple-car wreck on lap 1, some of the other less spectacular accidents later on in the race sparked by the new restarts did have repercussions.
After the first restart bunched the field up again, Danica Patrick and Graham Rahal both had collisions with Ana Beatriz and as a result Beatriz was subsequently diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone (wrist) because of the violent motion of the steering wheel resulting from the impact. "I could feel that my hand was sore and as the race went on it started to bother me more," Beatriz said afterwards. The injury will require surgery this week and consequently it's doubtful whether she will race at next week's second IndyCar event, at Barber Motor Speedway.
Patrick was involved in another collision after the restart on lap 44 which saw her clash with Beatriz's Dreyer & Reinbold team mate Justin Wilson out of turn 1, and this time it was Wilson who ended up with a small fracture of his wrist bone. "As our wheels bumped my steering wheel wrenched in my hand," Wilson said. "I knew at that point that I had broken something." He will need to be fitted with a carbon-fibre brace, although it should not stop him competing at Barber.
The injuries add a pressing safety dimension to calls to reconsider the new restarts, which are rather more persuasive than general discussion of whether or not the restart accidents spoiled or enhanced the racing and the spectacle.
Tony Kanaan was one of those to benefit most from the new style restart, the outside line into the first corner enabling him to make up positions on his way to a third place finish in his début outing for his new KV Racing Technology team. "If you're lucky then you make it, and if you're not then you're done," he summarised.
Simona de Silvestro was an even greater winner from the new restarts, finishing fourth from 17th on the grid. No wonder she described the new system as "pretty fun," as "it actually gave us a chance to make positions," she said, adding: "Last year, we would start single file every time, it would be hard. You would be just following the leader. I think it made it exciting and I really enjoyed it."
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