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Suspension over Baltimore 'near catastrophe'

9 September 2011

IndyCar organisers have announced that they have suspended a member of the Holmatro Safety Team who was working at Baltimore, over an incident that saw a safety truck come within feet of race cars at the start of the inaugural grand prix race on the downtown streets.

The suspended safety team member was driving the truck, which moments before had been assisting in the adjustment of out-of-position tyre walls at turn 5 during the safety car laps. The truck was then meant to move to its race start position between turns 2 and 4 but instead the truck moved around the track into a position at the exit of turn 1 as the green flag came out

That put the truck on a head-on collision course with the leaders as they came through the first corner, at closing speeds of up to 150mph. As Graham Rahal exited the corner on the outside line and used it to sweep around Will Power for the temporary lead, he came within metres of clipping the truck - or worse, a head-on collision.

“It was a near catastrophe,” Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's president of competition and operations, told the Indianapolis Star. “It was an extremely close call”

"Who noticed the Safety Truck coming head on toward us on the exit of turn 1 at the start of the race??? Crazy..." tweeted Ryan Briscoe immediately after the race.

The safety team member has been suspended for two races and will miss Motegi and Kentucky before being able to resume work at the season finale at Las Vegas. IndyCar declined to name the man, but described him as "one of our most experienced, with more than 20 years working with various safety teams [who] unfortunately made an error."

"The safety of our drivers, track workers, safety team members and all exposed personnel is always of the utmost importance during any event," said Barnhart in a statement. "Protocol was not followed at the start of the event and we had to take action by issuing a suspension."

Barnhart said he had also been in touch with all members of staff who operated vehicles on track during the race weekend and had been "reinforcing all of our procedures. We want to make sure we do everything possible to avoid any situation like this in the future."

However, the statement and suspension did not address the question of how the green flag was put out for the start of the race before race control had confirmation that all safety vehicles were off the track and that the track was clear to race on.

According to some reports, track marshals were already struggling with malfunctioning radio equipment before the race - a common problem on street and road course tracks - and had to switch to a back-up system, but in any case had been told to ignore the activities of the Holmatro Safety Team because race control says that it knows where they are at all times.

The fact that the IndyCar statement says that the truck "was to move to its station between turns 2 and 4" implies that race control was aware of its presence on the course, but the throwing of the green flag suggests that race control may have simply assumed that sufficient time had passed to allow it to complete its transit - but never actually received confirmation or checked that this was the case.

Compounding the problem are other reports that two other safety trucks stationed at the entrance of turn 1 were also still backing into position as cars came down the start/finish straight for the first time at speed, suggesting that more than one member of the Holmatro Safety Team was caught out by the track going green when it did.

"That was crazy," tweeted Graham Rahal. "We 1st took the green [and] a truck was moving end of front straight, then the other truck out of T1!"

That puts the spotlight squarely back on the communications protocols between race control and the various track officials, safety crew team, pit techs and spotters which was so recently the focus of the mis-call to try a late restart at the end of the New Hampshire race that ended in an accident, seemingly because race control was apparently not told of worsening track conditions as rain began to fall.


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