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Vegas: just what exactly happened?

IndyCar worked for months to make the 2011 season finale a fitting climax and affirmation of a series on the way back. No one could know it would end up being its darkest hour.
All season long, IndyCar had been working toward this moment: the season finale, the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship - a celebration of the sport and a confirmation that IndyCar was finally on its way back after some difficult years with internal divisions, feuding and a collapse in popularity.

Utilising all his PR industry skills, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had done everything he could to put together the perfect show to attract fans back for the weekend, appropriately set in the glitziest showbiz city in the world - Las Vegas. There was a week of media activity that included a parade of IndyCars down the Strip, and the unveiling of a new trophy for the champion; he had been helped by the championship battle itself coming down to a knife-edge climax between Dario Franchitti and Will Power. There was even the final appearance in an IndyCar of Danica Patrick to add to the mix and grab the headlines one last time, before her move to NASCAR Nationwide Series next year.

And then there was the small matter of the $5m prize being offered to the 2011 Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon to split with a fan chosen through a sweepstake, should he be able to race through the field from the back row and manage to win the race. Although this had been a late substitution for the original plan of inviting non-series stars to 'come and have a go', it nonetheless caught the imagination - in no small part due to the popularity and charisma of Wheldon himself, who seemed to have achieved a new level of fame in the US following his dramatic second Indy 500 win in May.

"This is going to be an amazing show," Wheldon himself wrote in a blog for USA Today. "It will be pure entertainment. It's going to be a pack race, and you never know how that's going to turn out."

It was all set up perfectly for a historic event as the cars fired up at the "Drivers, start your engines" command given by professional skateboarding superstar Tony Hawk under a cloudless Nevada sky. No one could know how it would all end in just 15 minutes time.

It was not the best of beginnings - double-file starts have not been easy this season, nor have they been popular with the drivers who have complained at times that it would get someone killed. But even though the grid formation broke down and went three- or even four-wide through the first laps, it was remarkably incident-free.

That was despite all the fears and worries people had voiced about the suitability of the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway for modern open-wheel racing. Chief among the concerns was the way it allowed drivers to run flat-out at speeds of up to 225mph. Experts questioning IndyCar's return to LVMS had pointed out that there was a reason NASCAR had moved to introduce restrictor plates to its cars on superspeedways to stop speeds in excess of 200mph on ovals following the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona in 2001.

"We all had a bad feeling about this place in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat," said Oriol Servia. "And if you give us the opportunity, we are drivers, and we try to go to the front. We race each other hard because that's what we do."

Despite these concerns, the race was underway without a glitch: but then instead of calming down and settling into a rhythm, as would be expected at the beginning of a long 200-lap, 300-mile race, things started to get feverishly overheated and more akin to the final 20 laps of the race than the first.


by Andrew Lewin



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
The scoring pylon shows Dan Wheldon`s car number, #77, as the remaining cars make a five-lap parade around Las Vegas Motor Speedway after the news that Wheldon had passed away from his injuries. [Photo Credit: IndyCar Media]
Chevrolet sweeps the podium with winner Mike Conway (center), driver of the #20 Fuzzy`s Ultra Premium Vodka / Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrating his victory Sunday, July 20, 2014 during the second of two IndyCar Series races through the streets of Exhibition Place, in Toronto, Canada. Tony Kanaan (left), driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet celebrates his second-place finish. Will Power, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet celebrates his third-place finish. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Mike Conway, Tony Kanaan and Will Power celebrate on the podium after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway, Tony Kanaan and Will Power pose for a selfie on the podium after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan and Will Power pose for a selfie on the podium after the second round of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader on Sunday July 20 2014. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Chevy Racing sweeps the podium with race winner Sebastien Bourdais (center), driver of the #11 Hydroxycut KVC Racing Technology Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrating his victory Sunday, July 20, 2014 during the first of two IndyCar Series races in Toronto, Canada. Second-place finisher Helio Castroneves (left), driver of the #3 PPV Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, and third-place finisher Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, join the celebration. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Rain drops on a space nose cone for Ryan Hunter-Reay`s car (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to a fourteenth-place finish Saturday, July 13, 2014 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Power lost the championship points lead to teammate Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, who finished eighth. (Photo by Dan Streck/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 TNT Energy Drink Ganassi Racing Chevrolet V6, races to a third-place finish Saturday, July 12, 2014 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V6, takes over the championship points lead with an eighth-place finish. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races teammate Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 TNT Energy Drink Ganassi Racing Chevrolet V6, Saturday, July 12, 2014 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Dixon won the pole and finished in fourth-place. Kanaan led for most of the race and finished third. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan lead the pack at the start of the Iowa Corn Indy 300 (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan leads the field during the Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay gets a new ride (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay with the winner`s trophy (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Briscoe (left), driver of the #8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, talks with teammate Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 TNT Energy Drink Ganassi Racing Chevrolet V6, during qualifying Friday, July 11, 2014 for Saturday`s race at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Briscoe qualified fourth, Kanaan second and teammate Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6 won the pole. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)

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chasmunch

October 17, 2011 3:42 PM

A very well written piece, thank you to whomever is the author. From all prerace driver comments, one just knew something was going to happen, and nothing about it would be good... I tuned in to the broadcast about 30 minutes in, to see my screen filled w/ cars, parts of cars, car parts, smoke, fire extiguisher discharge staining the track, and one car, covered in canvas. ...and that sinking feeling entered my body and mind... I feel powerless to add much here..it is such a great loss to our racing community, across all forms, 2 and 4 wheeled... IndyCar put all the parts in place for this to happen...a low point in the leadership of this series. A cold heart somewhere has looked at the rateings for the International audience... For those of you in England, you should know that Dan really was embraced here in America...respected, and loved. As a 2 time Indianapolis 500 winner, he truly will never be forgotten...he has passed into our history. The telecast closed w/ an

No more IRL - Unregistered

October 17, 2011 10:29 PM

What happened here was the IRL put what they perceived as entertainment before the safety of the drivers.No way should this many cars travelling at 220+ mph be on a 1.5 mile oval, an oval that was built for Nascar not open wheel cars.To make things worse the IRL had tried to invite drivers from other series to join the race to go for the big $5 mil prize if they could win. God only knows what may have happened if a driver with little to no oval experience had actually entered and started the race. The IRL are the cause of the carnage that happened yesterday and should hang their heads in shame. We all understand that racers are a different breed than us mere mortals , and choose to do this for a living.However they should be provided with the safest environs as possible to do their jobs. The IRL failed in this , but most of all they failed Dan Wheldon. RIP Dan . You will be missed. Godspeed.



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