19 October 2011
Tracy: Nothing wrong with Las Vegas oval
Paul Tracy has claimed that Las Vegas Motor Speedway was not to blame for Dan Wheldon's death on Sunday, while others say there is no reason to abandon open-wheel racing on ovals
While Dan Wheldon's death in Sunday's IndyCar Series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has led to calls to ban oval racing for open-wheel cars, or abandon the desert oval as unsuitable, a few more reasoned voices have piped up in defence of both.
While LVMS president Chris Powell is naturally going to be biased towards his facility, his claims that the banked track on which Wheldon was fatally involved in a 15-car pile-up met regulations were backed up by none other than Canadian open-wheel veteran Paul Tracy.
The 1.5-mile LVMS oval was hosting its first IndyCar event in eleven years when 34 cars took to the track for Sunday's finale. The event had been targeted as a major send-off for the current Dallara and the single engine era, and had been preceded by all manner of events as IndyCar celebrated its return to Sin City.
Questions were raised about 34 cars being allowed to take the start, especially with a diverse range of experience throughout the field, but Powell insists that there had been no concerns expressed by series organisers, despite the field being bigger than that traditionally allowed at Indianapolis, which is a full mile longer.
"We heard no qualms whatsoever from anyone at IndyCar," the president confirmed, "We, as a speedway, make sure we provide a venue that they come in and make an assessment when they're ready to race, and they did that exact thing. Our speedway conforms to every regulation that any sanctioning body has ever held it to, and we're very proud of that."
Tracy, meanwhile, refused to blame LVMS for Wheldon's death, although he did express reservations about the catch fencing employed at the majority of oval circuits used by the IndyCar Series. In recent years, Kenny Brack, Ryan Briscoe and Mike Conway have all had cars ripped to pieces by contact with the fencing that tops the concrete walls and SAFER barriers at ovals, but all lived to tell the tale, underlining the fact that Wheldon was unfortunate in the way in which he hit the protection.
“[LVMS] is a world class facility, and it is no different to any other racing track around the world,” the Canadian pointed out, “But what has really stayed the same is the catch fencing along the walls. That has stayed the same over the past 100 years.”
Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, a good friend of Wheldon's despite their different disciplines, suggested that it was now time for open-wheel racing to abandon the ovals and concentrate on road and street courses - a call that met with mixed opposition around the motorsport world. Tracy, for one, sees no reason for the sport to abandon its roots, but pointed out that the cars need to be made more suitable for that sort of venue.
“They spec the cars to where they want the cars to run a bit more in the pack like NASCAR, and these cars are not designed to run and bang wheels with each other at 220mph,” he told the Toronto Sun newspaper, “Our wheels are exposed, NASCAR's are closed body cars like street cars [and], once you have two [IndyCars] touch each other, you don't have any control of what can happen.”
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