On October 16 British racing driver Dan Wheldon died after crashing in the season-ending IndyCar race at Las Vegas Speedway. The incident occurred when two other cars touched tyres, causing a 15-car accident. Wheldon’s car was in the middle of a pack and the contact of one car into his caused Wheldon’s vehicle to fly over another and into the crash barrier. He was airlifted to hospital but subsequently died of his injuries.

How Safe is IndyCar Racing?

Just one day before the fatal race, Australian racer Will Power – who was involved in the accident – mentioned to his father that someone was going to die on “the extreme-speed oval track.”  

A number of drivers from the motor racing world have since hit out at the highly unsafe nature of the race, in which 34 cars raced around a 2.4km oval track at speeds of up to 350km/h. The most famous IndyCar race, the Indianapolis 500, has a much bigger track than the one used in this Las Vegas event, yet the number of cars in each race was the same.

Power said, “Racing on this sort of track is too fast and too close…It takes one little mistake from someone and the result is never good.”

Defending stock car champion Jimmie Johnson said that on oval tracks “when something happens you just can’t keep those cars on the ground.” Oval tracks also lack a run-off area – a large open space located to the side of the main track to minimise impact to out-of-control vehicles.

IndyCars, being open-wheeled cars, are light-weight, aerodynamic and have powerful engines; they are considered to be among the fastest racing vehicles out there.

Tony Johns, a motorsports industry writer summed it up best:

No serious debate has ever arisen over the way current-spec IndyCars race in clusters, unable to separate themselves because of aerodynamic similarities and practically begging every lap for the type of horrifying accident that finally happened in Las Vegas... The catastrophic results of wheel-to-wheel contact at those speeds…make close-quarters pack racing a tragedy waiting to happen.

A fatal accident brought on by IndyCar pack racing was inevitable... and it will happen again if immediate steps are not taken to address the situation. There is no uncertainty about it. Someone else will die or be brutally injured because of this kind of racing... it is only a matter of time. (Original article here)

Implications of the Crash

In the days following the incident, a number of drivers due to race in the Gold Coast 600 V8 Supercars races the following weekend withdrew from the event. Bob Power – father of driver Will – said that Will’s decision to pull out of the race “might have been from the trauma from Dan Wheldon being killed” although Power suffered minor back and neck injuries in the incident.

Brazilian driver and teammate of Wheldone, Tony Kanaan, also pulled out of the race after being shaken by the incident.

The Gold Coast 600 event involves only V8 Supercars (the last Gold Coast Indy 300 race was held in 2008). Given that V8 Supercars are based on production road cars, they are considered safer than IndyCars. As a result, the Las Vegas incident did not create a need for major safety changes for the Gold Coast event.