For once, we can discuss the aftermath of a violent racing accident without having to attach an obituary to the discussion. All things considered, that should be the headline following Dario Franchitti’s horrific airborn-into-fence crash in Houston. Dario’s recovery will be long and, surely, painful in spots, but the DW12 ultimately kept him alive. This should not be overlooked in the days to come.
That said, at least two troubling issues need to be discussed. First, the car did get airborne, high enough to get into the fence. To an extent, this specific incident really was a perfect storm. Takuma Sato wiggled just in front of a charging Franchitti, got into the “marbles” (the rolled up bits of rubber out of the groove) and left no room for the Scotsman to maneuver. This all occurred at the fastest portion of the 1.7 mi. street circuit.
Furthermore, unlike the previous Dallara chassis, it’s at least possible to argue that the degree of this “launch” was simply inherent in an open-wheel car. It’s similar to this incident with Conor Daly in Monaco. With no room between another race car and a fence, this MIGHT be inevitable.
Still, it’s clear that the DW12’s rear bumpers, meant to prevent/reduce launches are a costly waste. If anything, Franchitti’s car was launched by the bumpers. It’s time to remove them.
Does the car “fly” like the previous chassis did? No, but there have been some lifts, such as Mike Conway in 2012, that are concerning. Derrick Walker has stated that the “flat-bottom” nature of the undertray will be addressed. Fixing that aero issue can’t hurt.
Still, in “perfect storms,” Indycars will, on rare occasions, get airborne. From there, the question becomes one of limiting the damage. The chassis held up pretty well in this case, so it’s hard (outside of an NHRA-style closed cockpit) to argue for change here. One area that remains a problem is the catch fencing itself. NASCAR saw this problem in Daytona, and it might well have killed Dan Wheldon.
Sadly, most fencing features cables/posts on the outside. Obviously, if a race car hits a post, the carnage is awful. In an open-wheel car, it might be fatal. Surely, the technology is there to fix this, but is there the will?
Thankfully, we can consider this in a proactive way. God willing, we won’t be asking the question again after tragedy.