2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championship
|18th round of the 2011 IndyCar Series season|
The layout of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the race was held
|Date||October 16, 2011|
|Official name||IZOD IndyCar World Championship|
|Location||Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Clark County, Nevada|
1.544 mi / 2.485 km
|Distance||200 laps, 308.800 mi / 496.965 km|
|Weather||Temperatures reaching up to 93.9 °F (34.4 °C); wind speeds up to 17.1 miles per hour (27.5 km/h)|
|Driver||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology|
|Time||50.0582, 222.078 mph (357.400 km/h)|
|First||None, race was abandoned after twelve completed laps and 5 tribute laps.|
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championship was the final race of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar series schedule. The event took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Clark County, Nevada, United States on October 16, 2011. The race was stopped following a major accident triggered by drivers trying to avoid light contact between Wade Cunningham and James Hinchcliffe. Fifteen cars were involved in the wreck, which resulted in the death of 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2005 series champion Dan Wheldon. After a several hour delay, IndyCar elected to cancel the remaining 188 laps of the event after word of Wheldon's death was relayed to the drivers.
The Las Vegas race was added to the schedule for the 2011 season and replaced the event at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the final event of the IndyCar season. The races at Homestead and at the International Speedway Corporation tracks were removed from the schedule following the 2010 season. Las Vegas Motor Speedway was returning to the IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2000 – and the first open-wheel race at the circuit since the Hurricane Relief 400 Champ Car event in 2005 – and none of the drivers in the race had raced at the circuit since it was reconfigured in 2006, which saw a greater degree of banking added to the circuit to encourage side-by-side racing. The race was scheduled for 200 laps around the 1.544 mi (2.485 km) oval, totaling 308.800 mi (496.965 km).
On May 3, 2011, IndyCar president Randy Bernard issued a challenge to the world's top drivers by declaring that a $5,000,000 (USD) prize would be awarded to any driver who was not a regular driver on the IndyCar circuit to enter the race at Las Vegas and start from the back of the grid. He wanted to attract NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers to come to the track, but none took up the challenge. NASCAR's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, was scheduled for the night before and may have caused a conflict for drivers that would otherwise have considered racing in both races, though Bernard dismissed the suggestion. With no outside drivers taking the challenge, Indycar decided on a revised idea for the finale. Dan Wheldon, who had been driving a part-time schedule after losing his ride at Panther Racing and who had won the Indianapolis 500, would be given a chance to win the prize, to be split with a randomly chosen fan.
Entering the race there was a two-way battle for the IndyCar Championship between Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti and Team Penske's Will Power. Franchitti was eighteen points ahead of Power, retaking the championship points lead from him with a second-place finish at Kentucky Speedway two weeks previously. Power was still mathematically in the points race despite a poor finish at Kentucky.
The race's honorary grand marshal was skateboarder Tony Hawk, who gave the command to start engines.
ABC was awarded broadcast television rights for the season finale after several years of the final race airing on Versus. Marty Reid called the lap-by-lap action for ABC with Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever as the color commentators. Vince Welch, Jamie Little and Rick DeBruhl were the pit reporters and the network chose Wheldon to be its "in-race reporter", which is the driver the network communicates with at various points of its coverage of IndyCar and NASCAR races.
Radio coverage was provided by the IMS Radio Network as part of their IndyCar series coverage. Mike King called the lap-by-lap action, with Mark Jaynes reporting from the backstretch and Jake Query, Michael Young, and Nick Yeoman on pit road. Since Davey Hamilton, normally IMS' color commentator, was participating in the race, Firestone Indy Lights driver Josef Newgarden took his place in the booth.
Tony Kanaan, driving the #82 GEICO Dallara for KV Racing Technology, qualified on pole for the race and shared the front row with Oriol Servià, driving the #2 Telemundo Dallara for Newman/Haas Racing. Power and Franchitti qualified on Row 9, in seventeenth and eighteenth respectively. Wheldon qualified twenty-ninth, driving the #77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Both Wheldon and Buddy Rice, who had qualified on the inside of Row 10, had to start from the rear of the field; Rice due to a penalty in qualifying and Wheldon as part of the $5 million challenge.
- ^ – Buddy Rice was moved to the back of the grid after receiving a penalty for running below the white line.
- ^ – Dan Wheldon agreed to start the race from thirty-fourth and last place on the grid as part of the organizers' five million dollar challenge.
Scoring when abandoned
Lap 11 crash
The accident began on the front stretch, approaching the first turn when James Hinchcliffe was clipped by Wade Cunningham. Cunningham and J. R. Hildebrand then made contact when Cunningham swerved and Hildebrand drove over the rear of his car. Hildebrand's car became airborne and Cunningham collected Jay Howard on the inside and then Townsend Bell on the outside before crashing into the wall. Attempting to avoid the crash ahead, Vitor Meira lost control, spinning inward collecting both Charlie Kimball and E. J. Viso. At the same time Meira lost control, Tomas Scheckter was also attempting to avoid the first crash by rapidly slowing down on the outside. This led to Paul Tracy crashing into the back of Scheckter and a rapidly approaching Pippa Mann to launch over the top of Tracy after jerking to the outside to avoid crashing into Alex Lloyd. Just before the pile-up the broadcasting captured the last time anybody saw Dan Wheldon alive before the fatal crash (he was steering his car onboard frantically trying to avoid the accident)
In the pile-up that followed, two cars were launched into the air as they came upon the accident scene. One belonged to Will Power, who struck the SAFER barrier after running over Lloyd's car and hit the track sideways, causing his car to roll and the front wheels to come off, with the right front tire barely missing his head. The other was Wheldon, who was traveling at 220 miles per hour when he came upon the scene frantically trying to avoid the crash. Although he was able to slow his car down to 165 miles per hour, Wheldon was launched into the air after running over the back of Kimball's car. The #77 was sent barrel-rolling and flying into the catch fencing on the outside of the second turn and Wheldon's head struck one of the fence posts. Instantly after Wheldon was injured his car fell back onto the track sliced apart and slid to a stop next to the safety barrier. A total of fifteen cars were involved in the accident, with the most severe injuries suffered by Wheldon, Power, Hildebrand, and Mann. Wheldon had to be extricated from the vehicle and was airlifted to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 1:54 PM Pacific Daylight Time. His official cause of death was given by the Clark County Coroner as blunt force trauma to the head due to the incident. Mann and Hildebrand were later taken to the hospital for overnight observation, while Power was evaluated and released that day. Tracy, Viso, and Scheckter suffered minor injuries, but were treated at the track. Power later returned to the hospital after complaining of back pain and was diagnosed with a compression fracture in his back.
The caution flag was already thrown, and track officials elected to throw the red flag after one additional lap had been completed. Championship leader Dario Franchitti was heard talking to his pit crew on the radio that the track was completely undriveable and that he had run over several large pieces of debris once he came onto the accident scene. Franchitti's tires were sliced by the metal but his position was official during the caution because it had already been thrown. In addition to the damage to the catch fencing caused by Power's and Wheldon's cars, the other cars involved had torn huge gashes in the asphalt and these holes would need to be patched to the point where the track could be continued safely again — a time consuming process in itself.
While track repair work continued, the fans and officials discovered that Wheldon was the car that flew into the fence (they had no time or ability to see Wheldon's number during the crash). Concern began to grow over the condition of Wheldon as word had not been relayed to anyone at the track nor did the fans see Wheldon walk out of his car. To further complicate matters, the damage to the track was much more extensive than first thought and teams became concerned that, even if Wheldon had survived the accident and was not in any grave condition (impossible, since he had already been declared dead at the hospital), the race might not be restarted due to the extensive track work still required. After two hours had passed Michael Andretti, owner of Andretti Autosport, and several other team owners went into the IndyCar series hauler to find out more information but left with nothing as Andretti reported to ABC after he exited.
Several minutes after Andretti left the hauler, IndyCar Series director Brian Barnhart called all the drivers remaining in the race to an immediate meeting in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway media center. The press was not allowed into the meeting, but it was later assumed that Wheldon's condition was revealed to them and a decision was made whether or not to continue. After the meeting adjourned, Bernard hastily called a press conference to relay the information to the media. He finally announced to the world that Wheldon was declared dead on arrival:
|“||IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, (have) decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute in his honor. It will take place in approximately ten minutes. Thank you.||”|
Bernard then left the room without taking any questions from the gathered press corps. Word had been relayed to ABC about what was to take place, but the cameras did not cut into the press briefing until just after Bernard announced Wheldon's death. This left Marty Reid with the responsibility of breaking the news to the television audience, and after Bernard left he told the viewing audience of what happened:
|“||Alright, we came in late on that, and...(sadly sighs) folks, uh, this is the hardest part of our job...and the last time I had to do this was 2006 with Paul Dana [in race morning warmup], but we have lost Dan Wheldon today here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Tragic accident on Lap 13 [sic], and Dan Wheldon killed here today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There will be a five-lap salute, stay with us...please.||”|
Shortly before the announcement of Wheldon's death, the scoring tower was blanked except for the #77, which was put at the top of the pylon in honor of Wheldon which gave the fans the hint that Wheldon was dead. After the announcement the Bryan Herta Autosport entry that Wheldon had taken to victory lane at Indianapolis in May, driven that day by Alex Tagliani, was parked in Wheldon's honor and the remaining nineteen cars that were running when the race was called lined up six rows deep, three abreast in Indianapolis 500 starting formation, on pit road with all the racers' crew members lined up in the pit boxes. Led by Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, and Ryan Briscoe, the cars departed pit road and ran at pace lap speed for five laps while the crew members moved to the grass separating pit road from the track to watch. The track loudspeakers blared versions of "Danny Boy" and "Amazing Grace" played on bagpipes while the cars went around the track. While the tribute was going on, ABC's announcers stood silent. The network stayed on the air for the entire five laps, despite being over its 6 PM broadcast window. ABC's coverage concluded at 6:20 PM (EDT), twenty minutes past the window (although some affiliates took it upon themselves to cut straight to local newscasts at 6:00) The ABC broadcast shut down for other shows with these parting words from Marty Reid:
|“||Many people ask me why I always sign off "'til we meet again." [sic] Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye, Dan Wheldon.||”|
As Reid noted in his report, Wheldon's death was the first suffered by an IndyCar driver since Paul Dana was killed in a race morning practice crash at Homestead-Miami in 2006. His death was also the first major racing series fatality at any American motorsports facility since Scott Kalitta was killed at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in New Jersey in 2008, and was the first in-race IndyCar fatality since the death of Greg Moore in the 1999 CART season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
ABC ended their broadcast of the race with a slide depicting Wheldon in black and white, and the text "Dan Wheldon, 1978 - 2011" before fading out.
Drivers involved in accident
|77||Dan Wheldon||Sam Schmidt Motorsports||Airlifted to hospital, pronounced dead due to fatal blunt force trauma injuries to head.|
|4||J. R. Hildebrand||Panther Racing||Bruised sternum, held for overnight observation in hospital and released next day.|
|30||Pippa Mann||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Severely burned right hand, held for overnight observation in hospital and released next day.
Underwent skin graft surgery on October 26, 2011 to repair damage.
|12||Will Power||Team Penske||Treated at hospital and released, only to return later that day complaining of unresolved back pain. During Indy Racing League LLC meetings with teams the week after the Las Vegas tragedy, Power visited Terry Trammell, who diagnosed him with a compression fracture of the fourth thoracic vertebrae.
Was ruled out of the V8 Supercar race he was to have participated in, the following weekend.
|57||Tomas Scheckter||Sarah Fisher Racing||Treated at circuit per IndyCar regulations.|
|8||Paul Tracy||Dragon Racing|
|59||E. J. Viso||KV Racing Technology|
|22||Townsend Bell||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing|
|17||Wade Cunningham||Sam Schmidt Motorsports|
|15||Jay Howard||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|18||James Jakes||Dale Coyne Racing|
|83||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|19||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne Racing|
|14||Vitor Meira||A. J. Foyt Enterprises|
|44||Buddy Rice||Panther Racing|
Franchitti claimed the championship after the accident as no points were awarded and he was the points leader before the race. This was Franchitti's third consecutive championship and fourth overall. As Power suffered severe car damage in the lap 11 crash, Franchitti would have won the championship regardless if the race had continued.
At the time of his death, Wheldon had been working with IndyCar officials to develop the ICONIC chassis, with the intention of improving safety in the sport. Planned changes to the chassis include larger cockpits for driver protection and bodywork over the rear wheels to prevent cars from launching off one another in the event of a collision, long a problem in open-wheel racing, regardless of oval or road course, but troublesome on high-speed ovals and tight street circuits with a long straight and a tight turn, similar to the style of many modern road courses.
Prominent figures within the IndyCar fraternity and the wider international motorsport community expressed their condolences to Wheldon and his family. Wheldon had been scheduled to take part in the Gold Coast 600, a round of the V8 Supercars championship, on October 22, racing alongside his friend James Courtney. Upon hearing of Wheldon's death, Courtney described the accident as a sobering reminder of the dangers faced by racing drivers. As the first major international motorsport event after Wheldon's death, organizers of the V8 Supercars series planned a series of tributes to him at the Gold Coast 600. Wheldon's place was taken by another British driver, Darren Turner, an FIA GT1 World Championship competitor. Wheldon's name was left on the car as a mark of respect, while British drivers at the event paid tribute to him with helmet decals, and several other drivers planned individual tributes to Wheldon. Tony Kanaan, who had also been scheduled to race in Australia, announced his withdrawal from the event out of respect for Wheldon. However, Ryan Briscoe, Alex Tagliani, and Hélio Castroneves, all of whom raced at Las Vegas, along with other part-time IndyCar drivers Sébastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud, who were not at Las Vegas, did race. Bourdais, the best performing "International" driver received the Dan Wheldon Memorial Trophy. Sam Schmidt, for whom Wheldon had been racing at the time of his accident, admitted that the events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway had prompted him to re-evaluate his involvement in motorsports. Similarly, veteran drivers Davey Hamilton and Paul Tracy said they were considering retiring from racing on the back of the accident. Ultimately Schmidt continued in his role as team owner, joining forces with Hamilton who cut back driving, driving only Supermodifieds on a limited basis. Pageneaud drove the #77 for 2012 and won the Rookie of the Year award, while Alex Tagliani, who had driven the #77 for all except the official final race of 2011 (Kentucky), and jumped to the #98 for Las Vegas, stayed with Bryan Herta Autosport, which became full time for 2012.
On December 9, 2011, IndyCar decided that they were not going to return to Las Vegas for the 2012 season. Randy Bernard expressed reluctance to return to the speedway following Wheldon's death, despite the insistence of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. president Bruton Smith (who owns the track in Las Vegas as well as three other tracks used by the IndyCar series) for the series to honor its three year contract with the track. As of that date, the investigation into the accident was still ongoing and IndyCar was holding back on the release of its 2012 schedule until that investigation, as well as one into whether or not the series can continue racing on high-banked ovals such as Las Vegas and Texas Motor Speedway in Denton, Texas, one of the IndyCar series' staples since 1997 (although Texas did not have its 2012 IndyCar sanctioning before the Las Vegas race in 2011, the investigation has delayed that). Texas was eventually placed on the 2012 schedule.
The investigation and further announcements also affected NASCAR. The Smith's 350 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was integrated into the IZOD IndyCar World Championship as the Saturday feature and shared practice and qualifying days. NASCAR does not allow two national series races to be held at the same time, and in order to comply, the Truck feature as part of the IndyCar weekend at Las Vegas was held on Saturday at 12:00 noon PDT in order to ensure the race would end by 4:00 pm (when the Sprint Cup Bank of America 500 broadcast started). As a result of the IndyCar cancellation, announced after NASCAR had established the 2012 schedule, on January 20, 2012, Las Vegas Motor Speedway moved the race meet up two weeks to September 29, 2012, instead of October 12–14, 2012, with the Truck Series as the sole feature event (as was the case from 2006–2010). The IndyCar World Championships, the final race of the season, were held in 2012 at Auto Club Speedway, another large oval, this time without any injuries or multi-car accidents. There were only two driver injuries sustained during the 2012 season that resulted in a driver missing a race. They were a broken finger suffered by Josef Newgarden at Sonoma Raceway and a fractured right hand suffered by Charlie Kimball at Mid-Ohio, both road courses.
INDYCAR went to new restrictions on the DW12 on the higher-speed ovals. Certain aerodynamic devices used in the cars were banned for the faster ovals, and for Indianapolis and Fontana, traditional endplates for wings were banned, replaced by taller rear wheelguards. Wickerbills were also prohibited on the faster ovals, and restarts would only be single-file. For Texas and Fontana, Firestone also ensured the tires would lose considerable grip as cars kept running laps, resulting in drivers having to drive looser, slower cars that they had to lift and sometimes brake, forcing drivers to change lines.
In the build-up to the race, several drivers expressed unease at the race – with Dario Franchitti, Oriol Servià and Alex Lloyd the most vocal opponents – particularly given the high degree of banking around the circuit; with between 18 and 20 degrees of banking in the corners Las Vegas Motor Speedway has the second-highest corner banking of any circuit on the IndyCar schedule, with only Texas at 24 degrees having steeper banking. Franchitti was quoted as saying that the track was "not suitable" for IndyCar racing, while championship rival Will Power – himself a staunch critic of short-track oval racing – described the race as "an accident waiting to happen".
The field of 34 drivers was the biggest in an IndyCar series race in 14 years. A typical oval track race has 6 to 8 fewer drivers, except for the Indianapolis 500, which normally has a 33-car field. ESPN.com senior motorsports writer Terry Blount wrote: "Obviously more cars presents more danger. They wanted a whole lot of cars cause obviously this is their season finale and they wanted it to be a big deal. Some of the people that were driving in this event yesterday had no business being in it. Some of them had never driven on a track like this. That was a mistake". Chris Powell, president of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, defended the race, saying that the circuit had passed all of the IndyCar Series' accreditation procedures and was deemed suitable for racing. He also went on the record to say that despite the media reporting the concerns of several drivers over the safety of the event, none of those concerns had been raised with him.
1979 Formula One World Champion Jody Scheckter, whose son Tomas was injured in the accident, was highly critical of the series organizers, stating that a serious accident was "inevitable" as "they were basically touching wheels at 220 mph (350 km/h). They all bunch up together so there are thirty-four cars in a small space of track. One person makes a mistake and this happens. You [shouldn't] have to get killed if you make a mistake. It was madness." Former Formula One and IndyCar driver Mark Blundell agreed, claiming that the Las Vegas circuit was unsuitable for IndyCar racing – this was the last race for the Dallara IR05 – while NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson called for the series to leave oval racing altogether, though he clarified his statement by saying that the open-wheel type cars on a resurfaced 1.5 mi (2.4 km) track built for the heavier Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series cars was a bad idea. However, former champion Mario Andretti said that the accident was a "freakish" one-off incident and that facilities at the circuit were adequate for racing. While he admitted surprise that more drivers were not seriously injured, he also cautioned against what he called "knee-jerk reactions" to the accident, calling for any changes to the sport to be carefully considered before being introduced, rather than being rushed into action. Former FIA President Max Mosley, a long-time advocate of increased safety in motorsport, agreed with Andretti, urging a "calm and scientific" approach to any proposed changes, particularly when asked about the proposed introduction of closed canopies for open-wheel racing cars.
The five million dollar prize was also the subject of criticism in that a driver inexperienced in driving IndyCars would have a higher risk of causing a crash, though Formula One driver Anthony Davidson downplayed the influence of the prize in causing the accident, stating that racing drivers by their nature try to win every race, whether they start from first or last. Many short track races in the United States offer a cash or points bonus where a driver who wins the pole and starts last can collect a cash bonus for winning; this was used at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in the "Night Before F1" midget car race where the winner of the first feature race started last for the second in a reverse-grid race, and a driver who starts last by winning the first feature, starting last, and winning the second feature wins a cash bonus. Some series offer a point bonus for the driver who makes up the most positions in a race.
In the days following the incident, it was learned that two additional drivers had been approached to try for the $5 million challenge prize. One was NASCAR driver Scott Speed, who previously ran open-wheel Formula One cars for Scuderia Toro Rosso and who had raced on the reconfigured LVMS track in the Craftsman Truck Series for Morgan-Dollar Motorsports in 2008 and for Team Red Bull in the Sprint Cup Series in 2009 and 2010. Speed, in an interview he gave to Inside Edition on October 18, 2011, said that he declined to take the offer saying that the track conditions were too dangerous for Indy-type cars. Finnish media reported that 2007 Formula One World Champion Kimi Räikkönen, who was splitting time between the World Rally Championship and NASCAR in 2011, had also been approached to take part in the race, but Räikkönen rejected the offer as he was not confident of having a competitive car, rather than having concerns over safety.
Three days after the accident, series organizers announced that the race would be the subject of a full investigation. The other members of the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS), the national governing body of automobile racing in the United States and a member of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), made their resources available for the investigation, which IndyCar officials expect to take several weeks. As all ACCUS/FIA members are participating in the investigation, IndyCar will have full use of the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina. In the meantime, all testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was cancelled indefinitely; Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi Racing had been planning to test the 2012-spec Dallara chassis at the circuit in the week following the race.
The results of the investigation into Wheldon's death were released on December 15, 2011. In a report prepared by crash investigators, it was found that Wheldon's death was caused by an impact with the catch fencing around the circuit. Brian Barnhart further rejected claims that the banking of the circuit contributed to the accident, stating that the banking of the circuit created two ideal racing lines, and that these lines made the location of cars more predictable for other drivers; at the time of the accident, all thirty-four cars had been behaving as expected. The report also revealed that the right front pull rod of the suspension assembly penetrated Wheldon's survival cell, though it did not cause him any injury. The report recommended further investigation of this phenomenon, as it was the first recorded incident of its kind in nine years of the use of the IR03 and later IR05 model chassis, which was being retired at the end of the race. The pull-rod suspension chassis is not being utilised in the DW12.
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- "2011 Las Vegas Accident Investigation" (PDF). CNN Sports Illustrated. Brickyard.com; IMS LLC. December 15, 2011. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
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