Does IndyCar Need to Re-Examine the Idea of Closed-Cockpit Racing?

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By Greg Hudson

At the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, Chris Bristow crashed at the Burneville corner. Thrown from his Cooper chassis, he was decapitated by a barbed wire fence. Moments later, at the very same corner, Alan Stacey was killed after being struck in the face by a bird while travelling at over 120 mph and crashing heavily. The crashes were standard for the day: tragic, avoidable, unnecessary, a product of negligence and scant regard for safety.

Over 50 years later, in 2011, Dan Wheldon’s IndyCar was launched into the air at over 220 mph at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. catapulting into crash fencing. Wheldon’s head struck an upright, inflicting fatal injuries. In 2014, Formula One rising star Jules Bianchi skidded off the track at Suzuka in Japan, his car submarining under the rear of a track crane being used to remove a disabled vehicle. Binachi suffered massive head injuries and died last month after almost a year in a coma in hospital.

Then on Sunday at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, popular British driver Justin Wilson was struck in the face by a piece of flying debris from another car. After almost 24 hours in a coma, he died Monday at the age of 37.

The 60-plus year history of modern Formula One and IndyCar racing has been laced with tragic incidents such as these. In the 1960s and 70s, with vehicle and track safety being tenuous at best, a high proportion of fatalities came as a result of vehicle failure, fire or driver ejection. Many of those accidents were of “fluke” nature, as Helmut Koinigg was decapitated as his car slid underneath the fence at Watkin’s Glen in 1974, and Tom Pryce died instantly after colliding with a teenage track marshal at over 180 mph at Kyalami in 1977 and was struck in the head by the fire extinguisher the marshal was carrying. It was a sign that driver and spectator safety needed to become a priority, fast.

And since the 1970s, cars and tracks, to their credit, have completely revolutionized safety in the automotive industry (from the SAFER barriers in NASCAR to the energy-displacement systems in modern street cars designed to limit the impact felt by passengers), but the nature of open-wheel, open-cockpit racing remains perilous.

It’s a risk that can often be overlooked when a spectator watches a race, as cars blur past at insanely high speed, often in very close proximity to each other. Accidents do happen, of course, but it’s all a part of the show, and the safety revolution has meant that drivers almost always escape unscathed – almost.

But the fact remains that the open cockpit is a dangerous place. The driver’s head is exposed to all manner of hazards, from the bird which struck Stacey in 1960 to a spring which struck the face of F1 driver Felipe Massa in Hungary in 2009 – Massa escaped with his life and a scar over his left eyebrow, but spent almost a month in hospital after the accident and missed the remainder of the season – and flying projectiles are now decidedly the biggest danger to drivers today.

This latest incident, the second fatal accident in a major motor racing series in a year, will surely spark a new round in a not-so-new debate: should open-wheel racing series like IndyCar switch to a closed cockpit?

The answer, if you base your answer on whether or not IndyCar’s first priority should be driver safety, is yes. It’s safer, for certain. Head or neck injuries have been the almost universal cause of death in motor racing fatalities in the past 25 years. Since 1991, 21 drivers have lost their lives in Formula 1 (three), NASCAR (nine but none since 2001) and IndyCar (nine), with 19 of those deaths due to head, neck or brain injuries.

The evidence is overwhelming. And safety-first observers will be eager to point it out.

But for traditionalists, closing the cockpit in IndyCar would be like changing professional football to a two-hand-touch league to reduce concussions. Open-wheel racing is dangerous precisely because it’s supposed to be. In many ways open-wheel racing is humanity’s closest way to reach back to the past. As sports have evolved over time – the lowered mound and video review in baseball, the tuck rule in the NFL, the three-point line and shot clock in basketball – open-wheel racing has remained remarkably the same. Sure, technology has made the cars look more like fighter jets than a sedan, but the principle of man and machine has never wavered.

But even assuming that IndyCar does consider the idea of closing the cockpit, there are more important design elements to consider as well, primarily the fundamental design flaw which caused the accident that claimed Wilson’s life: lack of downforce.

IndyCar, more than any other sport, has always been about pure speed. Whereas F1 races the world’s most challenging road courses, IndyCar races predominantly on ovals and super-speedways to showcase the speed of the cars – and the skill of the drivers – for the fans. But that excitement comes with great danger, and drivers live under the sword of Damocles as they attempt to find a balance between going fast enough and going too fast. And recently, higher and higher speeds led to more and more accordion-style chain-reaction crashes which risked serious injury to drivers who often had little to do with the accident itself but had no hope of avoiding the crash once it began, and who often would be launched airborne after colliding with other cars.

Wheldon took most of the 2011 season off from IndyCar, helping design a safer car with redesigned aerodynamics, rear wheel guards and a lower nose, making takeoff must less likely while reducing the risk of wheel-on-wheel crashes. In an almost ironic twist of fate, with the newly designed IndyCar chassis set to be unveiled for the 2012 season, Wheldon returned for the final race in 2011 in the existing chassis at Las Vegas, and was launched to his death in a chain-reaction crash on lap 11.

Since then, however, aerial crashes have been less frequent, as the new aero package and added downforce led to fewer takeoffs and a considerable drop in driver injury. But increased downforce also slowed the cars considerably, and IndyCar saw fit to alter the rear wing for 2015.

This produced a more thrilling experience for fans – and a much more dangerous one for drivers – as the 2015 car is both faster and more unstable. Dozens of accidents this season have featured drivers simply going about their business and losing control when lower downforce on the rear of the car causes the back end to jump around and cause a wreck.

Such an incident occurred Sunday at Pocono, as leader Sage Karam lost control and crashed into the wall quite innocuously late in the race. And while all other vehicles avoided Karam’s stricken car as it slid down the track, bouncing debris, including the nose cone which was torn from the car upon contact with the wall, bounced dangerously in the path of the oncoming vehicles. The nose cone took an unfortunate bounce and caromed into the air, striking Wilson in the face and inflicting fatal injuries.

Safety in sports is always paramount. But in a sport whose nature is dangerous, implementing safety often means finding a balance between the way things are and the way things ought to be. For IndyCar, it almost certainly means either closing the cockpit or finding a way to reduce speeds or increase downforce and reduce the number of potentially fatal accidents. But whichever route IndyCar chooses, the road will be long, rough, and painful.

In The Corner

By Stefan Anderson

In 2012, Kariym “Kap” Patterson envisioned the APJ Boxing Club, searching to bring something unique to the City of Poughkeepsie. Years later, Patterson’s dream has come into fruition as APJ Boxing Club continues its initiative to take youth and adults off the streets of Poughkeepsie and into the boxing gym on Catherine Street. I had the opportunity to speak with Patterson and the fighters of APJ as they prepare for their 2nd annual boxing showcase, Upstate vs New York City .

Pick One !

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In today’s edition of Pick One ! We’ll discuss some baseball, specifically pitchers. Jacob DeGrom and Clayton Kershaw, have been two of the more dominant pitchers this season. Which would you prefer as your Ace ? DeGrom ? Kershaw ? Cast your vote and comment why you pick your selected pitcher.

Passing The Torch

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By Stefan Anderson

Since the 2004 collapse in the Athens, the USA basketball committee has been persistent with comprising the best talent to represent the stars and stripes.  The 2016 Olympics in the Brazil is shortly coming up and the United States is faced with the same dilemma.

With seasoned vets like Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James and Chris Paul, once again at the head of the talent pool of over 30 players, that all want to star in the Olympics.  The question arises, should the same players be selected due to seniority and talent instead of giving the emerging talent of the NBA an opportunity to play?

I don’t believe so.

Although these players are far from their prime, the likes of Bryant, Paul, Anthony and James should not be selected for the 2016 Men’s National team. I believe that those players should give their opportunity to younger players that could benefit from the experience.

After playing in 3 consecutive Olympics James and Anthony should be excluded definitely and Paul and Bryant have played in the last two as well.

Many players have transformed following their Olympic experience.

  • After the 2000 Olympics- Vince Carter not only made his greatest highlight over (moment of silence) Frederic Weis, but posted his best statistical season averaging 27 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.9 apg and was a series away from heading to the NBA Finals.
  • The 2006 FIBA World Championship games, where the USA fell short and was awarded the bronze medal, a rising Carmelo Anthony was at the forefront for the USA, and went on to average a career high 28.9 ppg in 2006-07.
  • When the Redeem Team came together in 2008, Dwayne Wade played one of most pivotal roles as the team’s 6th Wade was struggling with concurrent injuries and failed to play on a full season, but following the Olympic experience played his most games during a season (79) and as well posting a staggering 30 ppg. Dwight Howard was also supplanted to the league’s premier post player and the only one the 2008 roster. Howard went on to secure his first DPOY award and led the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.
  • The 2010 FIBA World Championship was led by Kevin Durant, who helped the USA to win the gold medal. Durant’s play during the World Championship translated into the regular season as the Thunder begin to excel in the Western Conference and fell short of the Finals after their loss to eventual championship Dallas Mavericks.
  • Even more recent in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, where the leading MVP candidates James Harden and MVP Stephen Curry where made into household names and NBA superstars after their international play.

Not to say the elder statesmen don’t deserve their opportunity to play in their final Olympics, but why not let a young star get the opportunity to turn into the next Lebron James or Kobe Bryant. There are so many players amongst the pool who could benefit greatly from the experience, but will not be able to if these vets don’t find a way to pass the torch.

Views From The 6

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By Stefan Anderson

Back to Back.

It wasn’t just the Drake diss track to Meek Mill that had the City of Toronto Charged Up. It was the back to back blockbuster trades made at the July 31st trade deadline. The Blue Jays were able to secure arguably the best SS in the MLB in Troy Tulowiski and a well needed starter in LHP David Price.

The irony that since July 29th , when Back to Back was released, the Jays have been on string of wins, 12 of the last 13, that includes 9 straight with series wins over the premier teams of the AL, the Yankees and Royals.

But it’s bigger than Drake; the Blue Jays are now the hottest team in baseball, shoring up their weakness in the pitching staff.

Over the 13-game stretch, the Toronto hurlers have held opposing batters to a .182 average.

The transformation is happening at the perfect time as the baseball season is winding into its final stretch, the Blue Jays have now fought from 8 GB of the Yankees to now knocking on the AL East’s steps at 1 game back, while taking sole possession of the AL Wild Card spot. With a huge series versus their AL East rivals this upcoming weekend, it could catapult the Jays into the position take the lead and gain some separation while doing it.

With all things going into stride for Toronto, it makes them scary heading into October, with 3 of the strongest bats with Tulowiski , Donaldson and Bautista and possible four pending the return on Edwin Encarnacion.

The Blue Jays can only be stopped by themselves.

If they continue to keep their pitching abreast with their offense, they will be running the 6ix with their wins, and an AL East pennant as well.

2015-16 Premier League Preview

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The 2015/16 Barclay’s Premier League season is just days away, and while the spending and the speculation are far from over, the countdown clock to opening day is all but spent. The big boys will fight for glory and the minnows will fight for survival, and to kick off the 2015/16 season preview, The Starting Point takes a look at the clubs to watch in the hunt for glory this season, courtesy of Premier League analyst Greg Hudson.

Club to Win it All: Chelsea F.C.

Jose Mourinho’s men won it all last season, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do it again in 2015/16. They have a seemingly irresistible mix of solid defense anchored by John Terry, quality midfield play in the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Oscar, and clinical attack through Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, and that makes them a danger on their worst days, and a juggernaut on their best.

The summer has been fairly quiet at Stamford Bridge, with the biggest activities being the departures of backup goalkeeper Petr Cech to Arsenal and the return of defender Felipe Luis to Atletico Madrid after an unremarkable year with the London side.

But the relative quietude for Chelsea is more a sign of their confidence than of a lack of initiative. It’s often said that champions who don’t improve don’t remain champions very long. It’s true, but although they haven’t added to their squad, this is a fairly young group of players – goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, defender Cesar Azpilicueta, midfielders Oscar and Nemanja Matic, and both Hazard and Costa are still at-or-before their prime – and they’ve spent the summer gelling into an even better side. A 1-0 setback in the Charity Shield to Arsenal won’t bother them much: they’re still the favorites to win the title – and for good reason.

Dark Horse Title Contenders – Arsenal F.C.

Arsenal were the in-form team of the second half of last season, and they’ll look to continue that hot streak in 2015/16, as star forward Alexis Sanchez begins his second season with the club and home-grown talent Francois Coquelin and Hector Bellerin look to become staples in the fiber of the club.

The biggest action of the summer was the acquisition of goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea, and while he’d been supplanted at Stamford Bridge by young hotshot Thibault Courtois, expect Cech to step right into the Arsenal squad between the sticks and make an immediate impact for Arsene Wenger’s side at the Emirates this season. Goalkeeping was Arsenal’s Achilles heel last term, as both Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina failed to really bolster the defensive unit.

With Cech in goal, Arsenal can fully commit to the kind of attacking play that saw them finish third last season. That gives the likes of Mezut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey the confidence to get forward and help Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott with the goals Arsenal need to mount a title challenge.

Most Overrated Club – Manchester United F.C.

Yes, yes, I’m on the Hate United bandwagon. But not really. If you look at Manchester United, you see the single most imbalanced team in all of European football – world class attacking talent in front of a back line with no true leader and a goalkeeper whose days at Old Trafford are numbered – and that number is alarmingly small.

There’s no denying that United have some world class attacking ability. Even with the departures of Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie, the Red Devils still have Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera helping create magical moments on the pitch. So when I looked at Man U’s situation at the end of last season – particularly given that they’d be returning to European competition in the Champions’ League – I assumed their top priority would be defensive strength. With Mats Hummels strongly linked to Old Trafford and Chelsea’s Petr Cech available to replace goalkeeper David de Gea, whose move to Real Madrid is somewhat of a foregone conclusion, it seemed compulsory that United make the move to bring world class defending to the Theatre of Dreams, in a necessary attempt to improve a side which allowed five goals to Leicester City last season.

But they didn’t. The only defensive move the team has made has been the addition of fullback Mateo Darmian, which was followed with the departure of long-time right back Rafael. Instead, the side have brought on Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger to improve the midfield, and world-class winger Memphis Depay to add to the goals department. But where is the defense!? It’s a question manager Louis van Gaal has ignored, or else he’s lost the memo. When your top defensive unit includes Chris Smalling, you’re in big trouble. And with de Gea gone in the coming weeks, there’s no way United can mount a serious title challenge. If you want proof that an all-attack-no-defense system doesn’t win the title, just ask Liverpool: they came about as close to pulling it off two seasons ago before it all unraveled at the finish line. Don’t be looking to see Manchester United at the top of the pile this season – unless they make some serious moves between now and deadline day.

Most Underrated Club – Liverpool F.C.

Two seasons ago, the Reds came as close to winning the title as a team can come without a solid defensive unit. Sadly, two years later, that defensive unit hasn’t improved much. But Brendan Rodgers has a much more all-around team now than he had in that (un)forgettable campaign in 2013/14. The likes of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic are beginning to come into their own, and Emre Can looks set to finally make a difference for Liverpool in his natural position in midfield. Yes, the team has lost three of its core players in the last 13 months in Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling. And yes, last season was an unmitigated disaster with Mario Balotelli proving perhaps the transfer blunder of the season and Daniel Sturridge finding the net just four times as he missed three quarters of the season through injury.

But the Reds still managed to finish sixth for Rodgers and the Anfield faithful, and another summer of spending has again highlighted Rodgers’ smart mentality. Joe Gomez is a top defender of the future, and while he’s unlikely to make a big difference now, Nathaniel Clyne is a top fullback and his addition to the back line will make an immediate impact, both at the back and going forward. Roberto Firmino will partner well with Philippe Countinho in the attacking midfield, and young Jordan Ibe will feature a lot in the side after making some breakthrough performances in the preseason. But the move of the summer was the addition of Christian Benteke, a man whose numbers at Aston Villa nearly mirrored those of Luis Suarez in his time with Liverpool and whose strong attacking presence will surely help the Reds with their biggest problem from last term: goals.

They aren’t title contenders. They simply aren’t that quality a side yet. But this is a predominantly young team, one of the youngest in the league, and the talent and creativity is undeniable. Of all the teams that failed to finish in the top four last year, I rate Liverpool as most likely to do it this season.

Stay tuned to The Starting Point for more of Greg’s preseason thoughts as he looks at teams who will be fighting for their Premier League futures in the upcoming campaign – and who might just make it out alive.