Even before his scary pit road crash during the Verizon IndyCar Series’ race at Pocono Raceway in August, Helio Castroneves has had his eyes set on safety – especially head protection.
After Alexander Rossi flew and landed on top of his No. 3 Team Penske machine while exiting pit lane, it’s safe to say Castroneves would be first in line for head protection being introduced to open wheel racecars as early as 2017.
“I believe, in the future, we’re going to come up with some type of protection even for the driver’s helmet,” Castroneves said. “I’m glad we’re spending time – and the right time – to fix it.”
After Justin Wilson was struck and killed by debris at Pocono last year, Castroneves is happy to see movement in the area of head protection, as Formula 1 recently tested the controversial Halo Device, aimed to help deflect objects.
Though the Halo has been criticized for being “ugly” by some F1 drivers, Castroneves is pleased to see top minds of motor sport showing action toward the issue.
“Right now, the FIA and IndyCar, they are working well together so hopefully next year,” Castroneves said of seeing head protection in IndyCar. “I understand Formula 1 is going to be 2018. Hopefully we are going to be ahead.”
The 41-year-old Brazilian has noticed F1’s efforts this year, pointing out how oval racing can bring a whole new variable to these devices.
“They [F1] also had similar issues as us,” he said. “The only difference with them is they don’t run ovals. So when we’re in the banking, those types of setups they do, they could probably become an issue for us. So we have to have some sort of similar scenario, but in the same way, we don’t want to create another issue.”
Castroneves, after transitioning through some of the most dangerous portions in IndyCar history, has grown a level of appreciation for today’s safety innovations, saying it has become a “huge, huge improvement” since his rookie CART season in 1998.
“Those cars were really powerful,” he said of his 1998 CART racecar. “Some of them were 900 horsepower and some were 1000 horsepower, it was incredible. There was no ‘Ah, OK. Ill get used to it.’ No, it was always like ‘Man, this thing is unbelievable.’
“Every year, we are improving. I have to say, from 2000 to now, safety has become a huge, huge improvement. I’m talking about – they’ve saved so many injuries, especially in the back.”
With the debut of the DW12 in 2012 – an Indy car, named after the late Dan Wheldon, which focused on advancing safety – Castroneves believes it was a healthy step forward for IndyCar.
“We have a part of the car we call a ‘Kardashian’ and I did not come up with this name… It’s the rear bumper,” he joked. “That was a big deal for us because you stop the inter-locking of wheels so we prevent the cars from flying. HANS device is something that stopped the head from moving forward, which has snapped the neck in the past. Obviously, in the past, the fire-proof racing suits have become better.
“Now, unfortunately last year, we have an incident with Justin Wilson because a piece of a car hit his helmet. We already made improvements so a lot of things from the car don’t detach as easy.
“Over the years, I would say its been incredible. But you got to remember, this is racing. It’s still a very dangerous sport.”
About the author
Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.
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