Thursday, December 15, 2011

Report: Wheldon Died When Head Hit Fence

INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 15, 2011) - A comprehensive review of the racing accident that claimed the life of IndyCar star Dan Wheldon is now complete.

A press release issued by IndyCar states that Wheldon, the 2005 IZOD IndyCar Series champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, suffered a non-survivable head injury Oct. 16 in a 15-car crash in Turn Two at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the final race of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

"There are multiple factors that are not uncommon to racing that came together in a way that claimed Dan's life," said Brian Barnhart, President of Operations, INDYCAR. "It is a tragedy. Our thoughts and support will always be with Dan's family."

The accident review revealed that Wheldon's path on the lower portion of the racetrack was blocked by the multi-car crash he was approaching. His No. 77 car became airborne and ultimately impacted a vertical post of the track fencing. The pole intruded the cockpit, and the impact with the driver's helmeted head produced non-survivable blunt force trauma.

The response to the scene by INDYCAR's Holmatro Safety Team was rapid and decisive, according to the review.

INDYCAR analyzed data from accident data recorders carried on board each race car involved in the crash, the on-board data acquisition system from teams, timing and scoring data, video, still photographs, physical evidence and eyewitness reports from participants. Third-party experts with Indianapolis-based Wolf Technical Services provided independent assurance that the investigation protocol, evidence examined and reviewed, and the conclusions reached are consistent and appropriate to standard scientific and engineering investigation methods.

Examination of video of the incident revealed the type of "pack racing" that is common on high-banked ovals. However, there was almost unlimited movement on the track surface under race conditions not previously experienced that is attributed to track geometry beyond banking. Such freedom of movement outside of normal racing grooves not only increased the probability for car-to-car contact, but made it more difficult for drivers to predict the movement of other drivers. As a result, the opportunity for this incident was increased.

While this incident could have occurred at any track at any time, the dynamic of the current car and the overall track geometry at Las Vegas Motor Speedway under race conditions appear to have been contributing factors in the incident.

The 34-car starting field was determined to be acceptable based on factors such as length and width of the racetrack and pit space capability. This incident and its consequences could have occurred with any size starting field at any track.

"INDYCAR's commitment to safety was enhanced by Dan Wheldon's testing throughout 2011 of the new car to be used by INDYCAR in 2012," said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. "The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season ushers in an era of a new race car and the opportunity for continued safety advancements. Dan Wheldon was instrumental in the testing and development of this new car and the safety innovations that it represents. We are thankful for his efforts and commitment to racing."

The 2012 Dallara Automobili chassis enhances safety components such as side intrusion panels and wheel tethers. The cockpit is longer and wider than the decommissioned monocoque, which allows for additional padding underneath and behind the driver. Also, a "floating headrest" works in conjunction with the mandatory FHR (Frontal Head Restraint) attached to the helmet. Driver positioning allows for better sightlines.


  1. Bill Panzich2:28 PM

    "Report: Wheldon Died When Head Hit Fence "

    No shit? The fact that the roll bar was ripped from the car ought to have been a clue.

    We have to find a way to design catch fences that don't snag and shred all cars, maybe some clear, overlapping panels, somewhat like freezer doors for forklifts, so the cars could slide along instead of snagging.

  2. Dwayne in Memphis3:22 PM

    That all sounds eerily similar to Earnhardt's crash conclusion. Any one of the events on its own could probably have been survivable...but when several unlikely events all converge around one car during one crash, it makes it an impossible crash to design for.

    However, in analyzing each unique tragedy, the racing community learns more and can do what they think they need to do to help prevent it from happening again.

  3. Anonymous5:52 PM

    Gee Blunt force trauma to the Head what was their first clue? took three months and data acquisition to figure something out a layman could see from the distant pictures on TV? Hope Indy car can learn and share info with NASCAR to keep make racing safer for all. Godspeed Dan Wheldon.

  4. On a more serious issue, head into fence/barriers have been an issue with not just INDYCAR, but all singer-seater racing. There have been deaths in Formula Nippon (1992), F3000 (1995), and CART (1996) caused by such head into barrier (trees, fence, blunt ends of concrete walls) crashes. Perhaps a longer ram air box would fix the problem as to ensure the driver's head would be further protected.

  5. Anonymous6:53 PM

    Simple fix. Higher roll bar behind driver and two bracing bars forward past drivers head encompassing driver helmet.