A Rational Voice On IndyCar Canopies
If you happened to catch Trackside a week ago on Dec 8, you heard TV racing analyst and former driver Derek Daly giving his opinion on the controversial subject of putting canopies onto open-wheel cars such as Indy cars and Formula One cars. I have stated my opinion on the touchy subject many times, but it was good to hear the opinion of someone other than a blogger or former blogger. Not only is Daly a former driver in CART and Formula One, but he has a vested interest in the current form of IndyCar racing being the safest it can possibly be – his son, Conor, will be a full-time driver next season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Daly had a very rational response when asked what his take on the subject was. While stopping just short of saying he was completely and totally opposed to canopies on open-wheel cars, he let it be known that doing so would be going down an extremely slippery slope. The unintended consequences presented by doing this offered up more problems than answers, Daly surmised.
He cringed when he mentioned the possibility of a driver not being able to get out of a car that was upside down and on fire. He didn’t mention the incident on the air, but I couldn’t get the thought of Simona de Silvestro in 2011, out of my mind. If you’ll recall, Simona had a practice crash at Indianapolis and ended up upside down and on fire. I happened to be watching the crash online at the time. It was frightening to see her work frantically, with the aid of the Holmatro Safety Team, to climb out of an inverted car that was aflame. You wondered how long it would be before gravity took effect with the raw ethanol in the fuel cell. She got out quick enough, but not without third-degree burns on both hands. I hate to think about the outcome had she been forced to deal with a sealed cockpit.
Daly also mentioned the possibility of smoke inhalation as another unintended consequence of having a canopy covering an open-wheel cockpit. Electrical fires are not uncommon in racing. What is usually a minor occurrence in a race, could suddenly have devastating consequences.
During his discourse, Daly mentioned the one item that is sure to draw the ire of the pro-canopy crowd – the tradition of the sport. The former driver and TV analyst stated that open-wheel cars traditionally have open cockpits. He went on to explain that when you enclose the cockpit of an open-wheel car, it becomes a sports car. He added that there’s nothing wrong with sports car racing, but that it is not open-wheel racing. I agree.
Then Daly discussed the mindset of the race driver – another angle that those in favor of canopies will bristle at. He stated that racing drivers are drawn to the sport because of the danger involved and that there is a very select few that can or will do it due to the risks involved. If all elements of danger are removed, then the sport is no longer enticing to them. Having never been a driver, I cannot say for certain that that is the case. But from everything I’ve read nor heard about the mentality of drivers, it sounds like Daly is dead-on accurate.
After listing his many reasons for not wanting canopies, I thought Daly made the most salient point of the whole discussion. He said that while he applauds improving safety measures in racing, any decisions pertaining to safety need to be made based strictly on facts and be completely devoid of emotion. He cautioned that when emotions rule thinking, things are not properly thought through. He also pointed out that the Justin Wilson incident was so freakish in nature, that to make a rash decision based strictly on that one occurrence would be foolish and short-sighted.
Derek Daly pretty well echoed what I’ve been thinking, but he articulated his opinions so much better than I ever could that I found his thoughts worth repeating. If you haven’t heard last week’s Trackside, you can listen to it here. The Derek Daly interview was so informative and entertaining, it’s worth listening to the whole podcast just for his part.
This is one of those topics that has very little middle ground. The pro-canopy supporters are very vocal in their dismay that not everyone agrees with them. Likewise, those opposed to canopies on open-wheel cars, wonder how on earth anyone could possibly want them. They tend to think that if you don’t like the sport the way it is, go find another one – like sports car racing, for instance.
While I don’t take the “like it or lump it” stance, I have to say that I’m fairly entrenched in the camp that opposes canopies. Yes, I prefer the aesthetics of the traditional open-wheel car. I would be lying if I said otherwise. But I’d be willing to give that up if there was a fool-proof design that offered the driver full protection from debris, without compromising their safety in other areas. Unfortunately, no one has presented any fool-proof designs that aren’t inherently flawed with respect to other concerns.
Even the staunch advocates of canopies agree that there is nothing that can be done with the current car. The first time a canopy could be utilized would be on a newly designed car. Weight distribution and the center of gravity would be significantly altered with the DW12, not to mention that it lacks a proper way to mount it and incorporate it into the current design.
So if designers of the next generation IndyCar can come up with a revolutionary design that guarantees driver safety and addresses every single possible scenario that finds a canopy to be more of a hindrance than a help – I’m all for it. Otherwise, I’m for leaving the car the way it is and avoiding the unintended consequences. Drivers know what they are getting into. If the drivers can deal with it, so should the fans.
Derek Daly and his son, Conor, also know the risks. Knowing what they know, we should let them make the choice; rather than take the approach of saving them from themselves. If fans can’t handle that, then they also have the ability to make a choice.