Safety talks ramp up after Wilson's death

Thu Sep 3, 2015 4:38pm EDT
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By Lewis Franck

(Reuters) - IndyCar and Formula One are investigating the use of enclosed cockpits to improve driver safety following the recent death of Briton Justin Wilson, and could take a leaf out of the National Hot Rod Association's book.

Former F1 driver Wilson suffered severe head injuries from flying debris during a wreck in the closing laps of an IndyCar race in Pennsylvania last month and died in hospital the following day.

While none of the prototypes in IndyCar or Formula One has yet shown the benefits to clearly outweigh the disadvantages, the National Hot Rod Association's premier division, Top Fuel, has been racing successfully with canopies since 2012.

Don Schumacher Racing, which fields cars for series champions Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown, developed some of the original cockpit designs which are still in use today.

The fragile-looking but monstrously powerful Top Fuel racers develop around 10,000 hp as they rocket down a 1,000-foot strip in under four seconds, reaching top speeds in excess of 320mph. They require parachutes to help them stop.

At those speeds a strike from anything -- like the bouncing spring that struck Brazil's Felipe Massa's head at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009 -- could be fatal to one of the NHRA drivers.

The canopy used by the drag racers closes over the existing car, and eight-time NHRA champion Schumacher would now never contemplate competing without one.

"I've hit three birds in my life in a top fuel," Schumacher told Reuters. "You hit one with (just) your helmet it will kill you. I don't care what helmet you have on. It will blind you at 300mph ... and you're going to put it (the car) upside down."   Continued...

May 23, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson sits in his car during carb day for the 2014 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports