A factor contributing to the crash that killed two-time Indianopolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was that the track had a crowded field of cars and that many of the drivers were not experienced with the steeply banked Las Vegas Motor Speedway, said Terry Blount, the senior writer of motor sports for ESPN.com.
Blount said the track’s layout — a high-banked, 1.5 mile long oval — meant that drivers never let off the gas at 220-plus m.p.h. while driving in a big pack.
“They just go flat out all the way around,” he said. “They never let off the gas.”
Because of this, in addition to the lack of fenders on the cars, he said, “If you touch wheels, you’re more than likely going to have an accident.”
Besides the usual safety concerns, Blount told ABC News that Sunday’s race had involved 34 cars — usually there are 20 to 25 for a track like this — and that Indy had not raced since 2000 at Las Vegas, which had undergone a reconfiguration nearly four years ago.
“Obviously more cars presents more danger. They wanted a whole lot of cars cause obviously this is their season finale and they wanted it to be a big deal. Some of the people that were driving in this event yesterday had no business being in it. Some of them had never driven on a track like this. That was a mistake,” he said.
He said the race would likely not have that many drivers again and would likely have more requirements for younger, less experienced drivers they allow to race on a similar track.
IndyCar said via email that there were no representatives available for interviews at the time of posting.
Scottish racer Dario Franchitti told “CBS Sunday Morning ” that the track was not “suitable.”
“It’s nowhere to get away from anybody,” he said after the crash and before Wheldon’s death was announced. “One small mistake from somebody and there’s a massive thing.”
“We all had a bad feeling about this place in particular,” driver Oriol Servia said in a news release Sunday. “Just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat and if you give us the opportunity, we are drivers and we try to go to the front. We race each other hard because that’s what we do.”
Blount said that some drivers had expressed that it was no longer safe to race at such high speeds on tracks like the one in Las Vegas.
“Frankly, they have a point,” he said. “[The drivers] can’t get away from each other because they’re going the same speed.”
He said that IndyCar faced a dilemma, however, because while tracks with “big, sweeping, banked ovals” presented serious amounts of danger, the organization needed to race at these sites in order to grow and continue to attract fans and young Americans.
“They do have to run at these tracks, [so] they have to make changes to the cars to slow them down and make them safer,” Blount said, adding that 220 mph was too fast for these type of tracks.
He said that next season, racing would be introducing a new car design and new engine formula. Wheldon had spent the last few months testing out the car and loved it.
“They can make the speeds slower in that car. The car also has a different look and different body structure. It also has a bigger tub where the driver sits that will make it safer,” Blount said.