Wishful Thinking Fuels Indy SAFER Barrier Acceptance
Everyone very badly wants safety to succeed.
LIME ROCK, CT - May 24, 2002 -- The reaction of the drivers, the sanctioning bodies and the media to the SAFER has all been favorable, as it has been in the past when inefficient and even counter-productive new safety barriers have been installed and hit in actual races.
That is true of the barrier made of tires wrapped in conveyor belting in Brazil in '98, and of the plastic barrier on the inside of turn four at Indy which nearly caused a horrendous crash in the IROC race in 1999 when Arie Luyendyk crashed. In both cases, the barriers were credited by the media and the drivers with mitigating the consequences of crashes, and it was predicted that they would be installed universally. Why were they not adopted everywhere, when in fact neither were ever installed again?
Because the responsible officials analyzed these crashes and realized the barriers were not effective.
Why was everyone optimistic?
It was, and is with the SAFER, because everyone very badly wants safety to succeed, and are inordinately grateful that an effort is being made to create an energy absorbing mechanism that can be retrofitted to existing walls and protect drivers from harm. That mindset is perfectly natural and understandable.
We all earnestly hope for a solution to this threat to the well-being of the sportsmen and athletes who are drivers.
To favor it, and thereby encourage it, and honor those who attempt to solve the problem, may be a case of concurrence born of hope in the face of this dilemma - it might be regarded even as a singularly American trait and almost patriotic - that of addressing a daunting challenge head-on.
Much as this is admirable it does not mean that the laws of physics can be suspended in its favor, somehow altering these immutable physical facts, as some of their protagonists appear to be hoping to do.
No amount of hope and optimism will make large section rectangular beams bend and not buckle, or rigid foam compress and recover its original dimensions, as Bill Milliken and I have indicated. These are not opinions, they are engineering realities, not subject to interpretation, no matter what we hope and wish.
From what has been made known, the SAFER needs to be improved. Is it better than no barrier at all? Probably, but only slightly at best.
But there is risk. If the SAFER is hit with such severity that a tube is penetrated and deformed so that it snags, the car could be stopped at that point at higher Gs than with no barrier. As with other snagging barriers, a car could be momentarily decelerated at life-threatening Gs and then rejected across the track into traffic, as Arie Luyendyk and others have been.
In such an event, the SAFER could be irreparably damaged and the race cancelled, on any lap.
Deforming and penetrating the rectangular tubes, the rigidity of which prevents their foam back-up from absorbing crash energy, and providing only 6 or 7 inches of energy absorbing travel, simply does not deliver the benefits possible from such a barrier.
433 Salmon Kill RD
Lime Rock, CT 06039
221 W.5th St. Box D
Palisade, CO 81526
Race Legends, Inc.
5410 Highway 73
Marshall, WI 53559-9679