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Sunday, April 29
Drivers worried about climbing speeds
ESPN.com news services
FORT WORTH, Texas -- With drivers worried they could pass
out at speeds of more than 230 mph, CART took the extraordinary
step Sunday of calling off its inaugural race at Texas Motor
Some drivers were dizzy and disoriented after practicing for the
Firestone Firehawk 600. CART medical officials found G forces were
almost twice as high as normal on the high-banked track.
After meeting with the drivers, CART postponed the race just
before it was scheduled to begin.
"The G forces were beyond what I could have ever imagined,"
said Michael Andretti, the biggest winner in CART history. "You
feel very compressed when you get down in the corners. Everything
is just compressing your body. It's a feeling I've never felt
This was the first safety related postponement by CART since
1985, when tire concerns delayed a race at Michigan International
Speedway for six days.
This time, series officials were caught off guard by the impact
of the 24-degree banking at Texas. By comparison, the banking at
Indianapolis is just 9 degrees, and no other track in the CART
series is steeper than 18 degrees.
Dr. Steve Olvey, CART's medical director, said extended exposure
to the G force felt in practice could have caused some drivers to
lose consciousness during the race, which was scheduled for 250
laps on the 1.5-mile quad-oval.
"This is a situation that in my 25 years involved in
motorsports I've never heard of or seen," Olvey said.
The track had no input into the discussions Sunday morning,
general manager Eddie Gossage said. He was critical of CART for its
dealings with the track.
Gossage said safety questions were raised by track officials as
recently as 10 days ago. There was no open testing, however, and
the standard accepted by CART was the 220-224-mph range established
by Kenny Brack during a private test in December.
Brack earned the pole at 233.447 mph during qualifying Saturday.
During practice sessions with most of the cars on the track, some
drivers were turning speeds as high as 236.9 mph.
"It should have been sufficiently tested months and months and
months ago," Gossage said. "Both TMS and the fans are frustrated
by what has happened."
Teams said the G forces were above 5, when a range in the 3s is
generally considered as high as drivers can endure on most race
Olvey said all but four of the 25 drivers on the starting grid
experienced some sort of inner ear or vision problems after running
more than 10 laps at time. The others, including Andretti, did not
go those distances.
Bryan Herta, who qualified fourth at 232.663 mph, likened
driving at Texas to the flight he once had in an F-16 aircraft. The
high banks allow drivers to race at full throttle all the way
"It's the fastest I've ever felt in a race car," Herta said.
Olvey said the first indication of a problem came Friday when
two drivers -- he didn't name them -- pulled off the track after long
stints at over 230 mph and said they were dizzy and disoriented.
Widespread problems were discovered when Olvey met with all
drivers after qualifying Saturday.
CART CEO Joseph Heitzler said the sanctioning body was
considering rescheduling the race for later in the year. He said
there was no opportunity to make immediate changes to the cars or
the racing surface.
"We are in uncharted waters," he said.
The postponement comes at a time when safety is a top concern in
racing, the attention heightened after the death two months ago of
NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt in the season-opening Daytona 500. Four
NASCAR drivers have been killed in the last 11 months, including
truck series driver Tony Roper in a race at Texas last October.
Roper was killed when he lost control of his truck in traffic on
the frontstretch and slammed into the wall head-on. That is the
only fatal record at the Texas track since it opened in 1997.
Heitzler refused to blame the track for Sunday's action.
"This is not an issue of safety at this track," he said.
"This was safety of the drivers in their performance of their
The Indy Racing League has competed at Texas Motor Speedway
since the track opened, and plans to return June 9 for the Casino
Magic 500. Billy Boat set the IRL qualifying record of 225.979 mph
Mauricio Gugelmin and series points leader Cristiano da Matta
were the only drivers to have accidents in practice for the CART
race. In separate sessions, their cars spun out of control coming
out of Turn 2 into the backstretch.
Kirk Russell, CART's chief steward, said there appeared to be no
mechanical problems with either car and believes the accidents was
caused by the stress on the cars and drivers.
"In theory, the incidents occurred because of the heavy
G-loading in the turns and coming into the transition onto the
backstretch, with turbulence of another car affecting it," said
Russell, who talked to both drivers.
Gugelmin was stiff and had withdrawn from the race, apparently
ending his streak of 130 CART starts, the longest active streak. Da
Matta had qualified 11th in a backup car.
At first, most drivers thought they were alone in their feelings
about racing Sunday, but began a dialogue that grew into virtual
"When you saw 24 hands go up, everyone was silent," Herta
In 1985, the Michigan race was put off because of concerns over
the radial tires Goodyear was to introduce on the circuit. After
three accidents before the race, several drivers refused to
Goodyear solved the problem by withdrawing the radials, and the
race was run safely with bias-ply tires.
NASCAR stars struck over tire concerns before the inaugural race
in Talladega, Ala., in 1969, and were replaced. That race also was
completed without major problems, and the regulars were back in the
cars for the next event.
CART drivers had a lengthy meeting last year after Patrick
Carpentier crashed in practice for the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey
in Laguna Seca, Calif. A year earlier, rookie Gonzalo Rodriguez was
killed while practicing on that track.
Changes were made to the road course last year, and the race
The Texas track, owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., underwent
some remilling and widening of its fourth turn after NASCAR drivers
complained about safety when they first began racing there.
There also was a problem with water seepage from the asphalt at
the track where the Winston Cup drivers have raced since it opened.
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|Michael Andretti fields questions from the media after the cancellation of the CART race at Texas Motor Speedway.|