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Sunday, April 29
Drivers worried about climbing speeds 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 Speedway.

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.

Michael Andretti fields questions from the media after the cancellation of the CART race at Texas Motor Speedway.
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 before."

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 tracks.

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 around.

"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 skills."

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 in 1998.

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 unanimity.

"When you saw 24 hands go up, everyone was silent," Herta said.

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 compete.

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 went on.

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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RPM 2Night
Marlo Klain reports from the Firehawk 600 and talks with Robin Miller about CART's future.
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The RPM2Night crew discusses the CART situation in Texas.
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Feeling queasy
Michael Andretti experienced a new feeling at Texas Motor Speedway.
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Dr. Steve Olvey explains why Sunday's CART race was cancelled.
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The Morning Show
Christian Fittipaldi breaks down why the drivers decided not to race in the Firehawk 600.
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