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Tuesday, September 18
High speeds draw fans to CART

LONDON -- Safety, as much as sheer speed, will be a talking point as CART rolls into Britain for Saturday's Rockingham 500.

Spectators at the 1½-mile banked oval in central England can expect to see cars lapping at average speeds in excess of 200 mph for the first time at a British circuit.

With five rounds remaining in what is billed as "The Fastest Racing On Earth," Sweden's Kenny Brack leads the North American-based championship by 11 points from Brazilian Gil de Ferran. Michael Andretti is a further five points back.

Scot Dario Franchitti, sixth overall, will be the home favorite, but the build-up has been overshadowed by Italian Alex Zanardi's terrible accident in Germany last weekend and the attacks on America.

The massive impact at Germany left Zanardi, a popular two-time CART champion and former Formula One driver, with both legs amputated.

That accident, with the Reynard struck broadside by Canadian Alex Tagliani at an estimated 200 mph, has revived comparisons in Europe between the safety records of CART and the more familiar Formula One.

Austrian Roland Ratzenberger and Brazilian Ayrton Senna died at Imola in 1994, but since then Formula One drivers have suffered nothing as critical as Zanardi's crash.

Only two weeks ago, Brazilian Luciano Burti's Prost plowed uncontrollably into a tire wall at an estimated 180 mph in Belgium, but he emerged without broken bones.

Many Formula One veterans felt Burti might not have survived a similar crash in the past, before improvements to reinforce cars and the protective shell around drivers.

CART's recent record is more tragic, with two bright prospects killed in 1999 -- Canadian Greg Moore and Uruguayan Gonzalo Rodriguez.

Moore died after his Reynard slammed head-on into a retaining wall at around 220 mph and disintegrated while Rodriguez's Lola flipped and he died of massive head and neck injuries.

The fact Tagliani suffered only light injuries Saturday showed the sort of frontal impact that CART cars can absorb.

CART drivers now also use the Head And Neck restraint system (HANS), something that helps them on ovals but which Formula One is still looking into.

But critics say CART still has work to do in an often spectacular sport where cars brush the unforgiving concrete walls at immense speeds and drivers still remain vulnerable to serious leg injuries.

Some of the risks appear insurmountable: "When you face an obstacle at speeds of around 250 mph, there's no way you can avoid it," said Germany's former CART racer Christian Danner at the weekend.

EuroSpeedway manager Hans-Joerg Fischer insisted his circuit was the safest in the world and said Zanardi's accident had nothing to do with the track.

The Italian spun across the grass as he was leaving the pits and into Tagliani's path.

Team boss Derrick Walker nonetheless suggested that a wall or a fence should be built between the pit lane and track in future to prevent cars spinning out in front of others.

But Max Papis, Zanardi's compatriot who finished Saturday's race as runner-up, defended CART's safety record and said everyone knew the risks.

"We also, as in F1, work so much on safety. Personally I feel very safe in my car," he told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper Tuesday.

"Motor racing is a dangerous business in itself. We know what we risk for the passion that makes us race."

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Zanardi crashes
Alex Zanardi and Alex Tagliani are involved in a devastating collision.
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On the scene
ESPN's Parker Johnstone discusses Alex Zanardi's condition.
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CART recap
ESPN's Jon Beekhuis voices concern for Alex Zanardi and the decision to race.
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