By Steve Wittich
TSO (along with a few other media outlets) were given a chance to catch up with Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations on a rainy Friday morning. It was a wide-ranging conversation, so we are going to break it up into to parts. The first part will deal with the Lap 6, Turn 2, five car incident at Pocono Raceway during the 2018 ABC Supply 500. The second part will deal with fencing, the aero screen and the “racing” on superspeedways.
“Our biggest concern is with Rob and his family, and as we always do, we’ll do everything we can to support them, said Frye to start the conversation. “To help him with his recovery and everything that is going on.”
The incident was a big one, and the series is not done gathering all of the data.
Frye explained that they are just beginning to go through a multi-week process of investigation that began at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, moved to Indianapolis and that involves multiple departments.
On the first inspection though, Frye is encouraged by how the car did its job, and gave “huge kudos” to Dallara for “building a great race car,” saying:
“We are very encouraged by how the car held up. We’re certainly not satisfied. The reason we’re not satisfied is that a driver was injured. We’ll never be satisfied until we get to the point where that doesn’t happen.
“It’ll still be weeks, and we’re going to go through this thing (Wickens No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) with a fine tooth comb. The initial review of all the parts and pieces that we could get, it did what it was supposed to do. This new for 2018 universal aero kit has the driver’s side impact piece that we think was an important element to how the car held up.
“The in-season updates we have done to the car, all seemed to do their job. We’re very encouraged by how it performed, but not satisfied. We’ll never be satisfied, and safety will always be our #1 concern.”
The improved side pod crash structure included adding a pair of bulkheads, moving the radiator forward and moving other internals to the bottom of the car.
Frye explained a few changes came because of a significant incident the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda during a windy test on March 15, 2018, at Texas Motor Speedway.
After the No. 30’s crash, multiple holes were drilled in one of the beams on one of the bulkheads that make up the crush structure because the data obtained during that impact determined the crash structure was too rigid. That structural change was applied before any car took to the 2.5-mile oval for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
During the NBCSN broadcast audio between Sebastien Bourdais’ race engineer and his crew chief Todd Phillips that made it apparent, the Frenchman was concerned with the fence repair.
Frye told us that he had not heard complaints from any other drivers but that they took the Bourdais comments very seriously.
“The biggest determining factor (in how they determined if the fence was safe) are the guys who fixed it. Our staff was there working on it with the Pocono people. Kudos to them. Their people are phenomenal.
“Our safety guys, who do this for a living every week, which is very important. They follow us around. They said we were good to go, so we’re good to go.
“Our guys are very good, and they take the driver’s safety as seriously as anyone. We rely on them and they were all out there.”
There was some concern voiced from fans and media about how long it took for the first medical update to be delivered.
Frye explained that the first point of concern is the taking care of the drivers and the then taking care of the families. The magnitude of the incident with five injured drivers, including one driver who was injured enough to be transferred meant that took just under an hour.
Frye did admit that the process of informing the media of an injured drivers condition could be shortened by 10-15 minutes, saying they will do better next time.
Frye explained that the processes surrounding an incident like Wicken’s are always evolving, saying “I’ll never be satisfied.”