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Ganassi: IndyCar change has to occur

| Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

Safety again is a hot topic in auto racing since the death of driver Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas last month, but owner Chip Ganassi said a measured, reasoned approach as opposed to wholesale changes is the best route to take.

"It's a sad fact, but always something has to happen for there to be a step change," he said Friday before ceremonies revealing a renovated library at the Woolslair K-5 school in Bloomfield, a project funded by longtime Ganassi sponsor Target. "And there needs to be a step change now. And there probably will be."

Wheldon, who drove for Ganassi from 2006 to '08, was killed in a 15-car pile-up during an IndyCar race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16. The accident was considered to be among the worst in the history of the sport, touching off renewed outcries for additional safety measures.

Ganassi, who was born in Monessen and has a home in Fox Chapel, said sweeping measures are not the best prescription given that IndyCars always have led the effort to promote safety. He cited advancements in chassis and helmet design and softer walls, among numerous changes.

"Racing will never be 100 percent safe. We know that," he said. "But I think IndyCars have led the way."

Among possible improvements, Ganassi cited changing the aerodynamic configuration of cars to suit individual tracks. "We can't race the same car at every race track," he said.

He also noted possible cockpit alterations, perhaps making it "a bubble the driver sits in much like a fighter jet pilot, a canopy." He said rookie driver orientation perhaps needs to be expanded and a closer look taken at the issue of cars flying off the track.

"When you're going that speed, you can fly a Sherman tank if you want to," he said.

Next year, IndyCars will feature partial wheel covers that will "minimize the chances of getting airborne from driving over the rear of another car," said Ganassi.

In response to critics who maintain that cars simply are allowed to go too fast and must be slowed down, Ganassi drew the line.

"At the speed that Dan Wheldon crashed, cars have been going that fast for 20 years," he said. "That day, there were a lot of cars on a smaller track."

Some have maintained that the Vegas was too small to handle the 34 cars, an inordinately large number.

About a dozen drivers, including Ganassi team member Dario Franchitti (who won a fourth IndyCar championship this year), met Oct. 24 with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and Brian Barnhart, the series president of competition, to discuss issues.

"The gist of what came out of it, and what I'm trying to convey, is that it's not one thing," he said. "Six, eight, 10 things have to happen. It's not one thing that killed Dan Wheldon, and it's not one thing that's gonna make it safe for everybody."

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