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Results of De Silvestro Fire Probe Released

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 16 2010

Simona de Silvestro's race at Texas a couple weeks ago nearly turned tragic. Results of an IRL investigation of the incident have been released. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Fort Worth, Texas – An Indy Racing League investigation into the fiery crash involving IZOD IndyCar Series rookie Simona de Silvestro at Texas Motor Speedway has cited a procedural error in the packing of a fire hose on one of its trucks that caused it to malfunction, as well as “human error” in the form of a breakdown in protocol response by the Holmatro Safety Team.

De Silvestro escaped serious injury, and burns, when she hit the wall between Turns 3 and 4 of the 1.5-mile TMS quadoval on Lap 99 of the Firestone 550k night race on June 5. The right side of de Silvestro’s No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing entry was on fire as it slid to a stop. De Silvestro was struggling to exit the cockpit with its collar-brace intact when the Safety Team arrived.

As the right side of de Silvestro’s car continued to burn from spilled oil, Safety Team members struggled with the brace and were slow in getting water on the fire.

Reacting to a round of criticism in the media, IRL officials issued a statement two days after the race supporting the fire-fighting efforts of the Safety Team. On Wednesday afternoon, the results of the league’s formal inquiry were released in a statement from Indianapolis.

“First and foremost, the Safety Team puts the highest priority on driver safety,” said Mike Yates, track safety manager for the IRL. “Prior to every race, the Safety Team tests all hoses to ensure they’re working. At Texas, there was an error in the re-packing of the hose after the test, which caused it to malfunction. We are modifying hoses on all the trucks beginning this weekend in Iowa to prevent this from happening again.”

Round 8 of the series, the Iowa Corn Indy 250, is scheduled for Sunday afternoon on the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway.

“Additionally, upon arriving at the scene of the incident, our protocol calls for Safety Team members to take pressurized canisters with water and Cold Fire to the car to extinguish the fire as a first response,” Yates said. “In situations like this, decisions are made in a split-second based on the severity of the incident. After critiquing the situation, we have determined that the canisters are a more efficient and effective way to quickly suppress on-track fires. This will be reviewed with all Safety Team members.”

TMS president Eddie Gossage concurred with the league’s findings.

“It was obvious to me when it happened there was an equipment malfunction, that the hose didn’t charge for whatever reason,” Gossage said. “Their (IRL’s) promise was to do an investigation, and they have. I trust in their findings and am certain that’s last thing in the world they want to see happen. The good news is she (de Silvestro) wasn’t seriously injured and will race Sunday in Iowa. They found the problem and a remedy to it, so it won’t happen again.”

Gossage admitted he was momentarily taken aback by the Safety Team’s disjointed response.

“When the hose didn’t charge, I think all of the emergency workers from the IRL …I don’t think they knew what to do,” Gossage said. “You expect the hose to charge – why wouldn’t it? It did look bad.”

Gossage added he thought the attempt to extricate de Silvestro from the cockpit was hampered by the likelihood neither she nor the Safety Crew immediately removed the car’s steering wheel.

“I don’t think they took the steering wheel off and that’s why she had difficulty getting out,” Gossage said. “I could be wrong on that, but that’s what I understand. She could have slid a little bit forward with the (neck) collar if the steering wheel had not been there. But with the steering wheel and the collar, there was not a whole lot of room left.”

The IRL’s report did not address if the steering wheel had been removed.

Once pulled from the wreckage, de Silvestro slumped against an inside pit wall before being taken to TMS’ infield care center. De Silvestro, a 21-year-old native of Switzerland, suffered a burn on her right hand when she placed it upon the smoldering sidepod while trying to escape. De Silvestro exited the infield care center wearing a white bandage on her hand and wrist but otherwise in good spirits. She did not publicly comment on the Safety Team’s performance.

The Safety Team consists of approximately 24 highly-trained personnel with a minimum of 14 attending each event – two trauma physicians, three paramedics and nine firefighters/EMTs. Team members have an average of 20 years of experience in their respective areas.

“Our Safety Team is at the forefront of motorsports safety and over the years has set a very high standard in its response to all on-track incidents,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for the IRL. ”We are always continually looking for ways to improve the way we operate.

“What happened at Texas was a result of human error and we will work diligently to prevent this in the future. The safety of our teams, drivers and officials on the racetrack remains our Number One priority.”

The Safety Team is divided into three response units. When an on-track incident occurs, the first team to arrive on the scene is responsible for the driver and his/her extrication from the car, if necessary. The second team begins track cleanup at the area of impact. The third team makes a complete lap around the track to check for fluids and debris that may have been dropped during the incident.

The Safety Team conducts frequent training sessions for its members and meets daily with track safety personnel during event weekends.

Gossage noted that while TMS had safety personnel and equipment stationed at various trackside locales during the race, those units never were dispatched by the IRL.

“There were no TMS personnel involved,” Gossage said. “There were several teams that have the training and equipment trucks that have all the pieces from fire-fighting to extrication (on call). But this was solely an IRL crew. And when they called for the second truck, they called for another IRL crew. They didn’t call ours. When you see a crew on-track at an IndyCar race, it’s an IRL crew. And there’s a feeling in IndyCar racing, and in Champ Car before that, the emergency workers that travel with the circuit better know how to work with the emergencies that occur with these cars and the drivers. That’s been a long-standing issue with IndyCar racing, and even going back 25 years in CART.

“Could our crew have done any different? Who knows? The bottom line is the hose didn’t charge and that’s not an IRL issue per se. It was ‘one of those things,’ but you can’t have ‘one of those things.’ The IRL did their homework and now knows what it was.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 16 2010
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