By Steve Wittich
With Braden Eves’ massive incident in an Indy Pro 2000 race in Turn 11 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the topic of more robust cockpit protection for the Road To Indy chassis is something that warrants discussion.
The first question TSO Ladder had when we got to the track today was whether the current Tatuus safety cell shared by the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 series could be retrofitted with a halo?
Tony Cotman, RTI Competition Director, and USF2000 Race Director informed us that, unfortunately, no, the halo could not be added to the Tatuus AP T-016 tub that serves as the safety cell the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 series.
The USF-17 was first unveiled at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show in December 2015, over a year before the FIA first testing the halo driver crash protection system, and two years before the halo was mandated for use in Formula 1, Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula E.
Unfortunately, in this case, the timing for introducing the new chassis to be utilized in the bottom two rungs of the Road To Indy ladder came a year too early. As such, it was not designed to be able to accept the halo.
When TSO Ladder asked Dan Andersen, Owner, and CEO of Andersen Promotions, if he was considering a new chassis, the answer was an immediate and emphatic yes. The former team owner and long-time series promotor went on to tell TSO Ladder that over a week ago, before Eves incident, he had asked Tatuus to provide him with a proposal for a new safety cell featuring cockpit protection.
Andersen then explained that after Eves’ accident, he asked Tatuus to get him that information as quickly as possible.
The Italian manufacturer currently has a chassis, the Tatuus F.3 T-318, equipped with a halo. That chassis is utilized in the F3 Asian Championship, Formula Regional European Championship, W Series, Formula Renault Eurocup, and New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series.
Unfortunately, that car is not suitable for the Road To Indy because it only has a single bulkhead and lacks a few other protective measures required for racing in North America. The lack of a double bulkhead to protect a driver in the event of a severe oval crash is a non-starter for Andersen, who made it clear that the Road To Indy drivers’ safety was his only priority.
The unsuitability of the current Tatuus chassis with a halo means a new safety cell will need to be designed and constructed.
Andersen told TSO Ladder that the intention is for all of the current parts, outside of the safety cell, used by the teams on the current USF-17 and PM-18 cars, would move over to a new tub.
There is no definite time frame, but Andersen made it clear that it was an urgent matter.
We had the chance to ask a few team owners their thoughts on having to purchase a new safety cell sooner than they expected. The response in all three cases was an immediate -” of course” – even though that means an unexpected capital expenditure.
One owner described it as short term pain for long term gain and explained that having cockpit protection significantly expands his pool of potential drivers.
According to a few reliable TSO sources, the first piece of driver cockpit protection added to all three levels of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires during offseason, the Cockpit Frontal Protection device, likely helped protect Eves from further injury.
Cockpit protection for the Road To Indy is a story that TSO Ladder will be following up on often.
With the success of the Aeroscreen in the NTT INDYCAR® SERIES and, more to the point, the addition of cockpit protection to every other junior formula series above Formula 4, the Road To Indy needs cockpit protection as soon as possible to remain relevant with young drivers. Thankfully, Andersen understands that fully.