No, James Hinchcliffe or last year's IMS champion Scott Dixon do not think there is any firm evidence that the new oval safety equipment will help the drivers in the Indianapolis 500 this season. Neither do either of their teammates, neither do their team managers, neither of the race track owners and the insurance companies.
Each driver is concerned that the oval safety equipment, which is supposed to be one of the best innovations in racing in years, is being installed too late in the race season. Neither today's Indianapolis 500 practice timesetter James Hinchcliffe or IMS champion Scott Dixon believe that any firm conclusions can be drawn as to whether the oval safety equipment will affect the race in any significant way; only the driver of any given team will remain a “sitting duck” until a rule change forces him into action. Only the driver of any given car will be forced into action by his team managers and the race track owners.
The problem is, the safety equipment doesn't work; and neither does the race track owners' insurance policy. Which means the “sitting ducks” are the drivers themselves, who could easily be making good use of the new safety equipment.
According to Hinchcliffe, “We have to take this step, because it's the only way we're going to be able to get the most out of this safety equipment.” Yet, the new oval safety equipment is only the first part of the puzzle. The safety equipment is not intended to save any money for the teams and drivers, or to improve the track conditions or to provide a good experience for the fans.
According to Hinchcliffe, “We have to keep it simple and realistic for the fans. That means we have to spend money in areas that will make sure the fanatics come to the race, so they can have a great time. We don't need to spend money on fancy, sophisticated safety equipment and gadgets that won't really helping us improve our driving or our track. It's a little like spending money on fancy watches or sunglasses and then buying them anyway. – if it works, why change it?”
What is needed is more safety equipment for the drivers, a better racing surface and more pit stops for the drivers, and less driving for the fans. Safety equipment is something that each driver has to take on their own; they may need to change the race course if they can't beat their times or they want to beat their opponents' times. Yet, safety equipment and pit stop can't be purchased on their own; they have to be purchased together.
It is not easy to run a race without enough driving time and without enough speed, but the track surfaces don't need to be the same in every race. The track surfaces have to be good enough for the drivers' comfort and the fans' enjoyment. This means less driving for the fans but more pit stops and less driving for the drivers' safety.
In short, the drivers will have to be willing to accept less, or, if possible, the total cessation of safety equipment in order to get their fair share of driving and entertainment time. This is what the track owners, drivers and track owners will need to agree upon with the driver's representatives. This is the only way for the safety equipment to make a real and lasting difference in the Indianapolis 500. If the safety equipment and the track conditions can be fixed and the safety equipment changes, but only if the driver, his or her team manager and the track owners are willing to accept it and not make things too difficult for themselves, then we should hope that safety equipment changes and the changes can work in harmony.
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