IndyCar chief wanted ‘carnage’
INDYCAR chief Randy Bernard has apologised for promising "carnage and wrecks" before Dan Wheldon's fatal crash.
The British driver died after an horrific 15-car pile-up in the Las Vegas Indy 300 race.
Motor racing legends have claimed Sunday's tragedy was an accident waiting to happen.
Now IndyCar chief executive Bernard is under the spotlight for pushing safety boundaries to the limit in a bid to attract bigger crowds.
Bernard took over in March last year and believed upping the excitement — and risk — was vital in the sport's bid to rival the more successful NASCAR.
That included packing more cars into races, one of the main factors being blamed for the Vegas tragedy.
In an interview three months ago, Bernard promised IndyCar fans that "danger will be an important element of the sport".
And he predicted bringing in side-by-side restarts would mean "carnage and wrecks".
But yesterday he said: "I am sorry if my comments are interpreted in this way. Danger has been an inherent part of the sport since 1909.
"I don't know if what I said was taken out of context but, if you know me, you know where my loyalties lie. I'm very respectful to the drivers and the sport."
Sunday's race saw 34 cars, some driven by relative rookies, lapping a steeply-banked 1½-mile circuit at average speeds of 225mph. At Indianapolis, only 33 cars take part on a 2.5-mile circuit.
To add to the hype, two-time Indy 500 winner Wheldon, 33, agreed to a publicity stunt which saw him start at the back of the pack in a bid to win himself and a fan a $5million bonus if he won.
In a promotional interview for the race, driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said: "All it takes is one mistake by one driver and it could be huge consequences. This should be a nail-biter for the fans and it'll be insane for the drivers."
Hunter-Reay's words proved tragically prophetic as Wheldon was caught up in a pile-up triggered by a collision ahead of him.
His car went airborne and burst into a fireball after smashing into the track wall.
Now there are widespread calls for an urgent overhaul of safety standards in the sport.
Britain's former Formula One and IndyCar champion Nigel Mansell said: "In Indy racing there is simply nowhere to go.
"When an accident happens, you are into the wall in a split second. To have 34 cars travelling at 220mph on a 1½-mile circuit is too many."
F1 star Mark Webber added: "The pack racing element of is particularly hazardous.
"Single-seaters being that tightly packed and rubbing each other at 350km an hour — that's what they are probably going to look at."
IndyCar fans, meanwhile, have turned the Indianapolis speedway into an emotional memorial to Wheldon.
Tributes have been piling up at the historic main entrance to the Indy 500 circuit, where Wheldon won twice.
British local resident Nick Garside explained: "Dan was special, a hero. We had a group of Brits who would get together to fly our flags. Dan gave me two of the happiest days of my life — and one of the saddest as well."
Garside hung a large Union Jack with the words 'Brit Corner' emblazoned on it.
He added: "It feels better to have it here than my garage."
Alongside the flags, there was even a pumpkin with Wheldon's No 77 carved into it.
Experts say the race which killed Dan Wheldon should never have gone ahead
HORROR ... Indy smash has shocked sport
5 key factors to the crash
AVERAGE speed at the Las Vegas track was a blistering 225mph. At this year's Silverstone British GP, winner Fernando Alonso's average speed was 129mph.
IN Sunday's race there were 34 cars going round a steeply-banked 1.5-mile track. At Indianapolis, the limit is 33 cars for the wider and longer 2.5-mile circuit.
FORMULA One learned from the death of Ayrton Senna and has run-out areas by the side of nearly all corners at every circuit. In IndyCar, the concrete walls sit directly next to the track itself.
F1 drivers must have a rigorous Super-Pro Licence. At Las Vegas, some of the competitors were not even regular IndyCar drivers.
DAN WHELDON started from the back of the grid to try to win the $5million bonus prize on offer.
Published: 18 Oct 2011
DAN WHELDON'S death was a tragedy waiting to happen.
The Brit racing star, 33, was chasing a bumper $5million jackpot in the Las Vegas Indy 300 when he was killed in a fiery horror smash on Sunday.
Wheldon, twice winner of the Indianapolis 500, had failed to secure a full-time drive this campaign and was racing only because IndyCar chief Randy Bernard had offered $5m (£3.1m) to any non-regular racer who won the season finale from the back of the grid.
The married dad of two started 34th but was already up to 24th by lap 13, when 15 cars were involved in the 220mph carnage.
Wheldon's blazing vehicle was catapulted high into the safety fencing before it slammed back upside down on the track.
Just hours earlier the Bucks-born ace had sorted a deal to replace pin-up Danica Patrick at Andretti Autosport next season.
Experts insisted the race should never have gone ahead.
Ex-Formula One champ Jody Scheckter labelled it "madness" and urged his son Tomas to quit IndyCar. He said: "It's the most dangerous form of motor racing.
"Hopefully this will knock some sense into Tom and make him realise there is more to life."
Tomas insisted: "I want to carry on racing. But I want the drivers to get together when the rules are made, so that the odds are not against us surviving.
"It's not bumper cars. We know the risks but we don't want stupid risks just for entertainment."
In F1, the speeds are much slower — Fernando Alonso won this year's British Grand Prix at an average 129mph. FOUR IndyCar drivers have died since the last F1 fatality — Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994.
Former IndyCar driver Mark Blundell said: "When you're only a couple of inches away from each other, going side-by-side doing 220mph, when things go wrong they go wrong in a big way. It was inevitable. It was a recipe for disaster.
"These kinds of cars shouldn't have been running on these kinds of circuits."
Wheldon's former karting rival Anthony Davidson added: "I've always said I'd never drive in IndyCars because of the safety record. It is just not worth it. The cars are agricultural."
Mexican ace Adrian Fernandez revealed Wheldon was edgy beforehand. He said: "I spoke with Dan and many others on the grid. None felt comfortable. I could feel their fear."
Scot Dario Franchitti, who won his fourth title in the most sombre of circumstances, paid an emotional tribute to his pal.
His wife, actress Ashley Judd, handed him tissues as he said: "One minute you're joking about, the next, Dan's gone. We lost a good friend. He was such a good guy. He was a charmer."