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Thursday, April 17, 2014

CEO: Safety will be focus for IndyCar

By JENNA FRYER
Associated Press

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said Wednesday night the best way to honor Dan Wheldon is finding a way to prevent another fatal accident.

The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was killed Sunday in a fiery 15-car accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. IndyCar has launched a formal investigation that Bernard hopes will lead to improved safety measures.

"We've got a lot to do, and we don't have any time to mess around," Bernard said. "We need answers."

IndyCar initially said Formula One's governing body and the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States were involved in the investigation. IndyCar clarified Wednesday that neither organization has a formal role in the investigation.

But Bernard, in his first comments since announcing Wheldon's death, stressed the investigation must help IndyCar ensure there will not be another accident like Sunday's.

"We must continue to move forward with a thorough investigation; fortunately, that has already begun, and we have the protocols in place to get this done," Bernard said. "This was a tragic accident, and IndyCar needs to understand everything possible about it."

There's been very little public comment from IndyCar's stars since the accident. The top drivers have been largely silent except for an occasional Twitter post.

Bernard said Wednesday night that the industry has banded together this week to focus on supporting Wheldon's family and preparing for his memorial service. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced, but a public memorial service is scheduled for Sunday in Indianapolis.

"This has been a very difficult time, but we have to stay focused more than ever right now," Bernard said. "The first thing we have to do is take care of the Wheldon family and make sure we are there to help them anyway we can."

IndyCar has helped launch a memorial website for Wheldon, established a trust fund and organized the public service at Conseco Field.

"Those were the things that were very important for us to get done as quickly as possible," Bernard said. "Everyone in this community is so focused on letting the Wheldon family know our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we are doing everything we can to support them."

Wheldon's death was the first fatal accident in IndyCar since Paul Dana was killed in 2006, but safety concerns have been raised about the wisdom of racing at the high-banked Las Vegas track.

Because of the open-wheel design of the IndyCar, the cars cannot race side-by-side on the progressive banking at Las Vegas and wide open through the turns without creating substantial risk. Contact between two cars can trigger a massive accident, which is exactly what happened Sunday.

Wheldon came upon the accident, ran over another car, and his car spun through the air into the catch fence. The open cockpit appeared to take a direct hit with the fence.

Bernard declined Wednesday to discuss the safety questions surrounding Las Vegas, saying he preferred to keep the focus on Wheldon this week.

That seemed to be the shared thinking throughout the auto racing community, as both former Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson called for attention to be directed on Wheldon's life.

"I think people really have to forget about (safety questions)," Montoya said. "Now with the social media and everything anybody's opinion really counts. And I think the only opinion that really matters right now is the one where we worry about Dan and his family. Let's let IndyCar deal with their problems."

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