Firestone Firehawk 600

The Firestone Firehawk 600 was a planned American open-wheel car race scheduled for April 29, 2001 at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, United States. The event was sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and was the third round of the 2001 CART season. It was scheduled for 248 laps around the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) oval track. However, the race was postponed and ultimately canceled due to concerns about driver safety, as the high speeds the cars sustained through the circuit's long corners (which had 24° of banking) could potentially have led to drivers experiencing g-force induced loss of consciousness. It was the only race in CART history that was canceled outright for safety reasons.[1] Kenny Bräck was awarded one point for qualifying on pole position at an average speed of 233.344 miles per hour (375.531 km/h).[2][3]

Firestone Firehawk 600 Presented by Pioneer
Texas Motor Speedway
Race information
Circuit length2.371 km (1.482 miles)
Race length588.008 km (367.536 miles)
Last race (2001)
Pole position
    • 1. race not completed
    • N/A
    • 0.000
Fastest lap
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • 0.000

Background Edit

The Firestone Firehawk 600 was to be the second attempt to run an open-wheel race on a high-banked oval. Texas Motor Speedway, which opened in 1997, is classified as an intermediate oval with a length of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The turns are banked at 24°. By comparison, the turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are only banked at 9°, and those at Michigan International Speedway are 18°.

Texas Motor Speedway was originally designed with a dual-banking layout. The steep 24° banking on top would accommodate NASCAR races. A secondary 8° banking below was designed for the faster open-wheel machines. While the track was under construction, CART had expressed interest in holding a race at the facility, but upon closer examination of the unusual dual-banking system decided it was not feasible. The secondary banking design was ultimately deemed a failure, and in 1998, the turns were reconfigured. The dual banking was removed in favor of a larger apron, and after unrelated difficulties during the NASCAR events, the turn transitions were corrected.

The rival Indy Racing League (IRL) had run what is now the DXC Technology 600 at Texas since 1997, along with a fall race from 1998 to 2004. IRL cars were slower than their CART counterparts (due to their less powerful naturally aspirated engines) and this, combined with a higher downforce chassis, allowed them to handle the steep banking.

After the success of the IRL events, CART expressed renewed interest in holding an event at the track. Over the summer of 2000, negotiations were ongoing, with a tentative date of May 6, 2001 set for the inaugural event.[4] When the 2001 CART schedule was released, the race was scheduled for April 29, 2001, and was set to air live on ABC.[4][5] However, it was eventually switched to sister network ESPN.

Initial concerns Edit

The expectations for dangerously high speeds were an early concern,[6][7] and even led to rumors of cancellation or moving the race to the infield road course. Unlike their IRL counterparts, CART cars had much more horsepower from their turbocharged engines,[7] and less downforce and drag. They were thus expected to traverse the circuit much faster. TMS would have been the highest-banked track for a CART race since Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1983. The high banking and sharp turns were expected to impose unprecedented g loads on the drivers and cars. A test was scheduled for December 18, 2000 in order to address concerns.[6][8]

TMS president Eddie Gossage wrote to CART management urging them to mandate certain suspension components, among others, to improve safety for the event.[6] CART driver Maurício Gugelmin expressed that the drivers would face a challenge, but was confident that CART would find the solutions needed to conduct the race.[6] Gugelmin also noted that "stronger parts will be necessary because of the loading generated by the banking."[6]

Testing Edit

The first CART test session began on December 19, 2000. Kenny Bräck, a former IRL driver who had previously raced at Texas while with that series, was the first driver to take to the track.[9] The target speeds were set at 225 mph.[9] Bräck completed over 100 laps, with a top lap over 221 mph.[10] CART chief steward J. Kirk Russell, track officials, Bräck, and Team Rahal expressed satisfaction with the test and the data collected.[10] CART set its rules package for the race as utilizing 37 inHG manifold pressure (down from 40[6]) and installing the Hanford device on all rear wings.[10] However, Gossage told NBC Sports in 2016 that Bräck was not going full throttle during the test.[1]

While CART did not arrange a full-field open test,[7] several private tests followed. The second series of private tests, scheduled for three days, began February 21, 2001. The entire week was hindered by rain and cool temperatures.[11] Patrick Racing and driver Jimmy Vasser were the first teams to take to the track.[12] On the first day, rain kept the track closed until 11:30 a.m. A busy afternoon saw Vasser drive over 100 laps, with a top lap over 215 mph (346 km/h). Vasser reported it was "fairly easy to drive flat out"[12] and said the track was somewhat bumpy.[12] The team claimed to have accomplished all of their goals in the abbreviated half-day session, and canceled the remaining two days they had scheduled for the test.

Team KOOL Green tested at the track on February 22 with driver Dario Franchitti.[13] He completed 190 laps with a top lap speed of 225.7 mph (363.2 km/h). Top trap speeds may have been as high as 228 mph (367 km/h).[7]

Like Patrick Racing the day before, Team Green canceled their second scheduled day of testing when they felt they had accomplished their testing goals after only one session.[13] Franchitti expressed reservations about the track's roughness[13] and reported pulling 3 Gs in the corners.[11] He also predicted that two-wide racing would be possible during the race.[11]

PacWest Racing also tested at the track on February 22 with rookie driver Scott Dixon[14] and Maurício Gugelmin.[11] In 55 degree weather, Dixon drove about 140 laps, with a top speed close to 225 mph.[14] Gugelmin also reported the ability to drive flat out around the track.

However, Gugelmin told Gossage and CART officials in a March 19 teleconference that he didn't believe CART could run a race at TMS. He claimed that the "wing configuration was wrong," and the cars were "too fast" for the track.[1]

Also at the track on February 22 was Penske Racing with driver Hélio Castroneves[11][14] and Walker Racing with driver Tora Takagi.[11] Castroneves had a fast lap at about 226 mph.[15]

All scheduled testing for February 23 was canceled due to rain.[11] During the week, no incidents were reported. Tora Takagi, however, suffered gearbox trouble, and completed only 20 laps of testing.[11]

Comparisons with IRL Edit

The existing track qualifying record at Texas Motor Speedway for the Indy Racing League events was set June 5, 1998, by Tony Stewart (24.059 seconds; 224.448 mph). The fastest race lap, aided by a tow was set by Billy Boat the following day (23.759 seconds; 227.273 mph).[16] The following year, the cars were slowed down by rule changes, and speed remained in the 215–216 mph range.

Scott Dixon's unaided 225 mph (362 km/h) lap during testing already unofficially broke the IRL's qualifying record.

Changes Edit

Following the tests, very few changes were made to the cars leading up to the race. The teams that participated reported satisfaction with the information gathered during the tests.[10][11][12][13][14] The primary concerns expressed dwelled on the roughness of the circuit.[12][13][17]

The track itself, however, underwent a few upgrades. Changes included a concrete wall on pit lane between the pit stalls and the grassy "quad oval" area along the frontstretch. The track's surface was also smoothed in some areas, in response to the complaints.

Race weekend Edit

Friday morning practice Edit

Going into race week, many drivers expressed apprehension about the upcoming race.[17] The first practice session was held the morning of Friday April 27, 2001. CART officials re-measured the track for scoring purposes, and utilized a length of 1.482 miles.[18] At the time, NASCAR and IRL utilized a track measurement of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The first practice session saw no incidents. Tony Kanaan turned the fastest lap at 22.845 seconds (233.539 mph), a full second quicker than the fastest time reported during the test sessions.[14]

April 27, 2001 – Morning Practice Top Speeds
Rank Driver Time Speed
1   Tony Kanaan 22.845 233.539 mph (375.845 km/h)
2   Christian Fittipaldi 23.001 231.955 mph (373.295 km/h)
3   Hélio Castroneves 23.003 231.935 mph (373.263 km/h)
4   Cristiano da Matta 23.033 231.633 mph (372.777 km/h)
5   Gil de Ferran 23.035 231.613 mph (372.745 km/h)

Friday afternoon practice Edit

The first crash of the weekend occurred during the Friday afternoon session, when Maurício Gugelmin crashed in turn 3.[19] His car got loose exiting turn 2 and hit the inside wall at 66.2 g.[clarification needed][20] His foot became lodged between the pedals, and the car accelerated.[21] The car slid down the backstretch and hit the outside wall in turn 3 with a force of 113.1 g.[clarification needed][20] The car continued to slide until it reached the apex between turn 3 and turn 4.[20] Gugelmin claims to have blacked out during the crash,[21] but he was not seriously injured.[20] Gugelmin was wearing the HANS device.[20] He withdrew, nursing bruised shoulders and ribs, and sat out the rest of the weekend.[21]

Meanwhile, Kenny Bräck upped the fastest lap of the day to 22.821 seconds (233.785 mph).[19][22] Dario Franchitti logged the fastest single trap speed at the start/finish line, at 238.936 mph.[23]

During the day, some drivers remarked on the improvements made to the surface, that various bumps had been smoothed out.[19] Most called the track very fast, and two-wide racing and drafting was observed.[19] Bryan Herta likened the track to a bowl, calling it "fast and fun." Paul Tracy also called it "a fast track."[19] Bruno Junqueira said it was the fastest track he had ever driven.[19] An awestruck Nicolas Minassian compared it to a riding a roller coaster.[19] Hélio Castroneves called the track "physical,"[15] due to the banking, and Cristiano da Matta echoed the sentiment.

The first serious concerns about driver safety occurred on Friday afternoon. CART medical affairs director Steve Olvey would later report that two drivers felt dizzy and disoriented after running their cars at over 230 mph (370 km/h), and that they felt they could not control their cars.[24][25] The identities of the two drivers were not disclosed, but Tony Kanaan and Alex Zanardi later claimed they experienced the symptoms.[26] Olvey later recalled that Max Papis was unable to tell the frontstretch from the backstretch when his crew told him to pit.[1] Adrian Fernandez also reported to the media he was experiencing dizziness.[15] Olvey said in his 25 years of working in motorsports, it was a problem he had never experienced.[24]

Later, chief steward Chris Kneifel recalled that he had also heard reports about drivers feeling dizzy, with some saying they had lost their equilibrium after getting out of their cars. CART competition and PR chief Mike Zizzo said that the cars were going so fast that one could get dizzy just watching them roar around the track.[1]

April 27, 2001 – Afternoon Practice Top Speeds
Rank Driver Time Speed
1   Kenny Bräck 22.821 233.785 mph (376.240 km/h)
2   Tony Kanaan 22.912 232.856 mph (374.745 km/h)
3   Paul Tracy 22.936 232.612 mph (374.353 km/h)
4   Scott Dixon 22.945 232.521 mph (374.206 km/h)
5   Bryan Herta 22.991 232.056 mph (373.458 km/h)

Saturday practice Edit

On April 28, 2001 the morning practice session saw the fastest speeds thus far at the track. Paul Tracy ran a lap of 22.542 seconds (236.678 mph) to break the all-time track record from the previous afternoon.[27]

Cristiano da Matta was involved in the second crash of the weekend. His car crashed in turn 3, and he was uninjured.[21]

April 28, 2001 – Morning Practice Top Speeds
Rank Driver Time Speed
1   Paul Tracy 22.542 236.678 mph (380.896 km/h)
2   Tony Kanaan 22.556 236.531 mph (380.660 km/h)
3   Max Papis 22.604 236.029 mph (379.852 km/h)
4   Bryan Herta 22.605 236.019 mph (379.836 km/h)
5   Kenny Bräck 22.624 235.820 mph (379.516 km/h)

Qualifying Edit

Kenny Bräck qualified for the pole position at an all-time official track record of 22.854 seconds (233.447 mph).[21] Patrick Carpentier was second, and Oriol Servia third. Twenty-four of the twenty-five cars were over 226 mph (364 km/h), and the average speed for the field was 229.9 mph (370.0 km/h).

During qualifying, drivers were reporting 5 lateral g sustained for 14-18 of the 23 seconds per lap.[21][24]

April 28, 2001 – Qualifying Speeds
Rank Driver Time Speed Team
1   Kenny Bräck 22.854 233.447 Team Rahal
2   Patrick Carpentier 22.864 233.345 Forsythe Racing
3   Oriol Servia 22.900 232.978 Sigma Autosport
4   Bryan Herta 22.931 232.663 Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing
5   Shinji Nakano 22.988 232.086 Fernández Racing
6   Alex Zanardi 23.003 231.935 Mo Nunn Racing
7   Gil de Ferran 23.067 231.291 Team Penske
8   Alex Tagliani 23.077 231.191 Forsythe Racing
9   Christian Fittipaldi 23.079 231.171 Newman/Haas Racing
10   Paul Tracy 23.097 230.991 Team Green
11   Cristiano da Matta 23.105 230.911 Newman/Haas Racing
12   Adrian Fernandez 23.116 230.801 Fernández Racing
13   Michel Jourdain Jr. 23.120 230.761 Bettenhausen Racing
14   Tony Kanaan 23.142 230.542 Mo Nunn Racing
15   Nicolas Minassian 23.146 230.502 Chip Ganassi Racing
16   Dario Franchitti 23.165 230.313 Team Green
17   Max Papis 23.176 230.204 Team Rahal
18   Michael Andretti 23.215 229.817 Team Motorola
19   Hélio Castroneves 23.292 229.057 Team Penske
20   Scott Dixon 23.319 228.792 PacWest Racing
21   Bruno Junqueira 23.373 228.263 Chip Ganassi Racing
22   Jimmy Vasser 23.479 227.233 Patrick Racing
23   Tora Takagi 23.533 226.711 Walker Racing
24   Roberto Moreno 23.580 226.260 Patrick Racing
25   Max Wilson 24.308 219.483 Arciero-Blair Racing

Post-qualifying Edit

After the CART series finished qualifying, the Dayton Indy Lights series held a 100-mile (160 km) race at the track. Dan Wheldon and Mario Dominguez had led the speed charts in practice and qualifying, with top laps over 188 mph (303 km/h). Damien Faulkner won the race at an average speed of 150.491 mph.[28]

By late Saturday afternoon, concerns were rising about driver safety on the track. Patrick Carpentier[25] went to the medical facility to have his wrist checked (a previous injury he had suffered in a crash at Long Beach).[29] As an aside, he mentioned that he could not walk in a straight line for at least four minutes after he got out of his car.[24] An impromptu survey was taken during the private drivers' meeting and 21 of the 25 drivers in the starting field reported suffering disorientation[24][30] and vertigo-like symptoms,[30] including inner ear, or vision problems, after running more than 10 laps[31] (or 20 laps[24]). They also claimed that they had had virtually no peripheral vision and limited reaction time.[7][15] This was due to sustained g-loads as high as 5.5, almost double what most persons can endure, and closer to what jet pilots usually experience in shorter time intervals.

Veteran racing reporter John Oreovicz later said that the Saturday practice session was one of the few times he could recall fearing for the safety of the drivers and fans in what at the time was a quarter-century of covering races. By then, at least one driver, Franchitti, doubted that the race would go on as scheduled. Later, Bräck recalled that when the drivers' meeting concluded, only he and Tracy were in favor of racing the following day.[1]

Postponement Edit

Olvey contacted Dr. Richard Jennings, a former flight director at NASA and professor of aviation medicine at the University of Texas. They discussed the known levels of human tolerance of vertical g-loads. Jennings replied that the human body could not tolerate sustained loads of more than 4-4.5 g.[25] CART determined that the race could not be run at more than 225 mph (362 km/h) without raising safety concerns over g-force induced Loss Of Consciousness (g-LOC).[32]

The night before the race, CART officials attempted to make last-ditch efforts to curtail speeds by having the teams take downforce out of the car, and reduce horsepower.[7] According to Zizzo, they felt that they could not slow the cars down by more than three or four mph without risking engine failure. One proposal, seriously considered, would have called for a makeshift chicane of cones along the backstretch.[1]

However, by Sunday morning, time was running out to make changes necessary to hold the race safely. The morning warm-up session was canceled. Two hours before the scheduled start, the race was postponed. Over 60,000 fans were sent home. The move came after Kniefel and CART president Joe Heitzler had a series of meetings with drivers, owners and sponsors. All parties agreed that it didn't make sense to hold the race under the circumstances.[25]

At a press conference, Heitzler did not blame the track. Rather, he stressed that officials could not in good conscience allow a race with such serious concerns about the safety of the drivers. Olvey added that the drivers were experiencing g forces well beyond the limits of "human tolerance"[1]–a problem that would have likely been exacerbated since the temperature was an unseasonably warm 80 °F (27 °C). There was fear of the possibility that drivers could suffer "grey-outs" or lose consciousness from g-LOC. It is also likely that the high g-loads would have been outside the design limits for the HANS device, which was required for all CART races at oval tracks.

Gossage was harshly critical of CART's decision. He argued that CART assured him it could run the race even though it had not conducted more extensive tests at the track. Russell argued that there was no time due to scheduling conflicts. Michael Andretti added that there was no real way to simulate ≈26 or more cars in a race.[7] ESPN's Robin Miller later said that CART should have known there was a problem the minute the first driver clocked 230 mph (370 km/h) on Friday.[7]

CART officials held out the possibility of rescheduling the race, but there was no room in the schedule and it was ultimately canceled. The race marked the first and only time a CART race would be canceled outright due to driver safety issues.[31]

Lawsuit and settlement Edit

Speedway Motorsports, the owner of Texas Motor Speedway, sued CART on May 8 for breach of contract. Damages cited included issuing refunds for over 60,000 tickets, purse, the $2.1 million sanction fee, and additional compensation for promotional expenses, lost profits, and other damages.[33]

During the suit, it subsequently emerged that CART had ignored repeated requests to conduct testing at TMS before the aborted race. On October 16, the two parties settled for an undisclosed amount.[33] Terms were not disclosed, but estimates were between $5–$7 million.[33] A contract that included a race for 2002 and 2003 was annulled.[33]

In the aftermath, the handling of the incident was widely criticized by fans and media.[7][34][35][36] While the sanctioning body was commended by many for choosing not to put its drivers in danger[7][37] the race was largely viewed as a debacle, a low point for the slumping series,[7][34] and very damaging to the organization in the months and years to come.[35] CART reported that it spent $3.5 million for the settlement and legal costs, resulting in a $1.7 million loss for the third quarter of 2001. CART declared bankruptcy and was sold in 2003, became known as Champ Car, and never attempted to return to Texas Motor Speedway. Ultimately it was absorbed into the Indy Racing League in 2008.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Daniel McFadin (2016-04-29). "CART and the race that never was". NBC Sports.
  2. ^ "2001: Drivers' Championship". Retrieved 2023-06-02.
  3. ^ "2001, Texas". Retrieved 2023-06-02.
  4. ^ a b "Race date changes at Texas for 2001". 2000-08-03. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  5. ^ "CART 2001 schedule announcement". 2000-08-04. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Gugelmin looks forward to Texas". 2000-11-30. Retrieved 2008-12-08.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Miller, Robin (2001-04-29). "The writing was on the wall long ago". CART. ESPN. Retrieved 2012-02-01.
  8. ^ "December test date set at Texas". 2000-11-30. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  9. ^ a b "Notes series happenings 2000-12-18". 2000-12-19. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  10. ^ a b c d "Brack impressed with first test at Texas". 2000-12-19. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Teams complete Texas test". 2001-02-24. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  12. ^ a b c d e "Patrick Racing tests at Texas Motor Speedway". 2001-02-22. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Team KOOL Green tests Texas". 2001-02-24. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Dixon quickest Toyota in Texas". 2001-02-23. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  15. ^ a b c d "TEXAS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK". 2001-04-27. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  16. ^ "Official Box Score True Value 500" (PDF). 1998-06-06. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  17. ^ a b "Pre-Texas quoteboard". 2001-04-24. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  18. ^ "Texas Friday morning practice results". 2001-04-27. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g "Brack fastest in practice at Texas". 2001-04-27. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  20. ^ a b c d e "Gugelmin OKAY after Texas wall collision". 2001-04-29. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  21. ^ a b c d e f "Brack takes the pole at Texas". 2001-04-28. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  22. ^ "Texas Friday afternoon practice results". 2001-04-27. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  24. ^ a b c d e f "Official CART announcement of Texas postponement". 2001-04-29. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  25. ^ a b c d "CART medical director addresses Texas G force issue". 2001-04-30. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  26. ^ "Kanaan-Zanardi Texas Sunday postponement". 2001-04-29. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  27. ^ "Texas Saturday practice results". 2001-04-28. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  28. ^ 2001 Indy Lights Texas
  29. ^ "Unlucky Carpentier rebreaks wrist". Las Vegas Sun. 2001-04-10. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
  30. ^ a b "Driver safety concerns postpone Texas race". 2001-04-29. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  31. ^ a b "No need for speed". 2000-08-03. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  32. ^ Race might be rescheduled. ESPN wire services, 2001-04-30.
  33. ^ a b c d "Texas Motor Speedway Reaches Settlement Over Cancelled Race". 2001-10-16. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  34. ^ a b "Champ Car Revistied". National Speed Sport News. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  35. ^ a b "Tire issues aside, at least NASCAR put on a competitive show". 2008-07-29. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  36. ^ "Commentary: Texas Slowdown". 2001-04-30. Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  37. ^ Cup drivers identify with CART brethren

External links Edit

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