Safety Car shambles at The Island

Monday 9th November, 2009 - 11:08am


The Safety Car was in the news at Phillip Island

The Safety Car was in the news at Phillip Island

We got lucky on Sunday at Phillip Island.

Thankfully, the front-runners in Race 22 of the V8 Supercar Championship Series were able to avoid an accident as they came – full noise – down Gardner Straight only to find a car park over the crest.

The in-car vision from James Courtney’s car made me sick in the stomach as I watched it back on Monday morning. Luckily, a gap opened up for him to arrow into and avoid contact with any other cars.

On re-watching the tape of our coverage, the shot picks up Safety Car driver Amber Anderson stopped to the left hand side of the road with race leader Jamie Whincup (who had just pitted and re-joined as leader) and Rick Kelly at a standstill.

Both drivers were fully aware that passing the yellow Audi is a ‘no-no’ and promptly park behind it out of fear of a penalty for going past it.

All three drivers – Anderson, Whincup and Kelly – did absolutely nothing wrong. They were all following instruction; Anderson from Race Control and J-Dub and Rick the rules of racing.

Well, Anderson was following the fact that there had been no instruction from Race Control.

Then Race Director Tim Schenken tells the Safety Car over the radio to “hold” twice, even though it is clear the two leading cars are already parked and waiting.

Then the following pack of cars appears over the crest and do what they can to avoid the stationary vehicles before Schenken tells the Safety Car “it better scramble”.

It was all too late. A total shambles.

In the flurry of everything, it appeared to be a very simple problem of forgetting to tell the Safety Car to scramble and get moving early enough.

But whatever the case, we need to learn from this near-miss and make sure all drivers – in race cars and the occupants of Safety Cars – are not placed in a similar scenario.

The issue of cars on the track racing back to the line to beat those that are exiting pit lane was a factor in what happened on Sunday.

Drivers on the actual circuit are punching 250km/h as they try to race drivers exiting the lane accelerating up from 40km/h.

But the race drivers did absolutely nothing wrong by doing this. The last thing they would expect is the Safety Car and leading two cars parked on the track. They should not have been there.

So a solution, particularly for a track like Phillip Island with a high speed straight and pit lane exit alongside one another? One that also would protect the Safety Car from being a sitting duck should there be a communication breakdown?

Deploy it onto the circuit and, instead of waiting for the leader over a crest at a standstill, instruct it to drive to the exit of turn two well in advance of the field.

By then, drivers will have sorted their order, reduced speed significantly and have ample time to be warned about where the Safety Car is on the circuit.

And perhaps we should take a leaf from Formula 1 and MotoGP and equipe the Safety Car occupants with helmets, HANS Devices, race suits and whatever safety equipment is deemed necessary.

Had Courtney hit one of his fellow V8 racers, it would have been a nasty shunt.

But I shudder even more to think what would have happened had he been on the left of the road and unable to avoid the Safety Car …

In case you missed it, here is footage of the Island Safety Car incident …

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