Monday, 24 August 2015

Where Does It End?

It's been very nearly four years since I posted this, on another blog, in another time:
1994: Ayrton Senna & Roland Ratzenberger (Formula 1)
1995: Greg Hansford (ATCC)
1996: Scott Brayton (IRL) & Jeff Krosnoff (CART)
1997: Sebastian Enjolras (Le Mans)
1999: Greg Moore & Gonzalo Rodriguez (CART)
2000: Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin Jr. & Tony Roper (NASCAR)
2001: Dale Earnhardt Sr. (NASCAR)
2003: Tony Renna (IRL) & Mark Lovell (rally)
2006: Paul Dana (IRL), Mark Porter (V8 Supercars) & Peter Brock (sportscar)
2008: Ashley Cooper (V8 Supercars)
2009: Henry Surtees (Formula 2)
2011: Dan Wheldon (IndyCar) & Marco Simoncelli (MotoGP).

The only shocking thing, when you think about it, is that this still shocks us.

When I heard the news, almost my first thought was, "This is 2011. Surely we've seen the last of this?" But as the list shows, motorsport's post-Senna safety era has existed largely within our minds.

Motor racing is still dangerous. How dare we forget that.
For some reason, maybe it was subconscious, you'll notice I put a full stop after Marco Simoncelli as if the matter was closed. More fool me. If you'd told me then this was just beginning, I wouldn't've believed you. But it just keeps going. Since 2011 we can extend the list thus:

2012: Osamu Nakajima (Super GT)
2013: Allan Simonsen (Le Mans)
2014: Jules Bianchi (Formula 1)
2015: Justin Wilson (IndyCar)

And that's just the big, international series; I've deliberately left out names like Kevin Ward Jr, the kid Tony Stewart ran over in a sprintcar race in 2013, because that was only a minor event (which doesn't make him any less dead). If you want to see the full list you're welcome, but it's pretty grim reading. The Ascaris are on there, father and son; so is Jules Bianchi, now heartbreakingly listed right above his great-uncle Lucien, who hit a telegraph pole at Le Mans in 1969; there's also the fiery Frenchman Jean Behra, Indianapolis legend Tony Bettenhausen, NASCAR star Neil Bonnett (who won the first race at the newly-opened Thunderdome in 1988), Possum Bourne (the rally maestro who did such amazing things in our Aussie dust), and of course Peter Brock, who wasn't blessed with enough self-doubt to know it was time to quit for good - all without even getting to the letter C.

I think it's getting to me, all the more because I'm up to the mid-80s in my local touring car writing, which means at some point in the near future I'm going to have to broach the subject of Mike Burgmann (another B), who died on Conrod Straight in the early laps of the '86 James Hardie 1000. A gust of wind lifted the car and dropped it off the track, and he ran into a tyre barrier so hard it pushed the engine into the cockpit. Footage from the day shows the front guards of his VK crumpled like beer cans, right up to the firewall. I personally catch the barest gust from the reaper's wings on this one, because his co-driver that day was to be Mal Rose, the man who frightened the bejeezus out of me on the Thunderdome a couple of years back.

I dunno. I just dunno. I don't have any answers, or even coherent questions really, just a feeling that something's gone terribly wrong with the sport I love. Even Formula 1's luck is broken, that paragon of intensive (and expensive) safety preparation, Jules Bianchi becoming the first driver death since the god-of-F1 Ayrton Senna (I know Bianchi didn't die at the track, but officially neither did Senna. The only difference between them really is the amount of time they spent in hospital).

I was at Spa last year, you know, and got footage of a Marussia coming through Pouhon in the wet Saturday qualifying sessions: it got a back tyre on the slippery kerb and had a big wobble, which the driver caught and powered away like it was nothing. It might've been Bianchi; my camerawork is too blurry to be sure.

On race day my hand was steadier.

And now Justin Wilson as well, because of a freak of coincidence with a piece of flying debris.

That's not a component you can say, "Oh, we better tether it to the car, then," because it's already supposed to be tethered to the car (you'll notice the wheels stayed on like they're designed to). A fraction of a percent more or less throttle, on any given lap, and Wilson's head wouldn't've been trying to occupy the same space as that nosecone at that moment. A miniscule difference in the crash physics, and that nosecone would've ended up somewhere else completely - sliding along the track maybe, or flying over the fence. But instead the twain did meet, and Justin is gone, and there's no lesson or a way of convincing ourselves that we can make sure it never happens again. Maybe that's what makes it so hard to take. No mantra but the passive, hopeless one I posited back in 2011 that still bears repeating.

Motor racing is dangerous. How dare we forget that.

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