IRL - Fastest show on earth

This was the year that the Indy Racing League came of age. Big name teams, brilliant drivers and three of the largest car manufacturers in the world produced an action-packed season of high drama. But there was also a dark and sinister side to IndyCars in 2003

IRL - Fastest show on earth

While the high downforce of the latest incarnation of IRL machinery produced some spellbinding races, including a breath-taking three-way photo finish at Chicago and the fastest closed course race in history at Fontana, both won by home-grown genius Sam Hornish Jr, the high risks involved contributed to some scary accidents that have led to much debate over whether the all-oval single-seater series can maintain its pack racing style on superspeedways.

The most highly publicised incident was the awful crash that befell Kenny Brack in the Texas season finale. The Swede, a former IRL champion and Indy 500 winner, misjudged a pass on Tomas Scheckter and clipped the left-rear wheel of the South African's car.

The result was terrifying, as his Team Rahal Dallara-Honda appeared to destruct as it was catapulted over the concrete wall and into the debris fencing that lay beyond. Importantly, despite an impact that recorded almost 200G, his car's survival cell remained intact, and Brack escaped with serious, yet non-fatal, injuries.

A matter of weeks later, however, the good fortune ran dry. Young American Tony Renna, handed a dream drive with the Ganassi Racing outfit, died in an Indianapolis testing crash that devastated his G Force-Toyota. The exact reason why his car snapped out of line just after the apex of Turn 3 remains unknown, although espn.com's ace reporter Robin Miller has learned from a family source that a dead 'gull-sized' bird was found on the track before the corner.

Once again, Renna's car became airborne in the crash, something that happened simply too many times this year. This time the impact with the debris fencing, at the angle and velocity it struck the solid metal fence post, was too much for the chassis to take.

The IRL has taken action, and less power will mean slower speeds in 2004. Cost cutting measures will also trim testing and engine lifespan, while further aerodynamic revisions are also expected. All are needed if the IRL is to become a safer place.

The numerous serious accidents overshadowed a great year of racing. Scott Dixon, a man who won't win any prizes for his less than bubbling personality, scooped the title for Chip Ganassi and Toyota, as all three defected from Champ Cars. Another former CART king, Penske's Gil de Ferran, beat the pain barrier to win the biggest race of them all, the Indy 500, despite suffering serious back injuries just a month before at Phoenix.

Michael Andretti clambered from the cockpit one last time, but not before his family's Indianapolis jinx struck once more. Never mind Michael's broken throttle cable that put him out of his final race, father Mario escaped a terrifying back flip as he ran some practice laps for Michael's team in the build-up to the big race. Amazingly, he walked away from what he admitted was the biggest crash of his life.

Another unbelievable moment in a roller coaster of a year.

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