Safety concerns at Laguna

The talk at Laguna Seca was all about safety after Patrick Carpentier flipped over a safety fence during first qualifying.

Safety concerns at Laguna

Carpentier was unhurt in the accident which took place at turn four, a fourth gear right-hander approached around 140 mph.

The Canadian dropped a rear wheel into the dirt as he braked for the corner, spun backwards off the road and was launched into the air by the sand trap. He hit the tyre barrier tail first and bounced off the tyre barrier and over the fence, coming to a stop upside down.

"It didn't seem as bad as it looked on TV," Carpentier said. "I was very lucky not to go sideways, or I would have smashed into the wall. It never hit big until it stopped, but I had no idea I'd gone over the fence."

Carpentier had a sore neck but was otherwise uninjured. His accident resulted in a two hour delay as the sand-trap was reprofiled. Many of the drivers were very critical of the safety conditions at Laguna Seca, but Carpentier had no serious criticisms.

"There's nothing wrong with the safety measures here," Carpentier said. "The track is pretty safe. The only problem is the gravel pits don't slow you down, but they can launch you."

The sand trap at turn four was higher than the track surface and track officials reduced the height of the trap to match the racetrack during the two-hour delay. The drivers had a meeting to discuss the situation and were joined by CART's interim CEO Bobby Rahal, chief steward Kirk Russell and other CART officials. Although some drivers were talking before the meeting about not driving, they emerged from the meeting agreeing to race and went out for the final qualifying session.

The drivers have hired retired racer and TV announcer Parker Johnstone to act as a safety consultant. Johnstone is charged with the responsibility of inspecting tracks and making recommendations for improvements. He went out to examine the track after the sand traps had been lowered and reprofiled.

"Parker went out and looked at it," Rahal said. "He was surprised the work had been done so quickly. I'm a driver and I would have no concern about going out there. I drove here when it was considerably less safe than it is today."

Rahal says new Championship Driver's Assocation (CDA) president Mauricio Gugelmin has been very proactive this year, including hiring Johnstone as a safety consultant. "I don't know if you can focus on every possible solution," Rahal added. "I don't know any circuit in the world that can say that. In Vancouver I met with Mauricio and his group. Parker Johnstone has put together a very professional document. It's the best thing ever done by CART. It's the first time anything like this has been done in an organised fashion.

"We are doing this in company with the promoters. The commitment is there from CART to do it correctly. Now, having said that, it doesn't accommodate every possible situation. That's just not possible."

Franchitti was particularly critical of both Laguna Seca and CART. Gonzalo Rodriguez was killed in qualifying last year at Laguna Seca and Franchitti is not impressed with the changes that have been made since then.

"It's very unfortunate that nothing has been done," Franchitti said. "Somebody was killed here last year and it's very disappointing that nothing has been done. Bobby Rahal arrived six months too late. Things are getting pushed through now but we were very lucky today.

"I think the cars outgrew this track many years ago. And the attitude here is not very good. I had an argument with somebody here yesterday because he wouldn't let me go 'round the track in a golf cart. I wanted to take a look at the work they'd done, but the guy wouldn't let me go around."

De Ferran disagreed with Franchitti. "There are a number of places that can be improved," de Ferran said. "Safety improvements are never something you can finish. Even if we dealt with every issue we'd find there are always new things to push for, but I think what Dario says is not accurate because some work has been done."

Laguna Seca general manager John Stornetta said plenty of work has taken place in the past year. Stornetta said run-off areas have been expanded at turn five, and at the Corkscrew where Rodriguez crashed last year. More than 900 cubic yards of dirt were used to fill and level the run-off area at the Corkscrew and the run off has been extended from twenty to fifty feet and a 100 year old tree was also moved some twenty feet in order to improve visibility for the drivers.

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