By Noah Trister
AP Sports Writer
DETROIT — Tony Kanaan was not injured when struck in the hand by a piece of debris during the Indianapolis 500 and the incident was barely noticed during the historic 100th running of the race.
Yet it was a reminder of an issue that has had tragic consequences in the past. Justin Wilson was killed last August when he was struck in the head by a piece of debris during a race at Pocono.
The deaths of Wilson and Formula One’s Jules Bianchi from head injuries have created discussions on how to protect open-wheel drivers. F1 is planning further tests this month on a protective halo device, which could be implemented in time for the 2017 season.
Kanaan said Friday finding the right solution for IndyCar is complicated, but series leadership is on the right track.
“What we’ve been doing lately is a lot of studies to see how we’re going to fix that,” he said. “We’re all aware of it, I think not just in America but in Europe as well, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the best solution for it.”
Kanaan said the series has been researching several scenarios, but added that canopies aren’t a catch-all solution for every series.
“The biggest challenge we have — F1 doesn’t race in the ovals and they don’t have banking — so the peripheral vision of our cars, you can put a canopy or whatever you want to do, it’s different than the Formula One cars,” Kanaan said.
Bianchi died in July following a long battle to recover from head injuries from a collision with a crane after he went off the track in rainy conditions at the Japanese Grand Prix in October 2014. Wilson died on Aug. 23, a day after being hit in the helmet by debris from another car. Two years ago, James Hinchcliffe sustained a concussion when struck in the head by debris from another car in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
The halo device forms a protective structure around and above a driver’s head. F1’s Red Bull has proposed an alternative, a protective screen. IndyCar driver Will Power said he thinks the windscreen is more protective.
“I think IndyCar are definitely looking at a windscreen,” Power said. “I’m all for it, 100 percent. All for it. It’s the last big step in safety that open-wheel cars need.”
Helio Castroneves has a similar stance on these potential safety measures.
“I’ve seen some pictures regarding — one is a halo, the second one is the windshield, and I’m in favor of it. I think this should be all part of it. All open-wheel (series) should communicate and work together because this is going to benefit everybody,” Castroneves said. “We’ve got to work fast.”
Aside from protecting other drivers, Kanaan said he’s not sure much can be done about the amount of debris on the track when cars crash.
“You’d have to go back in the old days and then have less wings and body parts on the cars, so you don’t have many things flying when you crash,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
It’s a challenge to come up with ideas that protect the heads of drivers without creating additional, unintended safety issues.
“We’re all on the same page,” Kanaan said. “It’s not easy to develop something like that overnight. … To say, ‘OK, we’re going to fix one problem.’ But what about if you roll over? What about if you talk about ventilation in the car? … It might be safer for preventing debris to come in the car, but what about the other five other issues that we’ve created? If you roll upside down, you catch fire, and you need to get out, how do you do it?”
Kanaan expects a solution before too long — and he says it may not need to be a drastic change.
“It won’t be as big as people think it needs to be. They have some studies that they know exactly how and where it needs to go,” Kanaan said. “We’re not going to look like the popemobile.”
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