Racing is dangerous

I’m getting back into the groove here and have collected some thoughts I wanted to write about for a while. Last weekend I went to the Le Mans 24h for the first time, and got to experience it with people who “introduced” me to the place (thanks Mark!), but that’s for a later post.

While I’ve been busy at work and with trying to make Blender work for me, something else happened in real life. At the first VLN event on the 28th of March Jann Mardenborough’s Nissan GT-R crashed at the Quiddelbacher Höhe of the Nordschleife. A spectator died when the car flew over the guardrail and catchfence, landing in the spectators’ area.
I’ve started helping out on some admin and organizational stuff at the VLN in April of 2014 and I was at the track that day. Before the race I helped guide the cars into the grid positions (and be available for spectators and mechanics looking for their car in a field of 170+ cars), while the day before I helped hang up the advertisement banners on the catchfences around the track.

I was on my way to another spectators’ area with my partner when the crash occured. On my way to a similarly structured part of the track – Pflanzgarten, where like at the Quiddelbacher Höhe, the cars come over a crest, momentarily losing contact with the ground while heading straight for a corner. I felt queasy there before (like at the Quiddelbacher Höhe) but wanted to share the extraordinary sight for a few moments. There’s another place I felt queasy, at another track, in Zandvoort. Roughly at the Rob Slotemakerbocht, where cars come over a crest. It’s fairly easy to imagine cars having wheel to wheel contact and climb over the guardrail there – I did move on quickly on my way around the track there.

This isn’t to claim those sections should be changed, although there probably is room for improvement for protecting spectators. Even on more sterile track with larger run-offs can produce freak accidents in which spectators can get hurt. A piece of debris flew over a grandstand and injured a spectator behind it at the IndyCar race at St. Petersburg this year. The forces involved are such that you couldn’t completely make racing safe even just for spectators, let alone for track and pit personnel or drivers.

My enthusiasm for racing has changed since that VLN event. I cringe a little on the inside when I see people bringing their kids to risky places, like a live pit exit or pitlane like at the VLN. I’m not going to drag my partner to more risky places at a track unless she asks to come. The Rob Slotemakerbocht is not a place I’ll visit again during a race, and I rather watch my Nordschleife races from my favourite spot at Klostertal than from Pflanzgarten now.

Be aware when you’re at the track. Listen to discussions about driver/track personnel/spectator safety and don’t discard them too easily.