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Jun 21

Sebastien Bourdais: ‘It’s pretty straightforward simple that I’d be dead’ – Indianapolis Star

Their quick response can make all the difference in the case of a crash like the one Sebastien Bourdais went through at IMS. IndyCar

Sebastien Bourdais struck a wall during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 this year. He suffered a broken pelvis, but acknowledges that without numerous safety improvements over the years, such a crash could have been fatal.(Photo: Tom Figura/for the Star)Buy Photo

The car straightened out around the turn at full throttle and Sebastien Bourdais lost control of the steering wheel. He didnt have time to react. The No. 18 car went into the wall at 227 mph.

He lost consciousness fortwo or three seconds but was conscious by the time the flaming vehicle reached a stop. As soon as Bourdais was alert, it was clear to him: He was broken.

Holmatro Safety Team members at Indianapolis Motor Speedwaywere talking and keeping things light beforeit happened, but they were ready.

They were listening for sounds that didnt quite seem right. Watching for smoke or sprays that didnt quite look right. It took milliseconds for them to react when Bourdais went into the wall during Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

Twelve emergencyworkers jumped into three trucks, four in each. Bourdais team asked him on the radio whether he was OK Kind of. The first paramedic arrived about 20 seconds after the initial hit and started to help Bourdais with his helmet. Bourdais predicted it right away.

Bourdais blacked out momentarily after the crash. As soon as he was alert, it was clear to him: He was broken.(Photo: Bob Goshert/for the Star)

I broke my pelvis, he said.

Are you sure?

Believe me, Im sure.

Two men sprayed the sides and bottom of the car with fire extinguishers. The crew commander spoke with Bourdais and communicated with fire control. The second truck was there 50 seconds after the crash. Soon five trucks surrounded him.

Eventually, Bourdais was strapped to a foot-wide board and placed in an ambulance. Straps wrapped around him in what he later called “not very pleasant places” and the safety workers cut off his fire suit and soon Bourdais was naked and feeling very small.

But he was alive. His car, the response teams and the SAFER barriers around the track kept Sbastien Bourdais alive. That might not have been the case 20 years ago.

Its pretty straightforward simple that Id be dead.

* * *

Dr. Terry Trammell, center, is IndyCars safety consultant and one of the founding fathers of the safety initiatives implemented in racing across the past few decades.(Photo: Provided by OrthoIndy)

When Terry Trammell heard Bourdais had fractured his pelvis and hip, he stormed into the engineering office livid. Jeff Horton, IndyCars director of engineering and the calmer of the two, was confused. The car and SAFER barrier did exactly what they were designed to do. Why was Trammell so upset?

Because Ive got to go talk to Sebastien and say’We kind of let you down,’ Trammell said.

No, you didnt let him down, Hortonsaid. Hed be dead.

Trammell known as Dr. T is IndyCars safety consultant. That title downplays his significance a bit. Hes one of the founding fathers of the safety initiatives implemented in racing across the past few decades. He was one of the most renowned orthopedic surgeons in racing in the 1970s and ’80s, but eventually pivoted from what he called the repair business to the prevention business.

He had a hand in the development of the Head and Neck Support system (HANS), the Holmatro Safety Teams, crash data tracking, impact foams in the cars, the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers and so on.

Trammell takes it personally when a driver gets hurt. So does Mike Yates, the IndyCar manager of track safety operations.

They become friends with the drivers. They see each other every day. Yates almost walked away after seeing one too many friends die in the car. Trammell married a racer. Back in his surgeon days, the drivers would stay at his home while they rehabbed.

Theres a responsibility involved in keeping these drivers safe, and theres a weight. Trammell and Yates and so many others have done plenty to lessen the dangers drivers face, but there will always be risk. They keep fighting to reduce that risk.

If you get hurt,” Trammell says to the drivers during an annual talk about safety, “I take it very personally, because I should have thought about how this could happen and taken measures to prevent it. On the other hand, if theres something we tell you that you can do to make your car safer, and you choose not to do it and get hurt, I take that equally personally, and I will be in your face.

* * *

Trammell felt like the grim reaper walking down the pits when he first started out in racing.The seas would part as he passed through.

No driver wanted to talk to the doctor. Somebody might think something was wrong with him.

The Holmatro safety team was ready to roll if needed on May 21, 2017, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.(Photo: Randy Crist/for the Star)

When Yates started with the safety teams in 1985 after years as a firefighter, his team would jump in the back of a pickup with no seats. Their equipment lay unsecured in the bed of the truck. Team members held on to what they could.

There was no real plan, there were no set roles for each person.

We got to the scene and just did what we had to do, Yates said.

Now they have a system down. Three primary trucks, four seats in each, each seat holding a crew member with a specific role. If safety team members in a rush ever have to jump into the wrong seats, they take on that seats responsibility.

Seatbelts werent used in IndyCar until 1922. Helmets werent required until the 1930s. Fire suits came in the 1960s. Safety didnt really become a science until the 1980s and ’90s.

Trammell and his medical partner Steve Olvey started cataloging every racing injury they could find. Drivers would come in for their physicals and the two played 20 questions with them.

Have you ever been seriously injured? No. What about that time we operated on you? That wasnt serious? No. Drivers had their own ways of looking at injuries.

Trammell and Olvey went back to the drawing board. They brought in printouts of a skeleton and had drivers circle every broken bone they had suffered for any reason. It looked as if the skeletons had chicken pox.

* * *

Holmatro Safety responds to a crash at IMS during a 2009 practice. The first person to approach the vehicle is a paramedic, who is ultimately responsible for the driver. IndyCar

Then came the 1992 month of May at the Speedway when 12 drivers were injured and Jovy Marcelo died. Trammell and John Melvin of General Motors went out to the track a few days after the 500 and measured every inch of the track to begin collecting crash records.

They took that data to General Motorsand it played a large part in engineer Robert Hubbard and driver Jim Downings development of the HANS, which restricts the head and neck from whipping around excessively in a crash.

Drivers were slow to embrace the HANS until the 1999 death of Gonzalo Rodriguez from a basilar skull fracture. Ananalysis found the HANS likely would have saved his life.Soon the HANS became mandatory in CART and Formula One.

The moment Trammell remembers as a sort of breakthrough was a mandatory Formula One driver meeting to introduce the HANS in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in the early 2000s. The meeting wasn’t starting, so Trammell went up to the podium and asked why.

Well start when Mr. Schumacher gets here, aman said bluntly.

Trammell sat back downand eventually Formula One surgeon Sid Watkins came in dragging driverMichael Schumacher by the ear. You may begin, Watkins said.

After the presentation, Schumacher stood and asked a few questions. Ill take three, he said before walking out.

All the other drivers lined up. If Schumacher was wearing it, they wanted one, too.

* * *

Mike Yates didnt know whether he could keep going after Dan Wheldon died in a 2011 crash. Hed been doing the job so long, and hed seen so many drivers die, he thought it was time to walk away. He and Wheldon were good friends.

I didnt want to see another buddy go through that, Yates said.

A few weeks later he was in Sebring, Fla., talking to drivers. He told them he was thinking about leaving.

You need closure, one said. If you walk away now, you wont get that closure.

So Yates stayed on, and maybe he truly got that closure when James Hinchcliffe’s life was saved during 500 practice in 2015. Hinchcliffe went into a walland a Code 05 was called, meaning a seriously injured driver.

Hinchcliffe was stuck, and they struggled to get him out.

Then they noticed the pool of blood between his legs.

A piece of the suspension had broken through the chasis and impaled his leg. Hinchcliffe was hemorrhaging. They had to move quickly.

They pulled him out and got him in the ambulance.

The bloodkept coming.

They tried packing the holes,wrapping a compression diaper around his stomach to limit the bleeding. Yates said they lost Hinchcliffe’s pulse at one point.

Luckily the surgeons were able to hop in the ambulance,evaluate the situation and create a game plan for the moment they reached the hospital. Hinchcliffe is still racing two years later.

Hinchcliffe told Yates he was glad the track safety directorhad stayed on after Wheldons death. Maybe if Yates hadn’t been there, things would have gone differently for him.

Hinchcliffe later took the Holmatro Safety Team to dinner in St. Petersburg as a thank you. He brought his parents along, as well. They talked about life and discussed beer.

It was a reminder of why the safety team fights to save lives. Yates is retiring this year.

* * *

When Scott Dixon went into the air and his car shattered into pieces at the 500 this year, Trammell said it looked far worse than it was. The chassis held up pretty well with only a little break on the bottom.

Bourdais crash was as bad it looked. He smashed into the SAFER barrier at 114 G’s, three times as much force as Dixons crash. Bourdais pushed the wall back 40 feet, nine inches at the apex, five layers into the foam.

Cars have foam side panels in the door to protect drivers as well, but they canbecome a danger themselveswhen theres too much force. The foam panel can absorb up to 2,000 pounds of pressure before it becomes activated. In the Bourdais crash, the forces were so high, the foamfractured his pelvis.

Safety work is constantly evolving. The 2012 chassis, which Trammell calls the safest race car ever made, has front and side foam protections. The head surrounds can withstand 70 G’sof impact to the point drivers genuinely dont know they hit their head after taking on 50 G’s.

But more can always be done.

Trammell said the biggest issue right now is protecting drivers spines in frontal impacts. Theres an epidemic, he said, of spinal fractures in Europe. IndyCar has lessened the risk for rear and vertical impacts, but frontal impacts are still a concern.

They are still working to prevent the kind of contact from a loose part that killed Justin Wilson in 2015. They are trying to tether parts to the car so the nose, wheels, wings, nose cones, etc., dont fly off. Trammell said they have reduced the riskbut cant eliminate it.

One of the issues all over the world about open cockpit cars is, should they exist? Trammell said. Should they have a total enclosure?

IndyCar is set to take delivery of a prototype windscreen in July. He said the pre-testing is done;now its time for ballistic testing. The windscreens are remarkably simple and look like ’70s-style Indy-car windshields.

The other large issue is fencing. It costs a fortune to replacebut is needed to make sure cars stay on the track and spectators stay safe.

Dario Franchitti suffered a career-ending injury in Houston in 2013 when his car hit a fence post and the webbing was torn off the post, exposing fans to the damage and adding flying pieces of the fence tothe danger.

Thats a much bigger project thats going to require a lot of time, effort and money, Trammell said.

* * *

Bourdais went swimming last week. Scott Dixon raced at Le Mans. The worst can still happen to these drivers, but they are emerging from crashes safely more and more often.

The 2017 Indianapolis 500 was Yates last. After working more than 30 Indy 500s in his career, it was time. Six years after almost walking away on painful terms, he is walking away for reasons that sit better with him.

At the 500, the team got Yates a Holmatro helmet and had everybody sign it. He admits that caused a little catch in his throat. He took in the straightaway one last time.

Then he watched Dixon do his little flying act, and it reminded himit was time to go. That was scary, he said.

Yates said the Holmatro Safety Team is in better hands with guys such as Jim Norman, Matt Stewart, Tim Baughman and others. He loves the changes they are already making.

Trammell doesnt appear to be going anywhere. What makes him happy is how the culture of safety has changed in his decades at tracks. No longer is he the grim reaper walking the pits.

Now, he has people approaching him looking for help. Like in Sao Paolo in 2012, when Kanaan came up to him displaying his phone. Kanaan was showing photos of how the steering wheels were breaking drivers’ fingers and hurting their thumbs.

Within 10 minutes, nine drivers were at his breakfast table saying their fingers were hurt. The problem was fixed by 2014.

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Sebastien Bourdais: ‘It’s pretty straightforward simple that I’d be dead’ – Indianapolis Star

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