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Indy Racing League cites 'human error' in crew's response to Simona De Silvestro fire

June 16, 2010 |  4:54 pm

The criticized response to a fire that threatened IndyCar driver Simona De Silvestro at Texas Motor Speedway this month was due to "human error" by safety crews, and changes will be immediately introduced, the Indy Racing League said Wednesday.

The IRL, the governing body for the Izod IndyCar Series, said its review of the accident revealed that a fire hose that crews tried to use malfunctioned because it had not been properly repacked in the truck after a pre-race test.

The crew also failed to use pressurized fire-extinguishing canisters "as a first response" as called for by the IRL's protocol, the IRL said.

De Silvestro, a 21-year-old Swiss driver and IndyCar rookie, suffered only first-degree burns on her right hand after being pulled from her car by rescue workers. The fire erupted after she slammed into the wall during the race June 5.

A rescue worker tried to free De Silvestro immediately. But she remained in the burning car for 30-plus seconds before being freed. At  the same time, the first fire hose that rescue workers used in their response remained limp, with nothing flowing from the nozzle.

After the race, Imran Safiulla, a principal with De Silvestro's Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing, called the response "a circus," and Keith Wiggins, another team principal, said "the safety crew should be ashamed of themselves."

Brian Barnhart, the IRL's president of competition and racing operations, said in a statement that "the safety of our teams, drivers and officials on the racetrack remains our No. 1  priority," but that "what happened at Texas was a result of human error and we will work diligently to prevent this in the future."

Barnhart also was quoted on the IndyCar website as saying that when the safety team pulled up to De Silvestro's car, "There was a sense of urgency and they chose at that time to go with the big hose instead of the [canister] first.

"The only reason our track safety team is having attention called to them is because they didn't perform to their usual outstanding standards," he said. "No one feels worse about it than they do. They have a lot of pride in what they do and they have full league support."

Mike Yates, the IRL's track safety manager, said the circuit is "modifying hoses on all the trucks beginning this weekend in Iowa to prevent this from happening again," referring to Sunday's race at Iowa Speedway.

In addition, "We have determined that the [fire-extinguishing] canisters are a more efficient and effective way to quickly suppress on-track fires," Yates said. "This will be reviewed with all safety team members."

-- Jim Peltz