INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Derrick Walker looked and sounded relieved after Sunday's Indianapolis 500.
Five crashes, no serious injuries and no cars in the air — a good day for IndyCar's biggest race and a welcome one for Walker, who heads competition for the series.
"It showed the decision we made in qualifying made a big difference," Walker told The Associated Press in Gasoline Alley. "We had a great race, that's the takeaway from today."
For Walker, the race may have been the easiest part of May.
The debate over how fast qualifying speeds came to a frightening end when three drivers — three-time race winner Helio Castroneves, two-time Indy pole winner Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden, Carpenter's teammate — all got their cars turned backward and flung upside-down during a five-day span of practice. None of them was seriously injured.
Walker responded to the flurry of crashes by requiring all cars to qualify in the slower race-day trim. The change worked.
Despite some hard hits and big spins involving big names, nobody's car went airborne over the last seven days at the 2.5-mile Brickyard.
"We finally proved that we don't flip every time we crash," 2013 Indy winner Tony Kanaan said after a big hit in the fourth turn during Sunday's race. "I'm glad I'm OK. I'm glad that we're able to prove a lot of people wrong. It's a very unfortunate thing that happened to me, but if I have to prove that we don't flip cars anymore, here it is for the critics."
It wasn't a perfect day.
Sebastian Saavedra hit the fourth turn wall after Jack Hawksworth clipped the back of his car with 24 laps to go. On the rebound, rookie Stefano Coletti slammed into the front of Saavedra's car.
IndyCar's safety team, which saved James Hinchcliffe from a life-threatening leg wound Monday, took its time helping Saavedra out of the car, then carried him to the ambulance. The Colombian driver was later transported to Indiana University Methodist Hospital where he was diagnosed with a bruised right foot. Track officials said he needed additional evaluation before he would be cleared to drive next weekend in Detroit.
Walker said Saavedra also sustained a bone bruise in his right knee, and that several of the hits — including Saavedra's — could have created an injury similar to the one Hinchcliffe suffered when the wishbone of the suspension pierced the tub of the car and went into his left thigh.
But the pre-race decision to add a part to the suspension prevented a repeat of Monday's scare, and could prompt series officials to add a titanium plate or more bracketing to the driver tub before the next race.
"There were several of those kinds of incidents I saw that could reproduce that situation (Hinchcliffe's injury)," Walker said.
Drivers weren't the only one put in harm's way Sunday.
Three crew members were taken to the infield medical center after getting hit in the pits, with two men hurt in a bizarre accident involving all three cars from Dale Coyne Racing. Pippa Mann and James Davison collided as they left the pits, and Davison's car, which was on the inside, got turned into Tristan Vautier's crew. Vautier's chief mechanic, Greg Senerius, was treated for a left foot injury and released while rear tire changer Daniel Jang was taken to a hospital for surgery on a broken right ankle.
One driver who didn't feel safe Sunday was Castroneves.
"Honestly, I'd rather go airborne than get to the last 15 laps of this race just to see the level of aggressiveness," the Brazilian said. "I am not happy with these guys. I don't care if they crash each other, they can go ahead and hurt themselves. But when they put me into that scenario that is when I get upset."
Walker acknowledged he will continue looking for ways to race safely at higher speeds.
But, at least for one day, he didn't have to talk about flying cars.
"I think the changes we made, although temporary, worked," Walker said. "We know we can do more and now we have more time to do it before the next race."