IndyCar driver Robert Wickens was involved in a horrific crash at Pocono Speedway.
Jim Ayello/IndyStar Clark Wade/IndyStar
A horrifying crash that kicked off Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series race and resulted in rookie phenom Robert Wickens being helicoptered to a local hospital overshadowed Alexander Rossi’s dominant win at the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
IndyCar officials reported that the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was awake and alert while being transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.
Late Sunday, IndyCar announced that Wickens is being treated for “injuries to his lower extremities, right arm and spine” and that he had also suffered a pulmonary contusion. The series said that Wickens will undergo an MRI and “probable surgery” at the hospital.
The five-car crash he was involved in was undoubtedly among the scariest IndyCar has seen in years and a sobering reminder of the risks these drivers take every time they strap into the cockpit.
On just the sixth lap of the race, and the first green flag lap because on an incident at the start, the 29-year-old Canadian launched into the fence and went careening through the air after he attempted to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay. The two drivers’ cars touched causing Hunter-Reay’s car to crash into the wall and Wickens’ car to launch off Hunter-Reay into the air and slam first against the wall, then into the outer fence. After colliding with the fence, Wickens’ car twisted through the air before re-engaging the track and spitting fire into the air.
Debris from the wreck sprayed all over the track. Wickens’ car was decimated, as he was left sitting in nothing but his tub before medical personnel rushed to his assistance. Wickens was carefully extracted from his car, placed on a stretcher with a brace around his neck and taken by ambulance to a helicopter that flew him to the Allentown, Pa., hospital.
The impact of the wreck ripped out about 80 feet of fencing that took more than an hour for raceway workers to repair. In all, the ABC Supply 500 was delayed nearly two hours before it resumed around 4:23 p.m.
Rossi led 180 of 200 laps and took the lead for good on Lap 172. Pole sitter Will Power, Rossi’s only real challenger, had a bobble as he headed into his final pit stop, allowing Rossi to easily regain the lead and cruise to a 4-second victory, his third of the year.
“It’s tough to really celebrate after what happened,” Rossi said, noting his thoughts were focused on Wickens.
Rossi cut Scott Dixon’s championship points lead to 29. Dixon finished third, Sebastien Bourdais fourth and Josef Newgarden fifth.
Along with Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Pietro Fittipaldi and James Hinchcliffe were the other drivers caught up in the crash. While each was eliminated from the race, all four were checked and cleared by IndyCar medical personnel. Hinchcliffe, who underwent X-rays and was seen wearing a splint on his finger, declined to speak to the media. Not long after departing the medical center, Hinchcliffe left to go visit Wickens, both his best friend and teammate, at the hospital.
Hunter-Reay counted himself lucky to have escaped from the crash unscathed. Though a bit shaken after emerging from the medical care center, Hunter-Reay explained what he saw before and during the incident.
“He had a run out of Turn 1, and came up alongside of me, but I was in the draft of Power in front of me, so I started pulling ahead,” Hunter-Reay said. “Once we got to (Turn) 2, he was at my corner at best, I mean barely there. It’s one of those corners, if you’re not up alongside … yeah, first lap of the race, I thought at that point I had cleared him. I even gave room. I left a lane, but I got to look at it again. I was shocked I got hit in the back.
“But that’s neither here nor there. Right now we’re just thinking about Robert. I just hope he is all right.”
The accident was another grim reminder of the perils of open-wheel racing, especially on ovals. It was only three years ago at this same track that beloved IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died from a head injury when a piece of debris from a crashed car bounced off the track and hit his helmet.
Hinchcliffe, too, is all too familiar with the dangers of IndyCar racing, as he suffered a life-threatening crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in 2015. He also sustained a concussion after being hit in the helmet with a piece of debris during the IndyCar Grand Prix in 2014.
Newgarden was among many who passed along his best wishes to Wickens and his family. But the reigning series champion star it’s the job of race car drivers to compartmentalize these types of things, no matter how terrifying, so that they’re not thinking about them during the race.
“It’s really tough seeing that,” Newgarden said. “It happened right in front of me, and I’ve never seen a wreck like that in my life. It’s tough. You are thinking about that, but race car drivers are really good about switching off. That’s what you have to do in this job, just focus on finishing the race, and that’s what we did.”
Shaking it off and moving is not just tough for drivers, but the driver’s crew as well. SPM Team Manager Taylor Kiel said the team was a bit shaken after what happen but will bounce back.
“The team is all right,” Kiel said after the race. “It’s a struggle when something like this happens, because it’s personal thing. It’s a guy we work with day in and day out, so it’s been difficult.
“But it’s part of it. It’s like I just said to the guys. These are terrible times, and the minutes seem like hours, and everything sucks. But it’s a lot better than it used to be. And we know exactly what we’re doing. We’re racing cars around a track at 200-some mph. If you crash, stuff like this can happen.”
For Fittipaldi, Sunday’s incident was more bad luck in a year chock full of it. The young grandson of racing icon Emerson Fittipaldi was forced to miss his Indianapolis 500 debut after a vicious sports car crash in Belgium left with him a pair of broken legs.
After months of rehab, the Dale Coyne Racing driver returned to the track a few weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, and was making his superspeedway debut on Sunday. But that debut didn’t last long, as he was caught up in the Wickens-Hunter-Reay incident. Fortunately, he did not re-injure his legs and said he expects to be ready for next weekend’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park.
“Obviously, I’m a little bit sore from the impact, but I’m 100 percent, no broken bones,” said Fittipaldi, who slammed into Hinchcliffe during the wreck. “I didn’t see much, just a lot of smoke ahead. … I’m glad there are still three races left in the championship and I’m looking forward to Gateway.”