(Chris Owens/Indy Car)
On lap 7 of Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Speedway, the Indy Car world collectively held it’s breath as rookie Robert Wickens went airbourne into the catch fence after contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay. The violent incident collected the talented rookie, his best friend James Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay & Pietro Fittipaldi. The race was red flagged for over an hour before resuming with 180 laps remaining.
Robert Wickens isn’t a typical rookie. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver has caught the attention of the Indy Car paddock. With 10 Top 10 finishes, four podiums, a pole & Indy 500 Rookie Of The Year honors, Wickens has been knocking on the door of his first career win. He was battling for the third position with Ryan Hunter-Reay when the two made contact. Wickens, 28, is a fun loving Canadian that has shown championship caliber talent throughout the season. Some say he was too aggressive too early in the race, but I disagree. He had a run and was inside of the #28 for an entire straight away.
Wickens suffered injuries to his ankles, wrist and chest. Fortunately, the DW12 chassis held up and did exactly what it was intended to do. The initial hit of the safer barrier may have lessened the contact with the catch fence. After 30 or so minutes of not knowing his condition, Indy Car and Curt Cavin updated teams and fans that Robbie was alert, which allowed everyone to breath a sigh of relief. I was not a fan of the video of the crash being shown on the broadcast or on Twitter until after we knew he was alert. Most people saw it as a spectacular crash, but keep in mind, it was a graphic crash and this man’s family and friends probably had no interest in seeing it, but we live in a social media world where people want to see everything and see it now, so I will back off my high horse.
After an hour red flag to repair the catch fence, racing continued. The fixing of the catch fence was a topic prior to restarting the engines and seemed to be shoddy, with that said, I wasn’t there and have no clue how to repair a fence, I do know that Sebastian Bourdais was a bit hesitant to climb back in the car with questions on the fencing. Safer options to possibly replace catch fencing around super speedways will be looked out in the offseason.
The show went on, caution free over the final 180 laps, giving Alexander Rossi a dominating win, and inching him closer to Scott Dixon for the points lead. Will Power brought home a runner-up finish, one spot shy of winning his third consecutive 500 mile race. Scott Dixon, who struggled in qualifying rounded out the podium.
Unknown is the status of James Hinchcliffe who was favoring his arm as he climbed from his #5 Arrow Honda on Sunday. The Canadien elected not to meet with the media after he was released, bolting for the LeHigh Valley Hospital to see his friend Wickens, the two grew up together and remain close friends.
Although the incident was scary, it reminds us of how dangerous driving an Indy Car it is. It shows why these drivers are dubbed as hereos and “Superman & Superwoman like.” Indy Car is dangerous, but Indy Car continues to lead the motorsports world in safety innovations and will continue to do so moving forward. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced that Wickens will undergo surgery for a spinal injury Monday evening.
The Verizon Indy Car Series will continue on this weekend from the Gateway Motorsports Park. Jay Howard could be a replacement driver on the final oval of the season for the #6 SPM Honda entry. Jay ran the Indy 500 this year for SPM, has testing for the team at Gateway and could be the logical choice for this weekend. Jack Harvey could also be considered, as he ran for SPM in a partnership with Michael Shank Racing. He is expected to run the #60 Michael Shank entry at the final races of the season, Portland & Sonoma. If both SPM drivers cannot race this weekend, Harvey & Howard could pilot the two cars. Other drivers to be considered are Colton Herta & Patricio O’Ward who are competed in this season Indy Lights Championship. Veterans Carlos Munoz, Conor Daly, and Oriol Servia are also capable replacement in the short term.
I am hopeful that Robert Wickens will recover. He has too much talent and too many race wins ahead of him. He is the next big thing in the Verizon Indy Car Series and the sport is lucky to have him. Please send positive thoughts his way, and I will send him over some bourbon to enjoy when he can. I am encouraging people who attend this weekends race to wear red in support of Robert Wickens, hopefully he can tune in on Saturday evening and have a smile on his face. See you in Gateway Indy Car fans!