By Sally Fahey
Yesterday’s IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway was won by Alexander Rossi, but not before a wreck shot Robert Wickens’ car airborne, ripped up the catch fence and left the tub of the rookie’s Honda toppled on the asphalt.
The crash at Pocono was the latest grim reminder that drivers in open-wheel racing put their lives on the line.
“It’s part of our job, right? You’ve got to compartmentalize,” Rossi said. “You’ve got to accept it and deal with that emotion after the race.”
Wickens was airlifted to a hospital with what IndyCar said are injuries to his lower extremities, right arm and spine. He also suffered a pulmonary contusion. Wickens will have an MRI and will probably undergo surgery for the injuries, IndyCar said.
The race was stopped for nearly two hours to repair 80 feet of fence.
Once the race restarted, Rossi led 180 of 200 laps to win his second straight race and third of the season, slicing into Scott Dixon’s grip on the championship lead with three races left in the season.
Dixon finished third, and his points lead over Rossi dipped to 29 points. Neither driver can afford much of a slip in the title hunt.
“We’ve been a bit blah. They’ve been excelling,” Dixon said.
Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion, ended Will Power’s bid to win three straight Pocono races. Power made a hard charge down the stretch and finished second to remain in the thick of the title hunt.
Rossi also won for Andretti Autosport on the streets of Long Beach in April and the Mid-Ohio road course three weeks ago. But the championship race was tinged with worry over the 29-year-old Wickens, a driver on the rise in his first season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Wickens was attempting to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay when the two cars slightly touched just seven laps into the race. That caused Hunter-Reay’s car to careen into the wall, and Wickens’ car was pulled along for the ride. Once Wickens’ car soared over Hunter-Reay’s and hit the fence, it spun round and round like a top. The fencing was shredded, and Wickens’ car was reduced to just the tub, which came to a rest on the track along an interior wall.
After a nearly two-hour delay to repair the fencing, the race resumed without another spate of aggressive driving — Graham Rahal tangled with Spencer Pigotas the field was brought to green at the race’s start — and ended without another caution.
Wickens’ wreck was a chilling moment again at Pocono. Justin Wilson died from a head injury in 2015, when a piece of debris from a crashed car bounced off the track and hit his helmet.