British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson was in a coma and in critical condition after sustaining a head injury when he was hit by a large piece of debris that broke off a car in the crash-filled race at Pocono Raceway.
The debris broke off Sage Karam’s car when Karam spun into the wall Sunday. Wilson’s car veered left and directly into an interior wall. Wilson was swarmed by the safety crew and airlifted by helicopter.
“It’s just a tough one right now,” said Michael Andretti, car owner for Wilson and race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Justin right now. We’re going to see. Hopefully, he’s OK.”
IndyCar had a low-key victory lane and Hunter-Reay was not sprayed with the traditional confetti.
The American said his thoughts were only with Wilson, an extremely popular driver in the paddock who speaks on behalf of his peers regarding safety and competition.
“All I know is that he was unconscious, he was not responding and he was airlifted,” Hunter-Reay said. “That’s all very bad. I’m very worried right now.”
The accident was a grim reminder of the dangers of open-wheel racing. Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died in 2011 after his car became ensnared in a fiery 15-car pileup, flew over another vehicle and landed in a catch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon’s head hit a post in the fence, and he died instantly.
He was the last fatality in a form of racing that saw drivers Scott Brayton (1996), Tony Renna (2003) and Paul Dana (2006), among others, die after wrecks.
Wilson’s wife, Julia, was en route to Pennsylvania from their home in Colorado, while his younger brother, Stefan, also an IndyCar driver, was traveling from Indianapolis.
There were reports late Sunday that NASCAR driver Tony Stewart had given Wilson’s family use of his private plane so they could get to the hospital.
The race resumed after the Karam and Wilson accident with seven laps remaining and Hunter-Reay picked his way through the field. He passed Juan Pablo Montoya, Takuma Sato and then used a bold inside pass of leader Gabby Chaves to take the lead with five to go.
Chaves then appeared to have an engine failure that brought out the caution with three to go. The race ended under yellow.
The 37-year-old Wilson, a native of Sheffield, England, entered this season without a full-time ride.
He latched on with Andretti and was in the sixth of seven scheduled races with the team. The deal was put together right before the season-opening race in March and initially started as just a two-race agreement at Indianapolis.