Canada’s Robert Wickens has been hospitalised following a frightening multi-car crash brought the ABC Supply 500 to a screeching halt on Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Wickens was racing alongside Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay on Lap 7 as they headed into Turn 2 of the oval circuit. The pair touched and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports launched over the front of Hunter-Reay’s car and into the catch fencing.
Wickens’ car spun violently in the fencing before returning to a stop on track. The 29-year-old, driving his first full season in IndyCar, was awake and alert when attended to by the track’s medical staff. Wickens was transported by helicopter to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with orthopedic injuries.
On Monday, Wickens underwent surgery to stabilize a thoracic spinal fracture associated with a spinal cord injury. Titanium rods and screws were placed successfully in Wickens’ spine during the surgery, which was performed without complication.
The severity of the spinal cord injury is indeterminate at this time with Wickens expected to undergo further surgeries to treat fractures in his lower extremities and right forearm. He remains in a stable condition.
Hunter-Reay was uninjured as were the other drivers involved including James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato and Pietro Fittipaldi.
“It’s unfortunate for the start of the race,” said Hunter-Reay after exiting the medical center, “but I just hope Robert’s all right. I was lucky to get out of that one.
“He had a run out of Turn 1, came up along the side of me, but I was in the draft of (Will) Power in front of me, so I started pulling ahead. Once we got to (Turn) 2, he was at my (left rear) corner at best.
“I even gave room. I left a lane; left a half of a lane, if not more. I was pretty shocked I got hit in the back. That is neither here nor there right now. We’re just thinking about Robert.”
Wickens’ Schmidt Peterson teammate, James Hinchcliffe, who was trailing the incident, spun amid the smoke and made contact with Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato and was then hit by rookie Pietro Fittipaldi’s Dale Coyne Racing entry. All five cars involved were out of the race at that point.
Hinchcliffe and Wickens have been friends since childhood, when they raced go-karts together in Canada. Once released from the infield medical center, Hinchcliffe hurriedly exited the track to go to the hospital to visit Wickens.
“Not the race day we were hoping for,” Hinchcliffe said. “I saw the accident happening in front of me. (Zach) Veach started sliding up, I tried to slow down and just kind of lost it in the fray. As I was going backwards, I think Pietro (Fittipaldi) had nowhere to go and came into me. Other than that, there was a bunch of stuff going on, I’m not sure exactly what happened.
“I took my hands off the wheel when I went backwards, and I think some piece of debris came in as I was holding them (my hands) in, kind of just smacked the top of them so I took of bit of beating, but nothing is broken, just some swelling and some cuts. We’ll rest it up and be fine.
“Obviously, I’m just hoping Robbie’s all right. Never good to see a car go up (into the fence) like that, but I know he is in good hands. Hopefully, we’ll see him back in the car soon.”
The race was halted after 8 laps for nearly two hours, to allow the catch fencing to be repaired.
When the race was restarted, it was Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi who took the race win ahead of poleman Will Power. Rossi led 180 of 200 laps on the 2.5-mile triangular oval to claim back-to-back wins and close the gap to 29 points of championship leader Scott Dixon, who finished third.
Four-time series champion Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing avoided the carnage and now leads the driver’s standings on 530 points to Rossi’s 501. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and reigning series champion, who finished the race fifth, has 464 points ahead of teammate Power at 449. Hunter-Reay is fifth with 411.
The 2018 IndyCar Series continues at Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday, August 25.