IndyCar driver Justin Wilson dies aged 37

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Wilson in Toronto in 2007.
Image: Midgrid.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yesterday, 37-year old IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson died of injuries sustained on Sunday during the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

With about twenty laps remaining in the race, Sage Karam, who had been leading the event, crashed into the turn 1 wall. As Wilson approached the site of the crash, reportedly the nose cone from Karam's car that had been airborne struck Wilson in the helmet; Wilson's car steered to the left and collided with the inside SAFER barrier. The event was placed under the caution flag as safety workers extracted Wilson from his car. Wilson was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania. At 9 P.M. EST, INDYCAR released a statement, announcing that Wilson had suffered a severe head injury, was in critical condition and had fallen into a coma. The following day, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles and Hulman & Company Mark Miles officially announced Wilson's death.

Karam was able to walk away from the accident, and was evaluated for a right foot injury; he was released from the hospital the same day. Wilson's Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay won the race, though he did not celebrate upon finding out about Wilson's accident. In Victory Lane, he stated, "My first thoughts are with Justin, for sure[...] He's a friend, a teammate, and it's a bit hard not knowing anything."

Wilson, a former Formula One and Champ Car driver, did not have a ride entering the 2015 season, and joined Andretti on a seven-race deal. The contract had previously been for two races, but after acquiring sponsorship, the deal was increased by five events; earlier in August, Wilson recorded a best finish of second at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The accident led to discussions regarding the safety of the cars. A suggestion had been the addition of a canopy over the car's cockpit. The topic had been controversial: while some supported it for safety reasons, others opposed it because of history, possibly affecting the aerodynamics of the car, limiting one's peripheral vision and movement inside the car, and worry about escaping an upside-down or burning car. Another had been to tether the nose cone to the car; Hunter-Reay mentioned renderings developed of a boomerang-like debris-deflector positioned in front of the driver. A further question raised had been regarding Wilson's height: at 6 feet, 3.5 inches (1.92 m) tall, Wilson was the tallest IndyCar Series driver; however, driver Josef Newgarden refuted the statement, saying, "They make a regulation for how tall you can be inside the car sitting compared to the roll hoop [...] It's safe for any height for any driver that gets in the car."