The death of British Verizon IndyCar Series racer Justin Wilson from head injuries at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway has once again raised concerns about the safety of open cockpit racing.
Wilson was hit by debris from another Indy racer Sage Karam’s car which had crashed in front of the field while it was in the lead position at the last few laps of the ABC Supply 500 Race in Pocono. According to reports, the nose of Karam’s car flew out and hit Wilson on his helmet hard enough for him to lose consciousness and subsequently control of his own car which careened off and hit the inside retaining wall. Wilson went into a coma and though he was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, Allentown, PA, he lost the battle for his life.
Wilson, who had seven major U.S. open-wheel victories to his name, the last one being at the Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, was all set for the Pocono race. He had finished second at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and was ready to take first place at the Pocono Raceway on Sunday.
His death plunged the Formula One community into mourning and tributes poured in from friends, fans and well-wishers. Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion paid homage to Wilson saying, “The motorsport world comes 2 a standstill once again. I raced with Justin as far back as 1989 in karting and remember his smile was infectious, such a lovely guy.”
The tragedy has renewed calls for safety, ban on open wheel racing and the need for closed cockpits in such races, where cars zoom along at speeds of 370 km/h (230 mph), to minimize the damage in such freak incidents. IndyCar has already seen around 18 deaths since 1966, the last one being Englishman Dan Wheldon who died in a horrific crash at the Las Vegas Raceway in 2011. While there has been no official comment from IndyCar yet, Wilson’s team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay who completed and won the race said, “We’re always looking at ways to make this sport safer.”