Motor Racing: Justin Wilson's death puts spotlight on safety in IndyCar

Justin Wilson.
Justin Wilson. PHOTO: REUTERS

Motorsport legends urge safety review after IndyCar accident claims life of Briton Wilson

LOS ANGELES • Former British Formula One driver Justin Wilson was declared dead on Monday after suffering a severe head injury during an IndyCar race in Pennsylvania, plunging the sport into mourning and triggering calls for a review of safety mechanisms.

The 37-year-old father of two had been in a coma since Sunday, when a piece of debris from another racer's car struck his helmet on the final laps at Pocono Raceway in the penultimate race of the IndyCar Series season.

Loved ones of the Sheffield-born Andretti Autosport racer had flown to be at his bedside at Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital in Allentown earlier on Monday before his death was announced.

"This is a monumentally sad day for IndyCar and the motorsports community as a whole," said Mark Miles, chief executive of the parent company which runs IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Justin's elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility - which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock."

DEVASTATED

Can't even begin to describe the loss I feel right now. He was my Brother, my best friend, my role model and mentor. He was a champion.

STEFAN WILSON on his older brother Justin

Wilson's younger brother Stefan, also a racing driver, paid tribute on Twitter. "Can't even begin to describe the loss I feel right now. He was my Brother, my best friend, my role model and mentor. He was a champion!" he wrote.

Legends of the motorsport world united in an outpouring of grief.

"Terrible news... deepest condolences to all the family. RIP," British F1 great Nigel Mansell wrote on Twitter of the former Minardi and Jaguar driver.

Wilson - the tallest driver ever to race in F1 at 1.93m - was hit by the nose cone of fellow driver Sage Karam's car after it spun out on Lap 179 of the 200-lap race.

He was airlifted to the hospital immediately after the crash and never regained consciousness.

He had driven in major US open-wheel racing since 2004 and made 174 IndyCar starts.

He recorded seven wins in Cart and IndyCar races, his most recent coming in Texas in 2012.

His death is the first fatality in IndyCar since the 2011 accident that claimed the life of fellow Briton Dan Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar Series champion and a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

US auto-racing legend Eddie Cheever said Wilson's death should lead to a thorough analysis of safety measures in the sport, while acknowledging the freak nature of Sunday's accident.

"Safety is not one of those things that because you have a clear record for a certain amount of time that you stop doing development," said the IndyCar analyst for ESPN.

"I think that it is time that solutions are looked for and I think it is time that the drivers got together and came up with a few ideas and I sincerely hope that some progress will be made on this issue."

The death also triggered calls for safety reviews, including suggestions that open-wheel racing be banned on high-speed, oval tracks, where tightly-packed cars reach speeds of 370kmh.

IndyCar officials have introduced a raft of new safety measures over the years, including safer walls and collapsible barriers designed to cushion impact as well as installing mobile hospitals and state-of-the-art trauma centres at race tracks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Driver's death puts spotlight on safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe