Presented by Racemaker Press

"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Hunter-Reay wins, Justin Wilson seriously injured

by Gordon Kirby
IndyCar put on another messy, crash-filled 500-mile race last Sunday. The Pocono 500 was much like last month's California 500 only more so with crash after crash resulting in ten yellow flags. The worst of these came with twenty laps to go and involved Sage Karam and Justin Wilson.

Karam was leading the race when he lost it in turn one and crashed heavily. A piece of flying debris from Karam's car struck Wilson's helmet and Justin was immediately knocked unconscious. His car turned the left, clearly without any control, and crashed into the inner wall.

When his car came to a rest Justin sat motionless in the cockpit with his helmet slumped forward. The safety team got to him almost instantly and went to work removing him from the car before he was flown by Medi-Vac helicopter to Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest Hospital in nearby Allentown. On Sunday evening Justin was in a coma and in critical condition after suffering severe head trauma.

Meanwhile the race was won by Ryan Hunter-Reay who beat Josef Newgarden, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power. Graham Rahal was taken out of the race in an accident with Tristan Vautier which meant Montoya goes into next weekend's IndyCar season finale at Sonoma with a 34 point lead over Rahal and a 47 point cushion to Scott Dixon who finished ninth at Pocono.

"It was a fantastic race," Hunter-Reay enthused. "Today's race was phenomenal, but first and foremost we're thinking about Justin and his family. I was told when we won the race that Sage and Justin were in the ambulance and okay, but then I found out it wasn't so straightforward. Our thoughts and prayers are with Justin. He's a great friend and teammate and I'm thinking about his family and his two daughters.

"I didn't know it was bad until after I crossed the finish line. I was as happy as could be in the car. I have to say I think it was one of the best drives of my career, coming through the field. We kept coming back after we had some issue on some stops. We kept going backwards on the pitstops and then fight our way to the front. We were able to pass Ganassi's and Penske's cars.

"I think the #28 car was the class of the field today and I think it was one of the better drives of my career and then to find out right afterward that what I thought that Justin was okay turned out to be not the situation. All I know is that he was unconscious, was not responding and was air-lifted. So it's obviously very bad and I'm very worried right now. I wish I could go see him right now. I will go visit him right now if I can, if they'll let me in to see him."

Hunter-Reay was asked about some of the wild-looking restarts. One of them saw the car go seven-wide down the front stretch into turn one.

"Those restarts were crazy for sure," Ryan said. "You had to take advantage of them because that was the opportunity to move forward and get into a rhythm and start picking them off one by one. We were able to have great restart and once we settled into single-file I was able to pick them off one by one. Anytime we went backward, we went forward. It was a fantastic race and I hope the fans enjoyed it.

"In years past we had single-file racing here at Pocono and this was the opposite. It wasn't artificial drafting, or artificial passing. The good cars were making the moves. It was classic Indy car oval racing. A lot of yellows for the fans to sit through, but hopefully they enjoyed it.

"I think big credit goes to Firestone," Hunter-Reay added. "They brought a different tire here this year and it really went well. It allowed is to race more. It allowed for a little but more front grip which we needed last year. The reason we couldn't pass last year was because we had big aero wash and would lose front grip so you'd have to lift and everybody would stay single file. Firestone did a great job with that. Firestone always did a great job. We never have to worry about blow-outs. They're rock solid. So I think a big credit goes to Firestone."

Hunter-Reay was also asked about the dangers of racing open cockpit cars.

"You know, these cars are inherently dangerous with an open cockpit and your head exposed," he remarked. "Maybe in the future we can work towards some type of canopy. We've seen some concept renderings of something like a jet fighter canopy that would give us a little more protection. To get hit in the head by a nosecone is a scary thought.

"We're always looking for ways to make this series safer. First of all we had the innovation of the Safer barriers and now it's time for a new Safer barrier. I think on oval tracks in general we need to start looking into the next twenty years. Maybe we could make the walls a little higher, or maybe come up with something a little bit better than mesh fencing and poles.

"We need to start moving forward on these things. IndyCar has always been in the forefront of safety. I give them a lot of credit for that.

"When it comes to open-wheel cars, open-wheel means open cockpit. It's always been that way. There have been some renderings of an almost boomerang-looking device in front of the driver that won't block your vision but would deflect something like this.

"I've seen many renderings, but unfortunately it's only natural that when there is a situation like this, it breeds innovation. That's unfortunate, but I think that's the way life is in general. That's the way everything works. Hopefully, Justin's okay and we can move forward with a positive light on things like flying debris through the air.

"The IndyCar series is much more dangerous than NASCAR," Ryan added. "That's something that's more in our minds than in some other forms of racing like NASCAR or sports car racing. I'm not saying that we're better because of it. It's just a part of it. IndyCar racing is dangerous and that's always been a part of it."

Josef Newgarden drove another excellent race to finish a strong second at Pocono. Newgarden led the most laps, totaling 47 laps in front. Josef also discussed the wild restarts.

"I didn't see the seven-wide part," he grinned. "I heard it was five. If it was seven, that's even crazier. I think that's got to be a new record for us. If you wanted to see a good race I don't think you could produce a better one than what you saw today. It was a pretty incredible show and it's been like that all year with IndyCar. We've had some incredible races.

"It was hair-raising today. Every restart was hair-raising. But I loved every restart because I felt we could go to the front every time. We did that for the most part. We had a really good car once we dialed it in. We got better in traffic and we were able to show it at the end.

"We had some stretches early in the race were there were no cautions. It was good, but it got really racy at a lot of points. With this new aero package and the way you've got to run it's the most amazing competition between teams and drivers and the manufacturers. That's what you want as fans and people are getting that right now.

"Compared to last year people were able to bunch up a lot. You saw people snaking down the straightaways because we're all together. It's related to how the cars draft and race in close quarters. Even on the road courses we've had some unbelievably close racing and here was no different. I think it's just the nature of the aero kit. It makes us run close and makes for an exciting battle."

Newgarden was asked if he thought the restarts were dangerous.

"They felt pretty normal to me," he replied. "From the car, you don't get the perspective of TV. I'm sure it looked a lot crazier on TV than it was. The race at Fontana was gnarly-looking. You were holding on to the edge of your seat on every restart and I'm sure it looked that way here. But in the car it felt like normal Indy car racing. Indy cars race close. That's what it's all about and that's what it's always been about, so it felt very normal inside the car to me."

Meanwhile Montoya was very satisfied by extending his championship lead with his run to third place.

"We ran a smart race," Juan said. "It's tough because sometime you're racing somebody and you get all excited and forget why you're here. It's a long race and I gained places where I could and then we said, okay let's save some fuel and I think that really helped. We executed well. I felt we had a car that could win the race. It was really, really quick.

"We put a little more downforce in, just a tick. We made a lot of changes today to the car from what we had yesterday. I felt we ran a smart race. I did everything I needed to do."

Montoya also discussed the wild restarts.

"It was four-wide, then five-wide, and then Takuma got inside and my spotter didn't even know what to say!" Juan exclaimed.

"You go into turn one, and one lap it pushes and the next lap it's loose. If you're behind some cars, your car doesn't turn. It's tough. Nobody wants to back off and that's when you get accidents

"But I think it was great racing. If we come back next year I think we'll have more people in the grandstands. We keep putting on these awesome races and people get excited about it.

"I think the aero kit brings a lot closer racing and to be honest, a lot of these guys are not used to oval racing. They're not used to the give and take. They don't understand the give and take. Even in practice Vautier nearly crashed into me. I got a run on him into turn two and I went inside him and he just turned down on me as if I wasn't there.

"I went and confronted him and he said, 'What am I supposed to do? If I go straight I'm going to go into the wall so I turned.' I said when somebody comes past you like that you get out of the gas and get behind. But they're young kids and they don't understand it. They race the whole race like it's the last two laps and that causes a lot of crashes."

Montoya closed with a short comment about his approach to next weekend's season finale in Sonoma.

"It's going to be the same as every weekend," he said. "We're going to go out there and do the best we can and see what happens. I feel like if we run a smart race all day, we'll be fine. We'll do the best we can. It kind sucks being double points on a road course, but it is what it is."

But this week everyone's thoughts are with Justin Wilson, his wife Julia and daughters Jane and Jessica. Justin is an excellent racing driver and a first class gentlemen and family man. All of us wish him the best of good fortune in his fight to survive.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright ~ All Rights Reserved