What should have been a day of celebration in the IZOD IndyCar Series turned to tragedy Sunday with the death of driver Dan Wheldon.
The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner died during a horrific crash at the Las Vegas Indy 300, the season-ending event.
That incident started on Lap 11 when Wade Cunningham got into the right rear tire of Toronto’s James Hinchcliffe and spun out, leading to a multi-car accident involving 15 drivers.
Hinchcliffe avoided the pileup and said it was unlike anything he had ever seen.
“An unfortunate situation and sort of bred from guys driving, I think, beyond what we should be doing at this part of the race,” Hinchcliffe told ABC.
“We came around after the caution was thrown, I can’t even describe to you what the scene looked like on the race track from our point of view.”
JR Hildebrand, Pippa Mann and Will Power were injured in the accident and all three were taken to hospital.
Power was evaluated and released after experiencing lower back pain. Hildebrand and Mann are awake and alert but will be held overnight for further evaluation.
Scarborough, Ont.’s Paul Tracy was among those in the crash, but emerged unhurt.
“I think everybody was trying to do the best they could and keep it under control,” Tracy told the IMS Radio Network.
“But you’re in the pack, you can’t lift, you basically try to find your spot to run, the cars are moving around and as tires were wearing, you start to see cars move around and that was it.
“Two cars touched wheels and that was it, just a chain reaction.
“These cars are just too fast to race this style of racing like Talladega, like a stock car. You can’t bump and grid off of each other and not expect to have a big wreck.”
The Las Vegas Indy 300 saw a season-high 34-car field driving over 200 mph on the 1.5-mile circuit. Hinchcliffe added the nature of the race track only made matters worse.
“We can run so close to each other not only side-by-side but nose-to-nose … when something goes wrong, there’s zero margin and zero time to react,” Hinchcliffe said.
“In places like Kentucky, the cars move around a little bit more, there’s not as much grip, you’re giving each other more room.
“This race track, we don’t have to do [lift] and because we’re all competitive people, we don’t do it and that when it leads you to situations where if one little thing goes wrong, it can have very bad consequences.”
Wheldon, 33, started from the back of the field in an attempt to win the GoDaddy.com $5 million U.S. challenge. The British driver’s car became airborne and slammed into the catch fence near turn two.
The race was red-flagged as several cars were on fire and debris scattered across the track. IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard cancelled the race two hours later.
In Wheldon’s honour, the drivers performed an emotional five-lap salute as bagpipes played “Amazing Grace” over the speakers.