until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


‘No gap. Brace for impact’ – IndyCar’s terrifying St Pete crash

by Jack Benyon
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

A huge airborne crash in IndyCar’s St Petersburg season opener left five drivers lucky to walk away relatively unscathed.

The incident started with Scott Dixon easing Felix Rosenqvist into the outside wall at Turn 3 when fighting for seventh. Dixon apologised profusely and did say he would have left more room for Rosenqvist if the same situation happened again.

However, it was a move Rosenqvist should have backed out of earlier. Bailing out at Turn 2 would have given the chance for him to get a better run out of Turn 3 to defend or attack in the next corner.

Staying alongside Dixon meant even if they’d have avoided contact at the corner entry, because of the corner arc and the speed that corner is taken at, Rosenqvist likely would have run out of room on the exit instead where there’s less grip on the track too. Sticking with the move was a lose-lose scenario.

That first clash and Rosenqvist’s slow-moving damaged car caused a number of concertina incidents which became most serious when Santino Ferrucci was unable to avoid clipping Helio Castroneves into a spin.

That collected those two drivers, Simon Pagenaud, Sting Ray Robb and Devlin DeFrancesco, who had all just about come to a stop when Benjamin Pedersen flew around the corner and smashed straight into the side of Devlin De Francesco’s stationary car at over 100mph.

“Coming around Turn 2, I saw what looked like regular race traffic with how it normally stacks up a bit, and then came out of 3 which is a blind corner and high-speed, in fourth or fifth gear, well over 100mph,” Pedersen explained to The Race.

“When I got through the apex of Turn 3, it was carnage.

“I slammed on the brakes and looked for some sort of gap to try and get through. But there was no gap. Braced for the impact. It was a big one.

“I certainly feel devastated for the whole team. I think we could have had a good race, we knew there would be a lot of carnage.

“I’m healthy, luckily I got my hands off the wheel. The aeroscreen took a big hit so that did its job. I know some of the other drivers were sore, so I hope they’re doing well.

“These cars are fortunately very safe, knock-on-wood, and how far the safety has come.”

DeFrancesco, whose car was sent flying, had the kind of surreal feeling of being able to see what was about to happen to him and having no ability to stop it.

“I’m fine, but it was a really hard knock,” DeFrancesco told NBC TV.

“Not the way we wanted to start the season. I saw Helio spinning, and there was no way I could get through it, then I saw Pedersen coming at me. I said, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a big one.’

“Just braced up and got ready for it. It was a wild ride.”

Luckily DeFrancesco was cleared without injury, like the other drivers involved.

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Castroneves praised IndyCar’s new mobile care centre unit – which had previously been a trailer and shared circuit facilities but is now an all-encompassing trailer unit with everything they could possibly need. Castroneves may have already had an x-ray on his right leg before the green flag came out following the incident he was caught up in.

“Incredible from the AMR Safety Crew, they did an amazing job,” Castroneves told NBC.

“This facility that IndyCar has now is paying off. It’s a shame I have to try it out! They took an x-ray, everything looks fine. It’s like when you hit your funny bone on a chair, it hurts but it’s all good.

“In terms of what happened, I have no idea! I got hit from behind.”

Castroneves’ Meyer Shank team-mate Simon Pagenaud also felt rough after the incident – although he was all smiles when The Race saw he and Will Power at Tampa airport after the race – lamenting his qualifying error that put him in range of the shunt in the first place.

“Unfortunately paying a high price for a mistake in qualifying, so we’ve got to regroup,” said Pagenaud, who had been a dark horse to fight for a win given Meyer Shank’s strong street course form but started only 25th.

“We have fast cars, that’s not a problem.”

Castroneves was the highest qualifier involved in the crash in 15th, so his problem was less about qualifying and more about losing spots at the start.

Robb was actually able to stay in the race and finished 15th overall scoring what could be important points in the rookie race, although Agustin Canapino’s strong start makes him the clear rookie of the year favourite.

The lap one incident wasn’t the only airborne shunt of the day as on lap 41 of 100, Rinus VeeKay crashed into the tyres at Turn 4 and Jack Harvey was unable to avoid him.

With the two cars close together Kyle Kirkwood followed and was launched in a monster-truck style leap over VeeKay and Harvey, clearing both cars and landing with a huge bang.

“I climbed over the two cars so quick, that it didn’t even seem like I was as high as I now know I was,” Kirkwood told The Race afterwards.

“It felt like I was a foot or two off the ground and I realise now it was definitely higher than that as I’d gone over at least one car that I knew of.

“The way it came down, it definitely sent a shockwave through my spine. There’s no doubt about that because it went straight to the floor as suspension travel is inches in an IndyCar. It’s being in a wooden box and dropped from six-feet in the air.

“I thought the car was destroyed. In my mind, I knew I’d just gone over the top of two guys, I just landed, everything felt like it just shattered in the car.

“But they [the AMR Safety Team] restarted me, I drove it back and it ended up just being the front wing and a toe-link.”

Not only the safety but the robustness of the current IndyCar has been tested time and again, most recently and notably at Nashville in 2021 when Marcus Ericsson launched airborne over Sebastien Bourdais and still went on to win the race with some strategy help and a great defensive drive against Colton Herta.

Harvey was taken to hospital for precautionary checks but was later released.

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