An update from Robert Wickens on social media let his fans know that he has officially become paralyzed and a person with paraplegia. The thought of just walking again is the ultimate goal, let alone racing.
After an accident like Robert Wickens, questions are always asked with few answers ever given. The racing world is often reactive and not proactive in moments like these. Safer barriers, Hans Device, and the polarizing Halo are all reactive safety measures to save human lives inside of a race car.
In the case of Robert Wickens, thankfully he didn’t pass away, which is the trend that often sparks change in our sport. But he did receive significant life-altering injuries, and that has me questioning, what is the next move for IndyCar? When you observe what happened in the crash, everything did its job. The catch fence caught the car from exiting the racing surface. There is no telling where that car would have been nor how long the safety crew would have taken to assist him if he had gone outside of the track limits.
The cockpit Robert was sitting in at the time of the incident, miraculously remained in-tacked from the impacts. The car broke apart, as it was supposed too, as it absorbed the g-forces. The Hans Device protected the head and neck from what could have been fatal whiplash seen all too often in our sport. All the safety measures worked and ultimately saved his life.
Many believe that ovals need to be banned altogether. The problem with that belief is, what would happen to the Indy 500 if that happened? Eliminate one of the most, if not the most, famous race in America? What would IndyCars be if there is no Indy? Naturally, those that want to ban ovals always exclude that race from their non-oval belief. Weird. (Not really)
Other ideas included massive plexy glass to replace the catch fence. The elimination of the catch fence altogether, or make the walls/safer barriers higher. But the one idea that rarely got a mention is slowing these cars down because we are and always will be, enamored with speed. It just comes with the territory.
In numerous DMV manuals, you might remember that it does say that “the faster you go, the less time you have to react to a hazard or collision.” Or that the faster you travel, the G-forces inherited from a collision increase. The forces that Robert Wickens experienced in his Pocono crash have yet to be released. We can compare a similar accident that happened to IndyCar driver Kenny Bräck at Texas Motor Speedway in 2003. Bräck’s car received 214 g (g-forces) as he also hit the catch fence racing at 220 mph sustaining similar injuries to that of Wickens. Both wrecks were seen as racing incidences.
I want be clear; this isn’t a call to put lawnmower engines in the cars and have them travel at a crawl. But is 220 mph necessary to achieve great racing? Faster cars don’t make great racing because great racers make great racing. Put drivers like Scott Dixon, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon on golf carts, and I’m sure that they would be able to put on a show.
It is life and death every time drivers pull their helmets over their heads and tug those belts tight. Life prevailed over death that day as safety once again proved its importance. Open-wheel cars have an extra degree of danger, as racing will forever be dangerous. But their speeds on the ovals need to be seen as an essential part of their safety moving forward.