IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died yesterday from severe injuries sustained after a crash on Sunday. The crash left Wilson unconscious and ultimately led to his untimely death.
The IndyCar champion’s passing is the second since 2011 and leaves behind the controversial topic of whether the open cockpits in IndyCars should be closed for the safety of the drivers. It also raises pressing questions about whether the series is doing enough to ensure driver safety.
Wilson was hit by the nose cone from driver Sage Karam’s car. Karam crashed on lap 21 of the ABC Supply 500, leaving debris all over the track. One piece, the nose cone, bounced off the track and hit Wilson on the head.
The impact from the hit left Wilson unconscious, causing his vehicle to veer off track and crash into the adjacent inside wall.
Wilson was airlifted to the Lehigh Valley Hospital, where he fell into a coma.
The news of Wilson’s death was made at exactly 9PM ET on Monday. In a statement by IndyCar Chief Executive Mark Miles, "This is a monumentally sad day for IndyCar and the motorsports community as a whole. 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."
A statement from Andretti Autosport, Wilson’s race team read, "it only took a second for him to forever become part of the Andretti family. His life and racing career is a story of class and passion surpassed by none."
Wilson died by his family. He leaves behind his wife Julia, two daughters, his parents and brother Stephan. A statement from the family read in part, "Justin was a loving father and devoted husband, as well as a highly competitive racing driver who was respected by his peers."
Wilson was a Sheffield, England native with seven major U.S. open wheel championships, including three IndyCar series. Earlier in the year, he was part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Wilson is the first driver to die from injuries sustained on the track since Dan Wheldon in 2011. Wheldon died after suffering a severe head injury in a wild car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wilson’s crash has been attributed to his open cockpit, a long standing tradition in IndyCar racing. In contrast, Nascar racing cockpits are closed, leaving drivers less exposed.
The topic on open cockpits will definitely follow IndyCar racing management in the days following Wilson’s demise. Wilson’s death is a harsh reminder of the risks involved when the safety of race car drivers is not put first.
Its also a reminder that in the IndyCar series profits seems to be taking a back seat to meaningful safety reforms.