A near-miss in Pocono

There are many arguments in the discussions about head protection in top line motorsport, but the ABC 500 at Pocono, delayed until Monday because of rain, gave further evidence that it would be wise for the sport to find solutions as quickly as possible, lest more drivers are killed or injured.

Mass pit stops in IndyCar racing are usually fraught, with cars getting in and out of their boxes. There are often collisions, notably at Indianapolis this year when Andretti’s Townsend Bell pulled out of his pit and was hit by Penske’s Helio Castroneves and then collided with his own team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay. The same two teams were involved in the incident at Pocono. On lap 64 Alexander Rossi pitted from the lead. He was departing his pit in the slow lane when Charlie Kimball, who was further down the order, arrived in the fast lane for his stop. Kimball seems to have believed that he was clear of Rossi, and Rossi was either unsighted or believed that Kimball would duck behind him. In any event, the two cars were side-by-side and collided and Rossi’s front end went into the air. As it came back to earth Castroneves emerged from his pit and arrived beneath Rossi’s car, which then landed on the Penske car in the cockpit area. Fortunately the impact was just in front of Castroneves. Rossi then slid over the top of the Brazilian’s car .

Castroneves said later that his hand had been grazed by Rossi’s flying car.

Apportioning blame in such an incident is difficult. Rossi was penalized a nominal 20 seconds for avoidable contact, but it was clear that he did not see Kimball and had been relying on his pit crew to send him out in an orderly manner. Others felt that Kimball should not have turned in, but he appears to have thought that Rossi would pass behind him. There are also questions about whether Castroneves’s car should have been released into the path of the others.

“Everyone is going to have their own opinion, but I was staying in the slow lane,” Rossi said. “Kimball was obviously trying to come into his box, but then Helio was being released. So I don’t know. It’s very unfortunate.”

The former F1 driver was happy that Castroneves was not hurt, but felt that he had been robbed of a potential victory.

“We were at the front with relative ease and we were waiting for the end to go to the front for the final time,” he said.

The incident, which came a year after Justin Wilson was killed at the same venue, when he was hit on the head by flying wreckage, is a further sign that it would be wise to act sooner, rather than later to try to improve the protection around the drivers’ heads.