During the a practice session at the Verizon IndyCar Series finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Mikhail Aleshin, lost control on the exit of Turn 2 and was launched into the catch fencing as his car slid up track and into the Chip Ganassi Racing machine of Charlie Kimball. This most recent incident is one in a long history of IndyCars being launched into the catch fencing, often resulting in serious injury, the most tragic of which was the fatal incident at Las Vegas Speedway that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon.
Aleshin suffered a concussion, fractured ribs, a broken right clavicle, and chest injuries in the incident, and was initially treated at the nearby Loma Linda University Medical Center before being transported back to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Today, Aleshin was released from the hospital and will continue to undergo rehabilitation in Indianapolis under the direciton of INDYCAR medical consultants Dr. Terry Trammell and Dr. Kevin Scheid.
“I’m feeling better each day. I’m very happy to be back in Indianapolis with my friends and the team. The doctors are taking very good care of me. Everything is going as planned with my recovery, and before you know it I’ll be back behind the steering wheel.” — Mikhail Aleshin, #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
This story has a positive ending for Aleshin who is expected to make a full recovery and will likely return to racing for the 2015 season. This incident as well as others, such as the career-ending collision with the catch fencing by Dario Franchitti at the end of the 2013 season, has INDYCAR considering what Formula 1 has been investigating since Massa took a spring to the head. Is it time for canopies in open-wheel racing? Derrick Walker seems to think so, at least a partial enclosure, according to a recent article at Racer.com by Marshall Pruett.
“It’s a lot of work because Formula 1 and many others have tried looking at this issue. It’s not a quick solution just around the corner. I think certainly, if you look at the design of the 2018 car, hopefully, we have something before that, but if you were looking at that design of the 2018 car, you would see that it has a partial canopy. That would definitely be part of what would be the most notable about the car would be it would have that cockpit protection. I think that’s a given.” — Derrick Walker, IndyCar President of Competition
Andretti Autosport driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, is also firmly behind the idea, and is quick to point out that IndyCar and Formula 1 are last remaining top racing series in which the driver’s head is exposed. Although a canopy won’t alleviate the serious injury risk experienced by Aleshin and Franchitti in the newest IndyCar chassis, Dallara’s DW12, it would minimize the risk of a head-to-pole collision such as Wheldon suffered, and the head-to-debris collision that Massa suffered. Is it time that we consider Adrian Newey’s X1 concept? I know that many would consider a canopy tantamount to apostasy, much like many considered the insane notion of putting the engines in the rear of the car heretical, but I think that its time has come. Le Mans prototypes, Top Fuel dragsters, and the ever sketchy unlimited hydroplanes all now sport canopies to protect their pilots. Perhaps it’s time for us to put away our nostalgia and consider the safety of the drivers who risk it all so that we may have some entertainment on Sunday afternoons.