Despite taking the championship points lead away from Helio Castroneves, there was little for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing to celebrate at the end of Sunday’s Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.
Four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was involved in a major crash on the final lap of the race – a contest won by Team Penske’s Will Power with Ganassi driver Scott Dixon finishing second.
Combine that with Helio Castroneves finishing 23rd in the 24-car field and Dixon has gone from eight points out to 25 points in the lead entering the final race of the season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on October 19.
Franchitti’s car went airborne in a three-car crash that also involved drivers Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso. Parts of the safety fence were ripped away with a large section of the fencing heading into a packed grandstand of spectators landing in the top row.
A wheel off one of the cars bounced across the track then catapulted over the top of the fence. Luckily, it cleared the grandstand and hit the spectator crossover bridge so there were no injuries from that.
According to team owner Chip Ganassi, Franchitti was awake and alert and complaining of a sore ankle and back.
“He’s OK,” Ganassi said
Franchitti was transported to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center for evaluation of his injuries. According to Dr. Michael Ollinger, IndyCar Director of Medical Services, Franchitti was awake and alert but has a concussion, a spinal fracture that will not require surgery and a fractured right ankle.
IndyCar and Mi-Jack Promotions, the promoters of the race, released a joint statement indicating 13 people had been injured in the crash. Three of those people were transported to local hospitals, while the rest were evaluated on site. One of those transported from the track was an IndyCar official.
“Following an accident that occurred on-track at the Grand Prix of Houston this afternoon our greatest concern is for our fans and participants. An IndyCar official and IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti, along with two fans were transferred to an area hospital for evaluation. Eleven fans were additionally evaluated on site,” the statement said. Officials are investigating the incident and currently do not have further information at this time. Fan and driver safety are always a primary concern and we will provide further details as they are available.”
The scene of the crash served as a grim reminder to the IndyCar Series drivers as they weaved through the carnage.
“You have the remnants of Vegas popping into your head when you come around the corner and can’t get through it because of the debris,” Dixon said, referring to the 2011 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car pileup. “When I was driving around I didn’t look at the fence. To see Dario’s car definitely brings home what we do each weekend.
“It’s not a good sight to see.”
The incident cast a pall over an outstanding comeback by Dixon, who entered the weekend 49 points behind Castroneves in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship and leaves with a 25-point lead. Dixon won Saturday’s first race of the doubleheader and finished second on Sunday while Castroneves had a season’s worth of bad luck in less than 24 hours.