Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Safety concerns for both race car drivers and race fans are once again in the spotlight following Dario Franchitti's horrific crash in Sunday's IndyCar Series event in Houston.
During the final lap, Franchitti's car went airborne after hitting the rear of Takuma Sato's car and slammed into the catch fence along turn 5 before it landed back onto the track. Debris from the fence and Franchitti's vehicle showered a grandstand full of spectators in that area.
Franchitti, a four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, was seriously injured, while 13 fans and an IndyCar official sustained minor injuries. Franchitti fractured two vertebrae in his spine and broke his right ankle. He also suffered a concussion and two cracked ribs. He had surgery on his ankle on Sunday night.
Chip Ganassi Racing said in a release on Monday that Franchitti will remain at Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center in Houston for a few days before he is transported to Indianapolis, where he is expected to have another surgical procedure on his ankle. His spinal injuries will not require surgery.
"Thank you to everyone for all the well wishes," Franchitti said in a statement. "They mean a lot to me. I would also like to send my best to all the fans involved in the accident and hope that everyone is alright."
IndyCar also issued a statement on Monday, saying, "Our thoughts remain with everyone affected by yesterday's accident. Thank you to the people of Houston for their support of the Grand Prix and their concern for Dario Franchitti, the fans and race personnel. IndyCar is thoroughly reviewing the incident. Reducing the risks that are associated with racing is one of our highest priorities and receives our constant and on-going focus."
Franchitti's accident occurred nearly eight months after a similar incident took place in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Dozens of spectators in the grandstands at Daytona were injured, two of them critically, when Kyle Larson's car flipped around and sailed into the fence after he had been caught up in a multi-car crash on the front stretch.
The front end of Larson's car was ripped apart after it tore a gaping hole in the fence. The engine and one of the tires sheared off his car and lodged in the fencing. Another tire from his vehicle flew up and over into the upper deck of the grandstands.
In wake of that incident, the crossover gate areas at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, a track similar to Daytona, were reinforced as part of NASCAR's new safety measures.
IndyCar has worked feverishly on its safety initiatives since Dan Wheldon's fatal crash in the Oct. 16, 2011 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon suffered a non-survivable head injury when his car went airborne and made contact with a vertical post on the fence. He was involved in a 15-car wreck.
For many drivers competing in Sunday's race in Houston, Franchitti's accident brought back horrid memories of what happened in Las Vegas two years ago.
"I think you have the remnants of Vegas popping into your head, with you coming around the corner and you can't drive through it, because there's a field of debris," said Scott Dixon, who is Franchitti's teammate. "There was nowhere near the amount of damage that we saw a few years back, but seeing the replay, I think, was the big shock.
"When I was driving around, I didn't even look at the fence. You were just trying to pick away through the debris there. To see Dario's car, it definitely brings home what we do each weekend and sort of the difficulties that we can have out there. It's not a good sight to see, that's for sure."
Prior to the start of the 2012 season, IndyCar rolled out its new Dallara chassis, which was designed to be a safer car than the previous one. It was named the "DW12" in honor of Wheldon, who served as test driver of the car during its development stages. The car has undergone numerous modifications since its debut.
When IndyCar outlined its long-term competition strategy earlier this year, it noted that one initiative included IndyCar and Dallara looking to reduce the surface area of the underbody on the current chassis in order to decrease the potential for lift. Officials noted that it was the first step in making incremental changes to the cars to enhance speed, innovation and safety.
"We try to keep these cars on the ground," said Houston race winner Will Power. "I think they (IndyCar) have done a great job with the floor, where now we can hit and don't interlock wheels, and I think that's prevented a lot of accidents in the last two seasons. But, obviously, we need to have a good look at how (Franchitti) got up there."
That will be next on IndyCar's agenda.