By Jenna Fryer
HOUSTON: Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti fractured two vertebrae and broke his right ankle when his car went airborne into a fence Sunday on the last lap of the Grand Prix of Houston. The accident showered debris into the grandstand, injuring 13 fans and an IndyCar Series official.
Franchitti, who also sustained a concussion, was transported to a hospital. IndyCar said he would be held overnight, and that a series official was treated for minor injuries.
Houston Fire Department spokesman Ruy Lozano said 13 fans were injured, and 11 were treated onsite at Reliant Park. Lozano said two were taken to the hospital for treatment.
The accident in Turn 5 was reminiscent of Dan Wheldon’s fatal 2011 crash at Las Vegas.
It was a sobering moment for race winner Will Power, who broke his back in the Las Vegas crash, and for Scott Dixon, who took control of the race Sunday but passed by teammate Franchitti’s car.
“The smells and the visuals, for me, and even talking to Will, 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,” Dixon said.
The accident occurred after contact between Franchitti and Takuma Sato sent Franchitti’s car launching over Sato’s and into the fence. Parts and pieces from both cars flew into the grandstand and Franchitti’s badly damaged car bounced back onto the track.
The caution came out to immediately freeze the field, preventing Dixon from attempting the win, settling for second.
Power seemed shaken when he climbed from his car, admitting the accident reminded him of Las Vegas, where he and Wheldon both sailed into the fence.
“I hate seeing that. We try to keep these cars on the ground,” Power said.
The accident ended a weekend that saw Dixon move into the lead following consecutive mechanical failures for Helio Castroneves.
Castroneves came to Houston with a 49-point lead over Dixon. But several gearbox problems over the weekend allowed Dixon to grab a 25-point, needing only to finish fifth or better in the Oct. 19 finale in California to win his third IndyCar title.
“It’s still going to come down to the wire,” he said.
Castroneves finished 23rd. He got a jump at the start to get past Dixon for the lead, but Dixon was screaming on his radio within minutes that Castroneves’ car was leaking oil.
The problem worsened, and he came to a complete stop on the course after just 11 laps.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing,” Castroneves said. “It hurts. It really hurts.”
His car was towed to the garage with a broken gearbox, Castroneves made the long walk back still wearing his helmet, and team owner Roger Penske retreated without comment.
The team eventually replaced the gearbox and Castroneves returned, 36 laps down and needing a miracle in Fontana.
“The racing isn’t over, we know that. We’ve seen this thing go up and down,” Penske said.
But Penske said Castroneves will likely have to change his engine before the finale, which will incur a 10-spot penalty on the starting grid.
“It’s a long race and we’re going to go for it,” said Penske.
Dixon said his strategy didn’t change when Castroneves pulled over Sunday.
“He hit really hard going through Turn 1 kink, instead of sticking to the left there, for some reason he went right in the middle and that’s when some of the underwing fell off when he hit that hard,” Dixon said.
“With the amount of oil that was coming out of that thing, I knew it was pretty terminal.”
Penske praised Power for holding off Dixon for the victory.
“With Will out there battling and taking some points away, he got his job done,” Penske said.