One thing that has also improved has been the safety. We've some absolutely huge crashes in the DW12 era, and we've been lucky to see some of these drivers walk away with their lives intact. Here are the top-13 crasehes that could have ended so much worse in a different era with no SAFER barriers, HANS devices, or a car as safe as the DW12:
15) Andretti - Dixon - Rahal (Long Beach, 2012)
In one of the races where the DW12 was just getting its feet wet, Marco Andretti tried to pass Graham Rahal on the inside. A miscommunication occurred, and Andretti launched over the back of Rahal's car, getting airborne. His car came flying down the track and narrowly avoided a catastrophic collision with Scott Dixon, who was just a couple feet from being in the path of Andretti's car. Not only did Dixon get lucky, but Andretti could have veered towards the catch fencing or another car. Both were lucky to avoid a serious accident.
|Still shot from the TV coverage of Andretti flying over Rahal|
14) Newgarden - Bourdais (Sonoma, 2012)
Coming out on cold tires, Sebastien Bourdais was trying everything he could to get around Josef Newgarden, who was a lap down. Going through the 'S' turns at Sonoma, Bourdais left the track, came back, and collected Newgarden on his way to the wall. Newgarden nailed the wall and his car came back and destroyed Bourdais's tub right near the cockpit. Bourdais walked away, while Newgarden suffered a hand injury. Fortunately, Newgarden hit a concrete wall covered in tires. Just up the road was exposed concrete that could have made much worse. Bourdais would later say that it was one of the biggest hits he had in his career.
|The scene of the crash at Sonoma. Newgarden's car in green (Photo: MotorSportMagazine)|
13) Plowman - Montangy (Grand Prix of Indianapolis, 2014)
In the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, a lot of action happened. One of the big crashes of the race was involving Martin Plowman and Franck Montangy, both part-time drivers. Martin came in hot to a key passing zone in turn 7. He decided he wasn't going to make the corner, bailed out of it, launched over the curb, got airborne, and hit the engine housing of Montangy. This accident could have been so much worse for Martin and Franck, I had the opportunity to ask Martin about the crash, and this is some of the paraphrased thoughts he had to share with me:
"I braked earlier than I normally would have, but despite that.... NOTHING happened. IT was as if I was on black ice.... The rear tires locked and I was essentially a passenger for the duration. All I could think of when I was going backwards was, 'please miss everyone...' I'm very thankful that the outcome wasn't any worse than what it was for Franck." -Martin Plowman
|Both Montangy and Plowman escape serious danger (Photo: Eric Anderson / Indycar Media)|
12) Chilton (Indianapolis, 2016)
Max Chilton has an a "quiet" crash on Bump Day for the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Coming out of turn two, he lost the car and nailed the wall nose first. This accident wasn't glorified all that much because Max walked away unhurt, but it could have been so much worse. My initial comments were if that crash happened even 15 years ago, it would have likely been fatal.
|Chilton with a hard crash before qualifying (Photo: AP)|
11) Aleshin - Montoya (Toronto, 2014)
This incident wasn't necessarily a huge crash or anything, just a very dangerous moment. Coming into a drenched turn as the rain had just started falling at Exhibition Place, Juan Pablo Montoya stuffed his car into the barrier. Mikhail Aleshin suffered the same fate, and stuffed his car in the exact same place, hit Montoya's car and trapping him underneath. What seemed like a minor incident was talked in detailed by Aleshin in the pit lane, where he said the heat and lack of air was suffocating him. Quick action by the safety crews might have prevented a much worse incident.
|Aleshin trapped under Montoya's car (Photo: AP)|
10) Saavedra - Aleshin - Munoz (Grand Prix of Indianapolis, 2014)
When it comes to standing starts, nothing is worse than a car stalling in front of the field. The absolute worse is when the pole sitter does it. For the first Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Sebastian Saavedra surprised everyone with a pole win. On the start, though, he stalled his car. Everyone behind him bobbed and weaved their way through until towards the back, Carlos Munoz struck Saavedra with severe contact, and then Mikhail Aleshin with major contact. All three walked away with bumps bruises. What was really frightening was watching the replay and seeing Saavedra waving his arms around in the air to signal that he stalled. Had he not tucked them close to his body on impact, he could have suffered severe damage to his wrists and hands.
|Sato avoids debris as Aleshin hits Saavedra in the red and yellow car (Photo: AP)|
9) Castroneves - Newgarden - Carpenter (all separate flips) (Indianapolis, 2015)
We all remember the images leading up to the 2015 Indianapolis 500 and, specifically, qualifying. Right away in the speed week, Helio Castroneves hit the wall coming out of turn one and the car flipped violently in the air. He walked away. The next day, Josef Newgarden smacked the wall in turn one and flipped. He was okay. During the weekend, after raining out the day before, drivers got to practice right before qualifying. Ed Carpenter lost the car out of turn two, flipping and catching the catch fence with the rear of the car. Ed would walk away. These three flips made many question the safety of the newly installed aero kits, and it led to safety changes in 2016.
|Just unreal. Helio flips through the air (Photo: LA Times)|
8) Conway - Power (Indianapolis, 2012)
The first big safety "test" for the new DW12 came at the high speed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012. After a pit stop fault that damaged his wing, Mike Conway came back out onto track and did not see the severity of the damage. Heading into turn one, Conway wiggled, lost the back end, and collected Will Power. Conway hit the wall and the side of his car lifted in the air. Power hit the part that was in the air, and it sent Conway's cockpit parallel with the catch fence. A loose wheel came off of Conway's car, and many drivers ducked by, including Helio Castroneves, who made slight contact with the tire. All drivers were okay, but it did lead to Mike Conway's decision to retire from ovals.
|Conway flies after contact with Power (Photo: AP)|
7) Wilson - de Silvestro - Vautier - Servia - Newgarden - Jakes (Fontana, 2013)
One of the largest accidents as far as number of cars involved happened at Fontana in 2013. Midway through turn one, Justin Wilson lost the back end of his car and was T-boned hard by Tristan Vautier. Josef Newgarden came up the track to avoid the accident and hit Oriol Servia. James Jakes got seriously lucky from this incident. A piece of suspension came with inches of making contact with his helmet, instead hitting the airbox behind his head. Simona de Silvestro spun to miss debris and cars. While Wilson fractured his hip, the other drivers escaped with no injuries.
|Wilson had to be helped from the car as he suffered a fractured hip|
(Photo: Ken Manfred)
6) Hinchcliffe (Grand Prix of Indianapolis, 2014)
One of the scarier incidents was at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2014. Contact on the backstraight met some debris from a front wing went flying. A large chunk of it made contact with James Hinchcliffe's helmet, and he was temporarily knocked out. He would have to go to the hospital, but he would be okay and he would make the next race.
|Still shot from broadcast where James Hinchcliffe drifted off the track after|
being struck in the head with a large piece of debris
5) Briscoe - Hunter-Reay (Fontana, 2015)
One of the more dramatic finishes came after one of the most thrilling races of all-time. Coming to the end, lots of bobbing and weaving saw Ryan Hunter-Reay get chopped into the path of Ryan Briscoe. As they transferred from the track surface to grass, the air got underneath of Briscoe's car and lifted it off the ground. When he came down, his nose dug in and the car came to a rest after a violent couple of seconds. You could see pieces of grass get launched over a 100 feet in the air. Amazingly, both drivers were okay.
|Brisoce flies before digging into the grass (Photo: FOX)|
4) Aleshin - Kimball - Andretti (Fontana, 2014)
Practicing for the season finale, Mikhail Aleshin was hugging the white line before he spun. He spun up the track and was hit by Charlie Kimball, launching the nose of the car into the catch fencing. Marco Andretti also spun in but was not damaged. Charlie Kimball was okay and would race the next day. Aleshin suffered chest fractures, broken ribs, a broken shoulder, and a concussion. He is back racing in Indycar today.
|What was left of the fence after Aleshin hit it (Photo: USA Today)|
3) Franchitti - Sato - Viso (Houston, 2013)
One of the worst road course accidents occurred in 2013 at Reliant Park in Houston. Coming through a tricky fast corner, Takuma Sato got a bit loose. Dario Franchitti, was very close to the back of Sato, launced over the car and hit the catch fencing. EJ Viso arrived on the scene in a blind corner and hit Sato. Debris flew into the stands, but thankfully no fans were seriously hurt. Franchitti suffered fractures to his spine and ankle, as well as a concussion. Franchitti would have full use of all of his limbs again, but the injuries would force him to retire from professional racing.
|Franchitti being carefully extricated from the car after a terrible accident (Photo: Indycar Media)|
2) Newgarden - Daly (Texas, 2016)
The most recent near miss happened in June of 2016 at Texas Motor Speedway. Driving on old tires, Conor Daly lost the back end of the car and veered right towards the wall in the path of Josef Newgarden. Newgarden's car made hard contact. The contact put the car on its right side. He headed towards the wall, cockpit side out. He hit the wall a second time leading with his cockpit before coming to a rest right-side-up. Newgarden would get out under his own power before collapsing from pain. He would suffer a broken clavicle and hand, which is a lot "better" than it could have been. Daly would walk away unhurt.
|Amazing how Newgarden (left) is able to live to tell the tale (Photo: Autoweek)|
1) Hinchcliffe (Indianapolis, 2015)
Practicing for the Indianapolis 500 after qualifying the day before, James Hinchcliffe came into turn three on a cloudy day in 2015. Coming through the turn, Hinch suffered a suspension failure to his right front, sending the car straight to the wall as he apexed the corner. He hit the wall at full speed, registering a 125 G impact. A piece of suspension came through the tub and went through his leg. He was bleeding out in the car. If not for the quick efforts of the Holmatro Safety Team, the track safety crew, hospital staff that treated him, and the invaluable blood donated by thoughtful citizens, Hinch would be dead. There's not even speculation. The fact that Hinch survived a crash at 125 G's is unreal enough. We should investigate how a piece of suspension punctured through the tub, as that's a bit alarming. But the fact that Hinch is alive is a miracle, and I'm sure he'll be the first to tell you.
|How Hinch survived will remain a mystery (Photo: IndyStar)|
It is kind of appalling how lucky we have gotten with the list I've created above. There are a couple other accidents out there that didn't make the list that were also pretty gruesome. Special thanks to Dallara, the Holmatro Safety Team, the hospitals on standby for races in case things go south, Firestone, Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta, Tony George, and the Verizon Indycar Series for helping keep our drivers safe.
For video links to all crashes. click the respective link:
#15 Andretti - Rahal - Dixon
#14 Newgarden - Bourdais
#13 Plowman - Montangy
#11 Aleshin - Montoya
#10 Saavedra - Aleshin - Munoz
#9 Castroneves, Newgarden, and Carpenter
#8 Power - Conway
#7 Wilson - de Silvestro - Vautier - Servia - Newgarden - Jakes
#5 Briscoe - Hunter-Reay
#4 Aleshin - Kimball - Andretti
#3 Franchitti - Sato - Viso
#2 Newgarden - Daly
Let me know what you think!