LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens have forged a bit of a rivalry this season. They’ve tangled on the track a few times, and exchanged the occasional verbal dart – some more playful than others, like when Wickens jokingly locked Rossi in a prison cell during a promotional event last month.
But animosity between IndyCar drivers tends to dissolve quickly amid grim reminders of the sport’s dangers.
Wickens was just a few laps into the race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday when he connected with Ryan Hunter-Reay and soared into the catchfence. The fencing was shredded, and Wickens’ car was reduced to just the tub, which came to a rest on the track along an interior wall.
The race was stopped – and IndyCar came together.
“All 22 of us, 33 of us, whatever it may be, are a family,” Rossi said. “We try our best to look after each other out there. You don’t want to see that happen to anyone. We’ll continue to think of him and pray for him, his family, his fiancee; all that they have to deal with.”
Wickens was being treated for injuries to his lower extremities, right arm and spine following an accident that led to him getting airlifted from the track to the hospital. IndyCar said the Canadian sustained a pulmonary contusion and will undergo an MRI and probable surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest in Allentown.
IndyCar drivers were more concerned with his health and future than what the race meant to the championship picture.
“All we can hope for is that everybody is going to be OK,” points leader Scott Dixon said.
It was the latest chilling moment at Pocono: Justin Wilson died from a head injury in 2015 when a piece of debris from a crashed car bounced off the track and hit his helmet.
James Hinchcliffe, who was caught up in Wickens’ wreck, had survived his own life-threatening injury when a broken part from his car pierced an artery during a 2015 crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But the series goes on – even on the oval tracks like Indy and Pocono where danger makes even veteran race fans tense up.
Once the green flag dropped for the final time Sunday, the drivers played nice. There wasn’t another caution the rest of the way, and Rossi closed the gap on Dixon in the points race with a dominant win.
Rossi led 180 of 200 laps to win his second straight race and third of the season, slicing Dixon’s lead to 29 points with three races left.
Will Power, who won the last two Pocono races, was second, and Dixon finished third.
“We’ve been a bit blah. They’ve been excelling,” Dixon said of Rossi.
Rossi also won for Andretti Autosport on the streets of Long Beach in April and the Mid-Ohio road course three weeks ago.
Wickens finished second at Mid-Ohio, what was the latest in a sensational string of races for the 29-year-old Canadian driver in his first season in IndyCar. Wickens had reeled off five straight top-five finishes and is sixth in the standings. Hinchcliffe, runner-up on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” in 2017, helped lure Wickens to IndyCar and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season after a successful career in Europe.
“I know he is in good hands. Hopefully, we’ll see him back in the car soon,” Hinchcliffe said.
It surely won’t be next week at Gateway Motorsports Park or the rest of this season.
IndyCar drivers can steel their will to put any kind of bad news behind them once they get behind the wheel and hit 220 mph in an open cockpit. There’s a championship to race for and Dixon has a fifth title in sight.
He not only has to hold off Rossi, but former series champions Josef Newgarden and Power aren’t out of contention yet.
Rossi sprayed champagne and confetti flew on the podium.
The celebration may have seemed normal, but thoughts couldn’t help stray toward Wickens.
“It’s tough to really celebrate after what happened,” Rossi said.