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F1: Halo on car protects Charles Leclerc after crash with Fernando Alonso in Belgian GP

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) Fernando Alonso’s McLaren car spiraled into the air and bounced – yes, bounced – on top of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber during a dramatic first-lap crash at Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Both Formula One drivers walked away unscathed, with the halo protective device surrounding Leclerc’s cockpit appearing to save him from a serious head injury.

“I don’t know how it would have ended up without it. I am happy it was there,” said Leclerc, a 20-year-old driver from Monaco. “It all happened very quickly. At the time, I knew there was an orange car, I thought it was Fernando. I felt the impact, but it wasn’t that big in the car. I was lucky.”

Motorsport governing body FIA made the head protective device mandatory in F1 this year in order to protect drivers from potentially fatal impacts such as loose tires barreling at high speed, other flying debris and – in this case – one car landing on another.

“What is clear is the significant tire marks on the chassis and the halo,” FIA race director Charlie Whiting said. “It doesn’t take much imagination to think the tire marks could have actually been on Charles’ head.”

The FIA has been looking at ways to improve cockpit protection and limit the risk of head injuries, after French F1 driver Jules Bianchi – who was a close friend of Leclerc’s – died in July 2015 and British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died a month later.

In Sunday’s crash, Leclerc’s head would most likely have been hit, if not for the halo.

“(Alonso’s car) would probably have made contact with his head,” Whiting said.

Last Sunday, Verizon IndyCar Series driver Robert Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

Wickens’ car flew into a fence and darted back toward the exposed head of another driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ducked down and escaped unharmed.

IndyCar has also been testing a windscreen to improve protection around a driver’s head.

Whiting says the FIA is sharing all of its halo information with IndyCar.

“We are talking to them,” he said.

Alonso, who was sent airborne by Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault ploughing into the back of his car, was thankful no one was harmed.

“On the positive side we are all OK, with Charles, with the halo. It’s good news all three of us are OK,” Alonso told television broadcaster Sky. “It’s good proof (for the halo). We didn’t need any proof, but it’s a good thing.”

The halo forms a semi-circular barrier around the driver’s helmet in the front half of the cockpit, protecting the head without completely closing the cockpit. When first tested ahead of 2016, drivers were split as to whether they liked it with some – such as four-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton – criticizing it on aesthetic grounds.

Others, like two-time F1 champion Alonso and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel were outspoken in backing its usage.

Former F1 champion Nico Rosberg tweeted: “We can end the HALO discussion now. It will save lives.”

Will Power, Roger Penske collect Indy 500 trophies

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DETROIT (AP) Last year, Will Power finally broke through and won the Indianapolis 500, so he can cross that accomplishment off the list.

Now 37, Power is reaching an age when it’s fair to wonder how much longer he’ll keep at it.

“I’m really enjoying my racing. I’ve never been so motivated. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, mentally on the game,” Power said. “I think once you get to this part of your career, you realize that you’re not going to be doing this forever. So you’ve got to enjoy it and you’ve got to go for it when you’ve got it, because, you know, probably only another five years at maximum, and you’re retired.”

Whenever Power’s career does wind down, his 2018 Indy 500 win will remain a moment to remember. He was in Detroit on Wednesday night with team owner Roger Penske for a ceremony in which they received their “Baby Borg” trophies for winning last year’s race. The Baby Borgs are replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy that honors the Indy 500 winner.

Power finished second at Indy in 2015, and his victory last year made him the race’s first Australian winner. It was Penske’s 17th Indy 500 win as an owner, part of a banner year for him. Penske also won a NASCAR Cup title with driver Joey Logano.

“When you think about 2018, we had 32 race wins, 35 poles. I think we led almost 5,400 laps, with all the series,” Penske said.

On Wednesday, Penske collected another significant trophy, and he’ll be celebrated again in a couple weeks. He’s being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 1.

“It’s amazing that a guy from the north can get into the Hall of Fame in the south,” Penske joked. “No, it’s special. … NASCAR has helped us build our brand over the years, certainly, with the reputation it has, and the notoriety we get, being a NASCAR team owner.”

Penske’s most recent Indy 500 title came courtesy of Power, who long preferred road courses to ovals but certainly looked comfortable at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year.

“The 500 was one record that he didn’t have, and I think you saw the excitement he and his wife, and the whole team, when he was able to win the race,” Penske said. “He’s probably the best qualifier we’ve ever had, as a road racer, and no question his expertise. He didn’t like ovals to start with, but I think today, he loves racing on ovals.”

Power seems content with all aspects of his racing life at the moment. The aftermath of an Indy 500 victory can be a whirlwind, and it would be understandable for a driver to be weary of it eight months later, but for Power, it’s a new experience.

“I’ve been looking forward to this event for a few months now, to actually get the Baby Borg. You have the face on it – I didn’t realize that, you actually get your own face on it,” Power said. “It makes you realize the significance of the event, when you think about all the things that come with winning the 500.”

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