Franchitti hospitalized in scary crash that injures fans

(USA TODAY) Dario Franchitti's car went airborne into the catchfence on the final lap of the Grand Prix of Houston in a three-car crash that also collected E.J. Viso and Takuma Sato.

Franchitti stayed in the tub of his Chip Ganassi Racing car a lengthy time as Viso and Sato eventually climbed from theirs and walked away.

Race officials and safety workers tended to Franchitti until an ambulance arrived. He was moved to a stretcher and put in an ambulance.

Franchitti was awake and alert and complaining of back and ankle pain after the crash on a temporary street circuit in Reliant Park.

Team owner Ganassi said on TV the the four-time IndyCar champion was OK.

"He's talking. His ankle is a little sore. His back is a little sore. He's going to take a trip to the hospital, but he is OK.

"The accident comes just 10 days shy of the two-year anniversary of the death of Dan Wheldon.

Franchitti's car became airborne as he tried to pass Sato on a fast portion of the course. The car went airborne and tore into fencing. It came to rest back on the track with the front end missing but with the tub portion of the chassis intact.

Franchitti could be seen moving shortly after the car came to rest. At one point, he lifted his helmet's visor and appeared to be removing his gloves.

He was placed on a stretcher and taken in an ambulance to Hermann Texas Hospital.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing spokesman Kelby Krauss said Franchitti was conscious and telling rescue workers of pain in his back and ankle.The wreck sent pieces of the car and catchfence were vaulted into stands were fans were sitting.

IndyCar PR representative Amy Konrath said an update on the fans would be forthcoming.

The three-time Indy 500 winner's crash refocused attention on catchfence safety techology. It's been among the hottest topics in motor racing since two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Wheldon died when his head struck a post at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after sailing 325 feet through the air in a fiery 15-car wreck that caused the race's cancellation.

In the season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Raceway, Kyle Larson's Chevrolet went airborne into the catchfence and scattered debris that injured 28 fans. The track reinforced its crossover gate fencing by adding cables before its NASCAR weekend in July, but debates still raged over further improvements.

The posts at Las Vegas are positioned on the inside of the fence meshing, and many IndyCar drivers, including Franchitti, lobbied tracks to move the poles outside the fence, while some suggested a complete overhaul was needed.

After the Nationwide crash at Daytona, Franchitti tweeted, "it's time (AT)indycar (AT)nascar other sanctioning bodies & promoters work on an alternative to catch fencing. There has to be a better solution."

Tony George, formerly the head of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, commissioned the development of the SAFER barrier a decade ago and said "it was always our plan (that) the next thing was to address the fence."

Mostly I think we need to be focused on redirecting the cars back onto the race surface and not allow them to get hung up (and) entangled in the fence," George said last year. "We've got to come up with something that's elegant enough and allows some protection for the drivers as well as the fan."

George has described a system similar to the mesh netting that keeps stray pucks out of the crowd at hockey games, but perhaps as a plexiglass-style "curtain" that won't obstruct grandstand sightlines.

Last year, IndyCar introduced a redesigned chassis (which was tested was by Wheldon and named for him ("DW12") that featured new safety enhancements. The tub was designed to provide more protection against debris entering the cockpit, which was made wider to aid in driver extraction. Energy-absorbing seat insets added padding beneath and behind the driver.

Perhaps most notably, a wider underwing and rear "bumper covers" were intended to reduce the risk of cars going airborne by touching wheels.

But in a May 2012 interview with USA TODAY Sports, Franchitti said, "the series has tried hard to do stuff with the new car, but I'm not sure they've made the progress."


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