Injured IndyCar driver Robert Wickens' team boss Schmidt on crash
Injured IndyCar driver Robert Wickens' team boss Sam Schmidt has renewed calls for safety changes on ovals following the Pocono accident
Wickens sustained injuries to his spine, lower extremities and right arm when his car was launched into the catchfencing over Ryan Hunter-Reay in last Sunday's race.
The Canadian rookie had rods and screws inserted into his spine during surgery on fractures on Tuesday, but a medical statement afterwards said the "severity of the spinal cord injury is indeterminate".
Schmidt Peterson team co-owner Schmidt was left quadriplegic after a crash on the Orlando oval in 2000.
Dan Wheldon was driving for Schmidt when he suffered his fatal crash at Las Vegas in 2011, and SPM drivers Mikhail Aleshin and James Hinchcliffe both sustained serious injuries in oval accidents in the last four years.
"We've got to figure something out, and I've been saying this since Dan died in 2011," Schmidt told Autosport.
"I hate complaining about something or calling for changes when I haven't got a solution. I'm not the guy with the answers.
"But what I've asked for since then is that in the turns where there is no grandstand so no spectator sight-lines are affected, they should go double-high with the SAFER barrier.
"Maybe that's only a short-term fix, but the SAFER is tested and it doesn't spring the cars back onto the track like some people have worried about regarding the 'plexiglass' solution.
"If you looked at a replay of Mikhail's accident, at Robbie's accident, and others - including NASCAR - another three feet of SAFER barrier would have contained the car within the track without this cheese-grater effect that catchfencing has.
"I don't know if that's a long-term fix, I don't know the level of investment required, but certainly on turns where spectator viewing isn't an issue, the oval tracks need to do something like that."
Schmidt lauded the work of the IndyCar safety team and the Lehigh Valley Hospital that is treating Wickens.
"I can't praise enough the IndyCar safety team and how they work with the local hospitals and surgeons," he said.
"The doctors are ticking all the boxes, doing everything they can, everything that needs doing for someone after such a violent crash when circumstances push the car and the human body to the absolute limit.
"To see Robbie with his eyes open at the infield care centre was huge, because 40 minutes of silence was just too long.
"Kudos to Dallara, the folks on the technical side of IndyCar, the safety team, and all the people who've contributed to the procedures and protocol that has been built in to the IndyCar system to cover those situations."
DTM convert Wickens is currently sixth in the championship in his rookie season, and Schmidt can foresee him returning to IndyCar should his surgeries and rehabilitation all prove successful.
"I've only known Robbie for about a year but he's the type of guy for whom racing is his life," he said.
"He's really enjoying IndyCar, he likes the atmosphere and the quality of the competition. It seems to suit him so well.
"So if he feels he can still be competitive, I have no doubt that he would come back. He's the type of committed, driven individual who can overcome huge setbacks.
"He's such a hard and talented driver that he makes everyone else in the team raise their game, higher than they've ever been before, and you see it in the pitstops, in the chassis development, and so on.
"He's testing people, but he's also inspiring them and so that also draws the team members closer.
"But that's what makes this kind of situation all that much worse.
"We all recognise his talents and we don't know if he could have got third or fourth in the championship this year, but he'd have given it a hell of a try.
"That's just a fantastic performance by a rookie, however much experience he had from other series."
Schmidt said there was "nothing left" of Wickens car, but that its safety cell had performed as it should.
"There's catchfence pieces intertwined in the entire chassis," he said.
"It's just a big pile of crap without a usable part - but that's how it's supposed to be, to dissipate energy during an accident like that.
"It helped protect the one element it's supposed to protect: the driver."
SPM will only enter Hinchcliffe's car for this weekend's Gateway race, with Schmidt admitting plans for the subsequent Portland and Sonoma rounds remained uncertain but that the sponsors on Wickens' cars had told the team to "focus on Robbie, focus on his needs, focus on his family, focus on Hinch having a successful finish to the season".
Schmidt added: "The phone's been ringing off the hook with potential replacements, but first I want to get the team in a huddle this weekend to discuss the best way forward."
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