(Reuters) - Tributes continued to pour in on Tuesday following the death of British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson the previous day, along with renewed calls throughout the motor racing world for a review of driver safety in the sport.
Wilson, a former Formula One driver and seven-time winner in IndyCar racing, died at the age of 37 after suffering a severe head injury during a wreck in the closing laps of an IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania on Sunday.
“Can’t describe the sadness I feel for the loss of such a wonderful person,” Wilson’s Andretti Autosport team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who went on to win Sunday’s race, wrote on his Twitter account. “Justin was inspiring in so many ways & still is.”
Graham Rahal, son of 1986 Indy 500 winner and former Jaguar Formula One manager Bobby Rahal, said in a statement: “Some things in life just don’t make sense. I know there’s always a plan, but this one doesn’t make any sense to me.
“Justin was the epitome of a great guy, an incredible teammate, great father and a wonderful friend.”
The death of Wilson, who never regained consciousness after he was struck in the helmet by debris from a car he was following before he slammed into a wall, has sparked widespread calls for the introduction of closed cockpits, or canopies.
“Its not only safer, it is more aero efficient, therefore, the future,” former Formula One driver Lucas di Grassi of Brazil said on Twitter.
“Canopies will be used in every single formula (open-wheel) series in the future. Not only for safety, but for aerodynamic improvement.”
Hunter-Reay, who won the Indy 500 last year, felt that his sport was continually working harder on safety issues but that more could still be done.
“These cars are inherently dangerous with the open cockpit like that, head exposed,” said the 34-year-old Texan.
“Maybe in the future we can work toward something that resembles a canopy ... something that can give us a little protection and still keep the tradition of the sport.”
Since 1966, there have been 18 deaths in IndyCar (which includes the series’ previous incarnations as Champ Car, CART and Indy Racing League). Eight alone have come at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all but two on ovals.
Wilson was the first IndyCar driver to die following a race accident since fellow Briton, Dan Wheldon, was killed in a fiery crash in Las Vegas in October 2011.
Wheldon’s death also triggered calls for safety reviews in a sport that involves tightly-bunched cars competing on high-speed, high risk ovals unique to American open wheel racing.
Safer Walls, collapsible barriers designed to cushion impact, are now standard at ovals like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while the mobile hospitals and state-of-the-art trauma centers pioneered by IndyCar are fixtures at every race.
The HANS (Head and Neck Support) device was developed in the United States and is now mandatory in most levels of motor racing from Formula One to Monster Trucks.
“The high speed ovals certainly represent the greatest risk because of the speed, because of the concrete wall and lately because of the closeness of the racing, which is far closer than it is in Formula One,” Bobby Rahal told Reuters last year.
“The cars are very safe today but there is still that ultimate risk regardless and that will always exist. When you are side-by-side or three abreast it doesn’t take much.
“A little movement on a road course wouldn’t mean very much but a little movement on an oval might take out four cars.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Greg Stutchbury