IndyCar driver upgraded to stable condition after wreck in Fontana

A severe crash in Friday night's practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 tore down part of the fence in the Turn 4 area of Auto Club Speedway and injured Russian rookie driver Mikhail Aleshin.

Track crews work on repairing the fence between turns 3 and 4 after a crash during final practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on Friday in Fontana, California.  

Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America

FONTANA, California – It all happened so fast for Verizon IndyCar Series driver Charlie Kimball. The third-year driver for Chip Ganassi Racing was participating in Friday night’s final practice session under the lights at Auto Club Speedway for Saturday night’s MAVTV 500. As Kimball was entering the third turn he saw smoke in front of him.

It was tire smoke from Mikhail Aleshin’s car after it had gone side-by-side with Sebastian Saavedra and hooked onto the apron of the massive 2.0-mile oval.

“I knew the 7 (Aleshin) and the 17 (Saavedra) was getting ready to go side-by-side and the 7 car went to the bottom into Turn 3,” Kimball told FOXSports.com before Saturday night’s race. “I was running the high-line and the next thing I knew I saw a little smoke out of the left toward the bottom and pretty soon I thought my only chance to get clear was to stay in it because I couldn’t get it slowed down. You are going too fast around here. Then he was in front of me and I had nowhere to go.

“It was really unfortunate – a wrong time, wrong place situation.”

Aleshin, a first-year driver for SMP Racing, was racing around the 2.0-mile oval when he got low on the track near the apron and spun out. As his car drifted up the banking, Kimball was unable to avoid him and T-boned Aleshin's racing machine. The impact sent Aleshin's car airborne and into the fence where it dug into the wire meshing, which sent the car into two or three additional spins. The front wheel assembly was lodged into the fencing and the pole before Aleshin's car came back onto the track.

Kimball said it was a pretty serious hit as it spun his car around and put him into the wall.

“I didn’t realize Mikhail got up in the air until I saw the replays,” Kimball recalled. “When I saw him in front of me it was a ‘close your eyes; grab your belt and ride it out’ because at that point you don’t have any control.”

Mikhail Aleshin is a Russian rookie driver.

Sarah Glenn / Getty Images North America

The crash left Aleshin hospitalized in serious but stable condition.

Aleshin suffered fractured ribs, a broken right clavicle, a concussion and chest injuries in a scary crash that tore down part of the fence in the Turn 4 area.

Aleshin was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center. He was upgraded to stable condition following a procedure for a chest injury at the University Medical Center on Saturday, reports INDYCAR Medical Consultant Dr. Terry Trammell. He will remain hospitalized while he recovers from the procedure.

Kimball applauded the rapid safety response by the Holmatro Safety Team that is part of INDYCAR.

“I think INDYCAR has always been at the forefront of safety,” Kimball said. “They did that with the SAFER Barrier. I think this is an indication of how far safety has come and the work the late Dan Wheldon did developing the DW012 as well as Dallara and the INDYCAR Safety Committee. Also, it’s an opportunity to learn and figure out how to make it better. Hopefully it’s not knee-jerk reaction and real reactionary but the opportunity to look at all the data and work on a solution that everybody believes will work and is feasible and put it into place to improve safety not only for INDYCAR but all of motorsports.”

Marco Andretti narrowly missed Aleshin and ended up spinning to completely miss Aleshin's destroyed race car.

"I saw smoke but man it's hard to slow down from 220 (miles per hour). I almost crashed myself and ended up spinning to the inside and missed the wall but my concerns are with Mikhail right now," Andretti said. "I didn't see exactly how it hit because I was trying to slow down. I almost got hit by the safety vehicle but I wasn't looking so that was my fault.”

This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay drove through the debris and said it looked like the car was torn up near his feet.

"It’s the super speedway thing with the dance and the ‘cheese grater’ situation. It’s scary,” Hunter-Reay said. “I hope he’s all right. It’s a scary deal. I saw them (safety workers) pass the wheel from the outside of the track to the inside.”

Kimball knew when he didn’t see Aleshin climb out of his car that the driver was injured.

“I don’t know if the safety crew guys always get the credit they deserved but it was only six seconds from impact until the time the Holmatro Safety Crew got to us,” Kimball said. “That is incredible.

“I hadn’t even finished telling the team I was OK on the radio and the safety crew had already gotten to me.”

Aleshin is the first Russian driver in IndyCar history, joining a team with title contender Simon Pagenaud this year after a career in open-wheel racing in Europe. He is 15th in the overall points standings with seven top-10 finishes this season, including a career-best fifth-place finish at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May.

The 27-year-old Aleshin also had several run-ins with Sebastian Bourdais earlier in the season and he was involved in an unusual crash with Juan Pablo Montoya in Toronto.

Montoya was stalled in a tire barrier when Aleshin spun into the back of his car. Montoya, leaving tire marks on Aleshin’s helmet and requiring a tow truck to lift Montoya’s car off Aleshin.

The two-mile Fontana track is a fast, high-banked oval with well-worn, bumpy and occasionally dusty asphalt, providing a challenge even for veteran drivers. 

Aleshin qualified eighth for the race, the best starting position by a rookie. Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing did not put a replacement driver in his No. 7 Honda so Aleshin was credited with last place and DNS — did not start.

As for Kimball, he raced hard and fearlessly in Saturday night’s race.

“The nice thing about Chip Ganassi Racing is I knew I would have the car tonight that I had last night even if they had to replace to tub,” Kimball said. “We are ready to go. I have a lot of confidence in the race car. The race is going to be fun. This speedway has always produced good racing in IndyCar and we are focused on the best result possible to finish off 2014 and go into the offseason in the right direction.”

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