Rookie IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin was hospitalized in serious but stable condition Friday night after a frightening crash in the final practice session for the series season finale.
Aleshin was taken away from the Fontana track in an ambulance and airlifted to nearby Loma Linda University Medical Center. The Russian driver has broken ribs and a broken right collarbone along with a concussion and chest injuries, an IndyCar spokesperson said.
At least three drivers played a role in the crash in Turn 4, which had a gaping hole in the catch fencing and a wheel wrapped in the fence after Aleshin’s car violently flew up against it.
Aleshin, who drives for Sam Schmidt, spun when he went below the white line in the turn. He slid back up the track and collided with Charlie Kimball in a shower of sparks and smoke, sending Aleshin’s car flying into the catch fence while spinning.
Kimball improbably escaped serious injury, walking away from his ravaged car. Debris was strewn all over the track as safety personnel gathered around the wreck of Aleshin, who was removed on a stretcher.
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 Sebastien 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. Aleshin then slid under 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. Helio Castroneves won the pole for Saturday’s race with an average speed of more than 218 mph in his qualifying lap Friday, when temperatures reached 100 degrees in Fontana.
Although IndyCar racing on ovals can be spectacular, the risk factor is high. Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car accident in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas, another high-banked oval.
The IndyCar series finale is scheduled for Saturday night. Aleshin was eighth in qualifying earlier Friday, easily the best finish by a rookie.