The Houston Grand Prix was the scene of a scary crash Sunday, as driver Dario Franchitti's race car went airborne into a safety fence on the last lap of the day's second race. Franchitti was injured, as were a number of spectators when debris flew into the stands.
"Dario was admitted awake and alert to the medical center in Houston for a concussion, a spinal fracture and a fracture to his right ankle following his crash at the Grand Prix of Houston," the racer's team announced on his website. The injury to his spine reportedly won't require surgery.
"Additionally, an IndyCar official and two spectators were transported to a local hospital for evaluation," according to the racing series. Including the two taken to the hospital, 13 members of the audience were treated by medical personnel — 11 of them at the track, reports NBC Sports, which televised Sunday's race.
In a joint statement, racetrack officials, IndyCar and the race's promoters say they are investigating the incident and that "our greatest concern is for our fans and participants." On the race's Facebook page, organizers wrote, "Thankfully no one was severely injured, including Dario."
A fan who was filming the race from the stands has posted a startling video to YouTube, showing the horrific violence of the crash — and the speed at which debris showered spectators. We warn you: There is no slow-motion to help you adjust to the speed of events. It may come as a shock.
The crash occurred in a long right-hand curve, an area that is enclosed on both sides by a safety "catch fence." Debris from the cars and parts of the fence itself were sent into the area of the grandstand.
Video of the incident shows that Franchitti was moving fast on the outside of another car as they came through the sweeping curve. The two made contact, and the front end of Franchitti's race car lifted off the track.
His car plowed into the fence above a concrete safety barrier, hitting at an angle before twisting around in a vicious somersault and landing back on the track. Debris was strewn all over, and the car, shorn of most of its front fairing, finally slid to a stop on the inside portion of the turn as other cars picked their way through.
The car Franchitti hit was driven by Takuma Sato, who said after the race that he had lost speed and some control after hitting "marbles," the pellets of rubber from tires that can cause cars to lose traction. It occurred in Turn 5, a long, high-speed curve.
"On the last lap, I got into the marbles (rolled up rubber) when I got close to the wall, then a couple of cars got me (passed) and I was forced to go more off line," Sato said, according to The Houston Chronicle. "When I entered turn five, I suddenly lost the back end, then Dario caught me. I hope he's OK."
The race was won by Will Power, who spent a large part of his post-race interview expressing his shock at Franchitti's crash, and wishing the driver well.
For the drivers in Sunday's race, the crash brought back disturbing images of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon's fatal crash two years ago in Las Vegas.
"The smells and the visuals, for me, and even talking to Will, you have the remnants of Vegas popping into your head with you coming around the corner and you can't drive through it because there's a field of debris," said Franchitti's teammate Scott Dixon, according to The Associated Press. "There was not near the amount of damage that we saw [in 2011], but seeing the replay was a big shock."
Franchitti is currently in eighth place overall in the Izod IndyCar series. Last year, he won the Indianapolis 500 for the third time in his career. A native of Scotland, he lives in Tennessee. Franchitti married actress Ashley Judd in 2001. The pair had reportedly separated earlier this year, but on Sunday, Judd tweeted that she was on her way to Texas.
"Thank you for the prayers for @dariofranchitti," she said. "I have only clothes on my back & the dogs but that's all that we need & we are on our way."