Just six days after Mike Conway’s terrifying Indianapolis 500 crash the IndyCar Series dodged another bullet at the Texas Motor Speedway when popular rookie Simona de Silvestro was dragged unharmed from her burning car after hitting the wall at more than 200mph.
The 21-year-old from Switzerland suffered just minor burns in the accident, which came on lap 99 of a race eventually won by pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske.
De Silvestro’s crash happened on the exit to turn two and her HVM Racing car caught fire as its momentum carried it along the wall. By the time it came to a halt one side was burning fiercely and she was clearly unable to undo her safety belts.
The first safety crew member to arrive concentrated on trying to free her but he, too, struggled as flames leaped up around the driver – until eventually three rescuers succeeded in pulling de Silvestro bodily from the car and carrying her to safety, after which the fire was put out.
She suffered minor burns to her right hand and later said: “It was crazy. The fire was getting worse and worse, it just wouldn’t go away. My hand is a little bit burned, I couldn’t get out quickly enough. I feel OK and will be ready to go in the next race.”
Along with a later incident in which Mario Moraes forced Helio Castroneves wide into the wall, sending both cars spinning into the path of Bertrand Baguette, the accident somewhat overshadowed Briscoe’s victory.
The Australian led to the first round of pit stops but dropped to fifth with a poor stop, handing the lead to Dario Franchitti. He re-emerged as leader late in the race, winning out in a dog-fight against Danica Patrick who finished second.
The pair duelled wheel-to-wheel, swapping the lead, but Briscoe crushed Patrick’s challenge over the final 20 or so laps with a series of blistering times that left the Andretti Autosport driver far behind.
Will Power, championship leader before the race, lost third place when he was forced to pit for a splash of fuel with only a couple of laps remaining. He eventually finished 14th, with Marco Andretti inheriting the final spot on the podium and Franchitti the IndyCar Series title lead.
Franchitti led for much of the first half of the race, but dropped deep into the midfield during one disastrous stint during which his car was uncompetitive. He fought back to fifth, behind team-mate Scott Dixon.
Alex Lloyd had started sixth for Dale Coyne Racing and ran behind the Penske and Ganassi cars during the first stint, occasionally challenging for fifth, but an error in his first pitstop sent him to the back of the field and forced him to fight his way through the field to his eventual eighth-place finish.
Of the other British drivers, Dan Wheldon was fast in the early stages of the race and looked set to be a major factor in the outcome, but faded later to an eventual ninth place. Justin Wilson was the final classified runner in 19th, having struggled from the start, while Jay Howard suffered immediate mechanical problems and retired early.