IndyCar driver Mike Conway says he is “feeling fine” and can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of a race car as he begins his recovery from his last-lap Indy 500 crash.
But as his team prepares for its first race without him there are calls for rules changes to prevent other drivers experiencing the same sort of life-threatening accident.
The 26-year-old from Bromley in Kent suffered a fractured leg and vertebrae when he ran into the back of a competitor’s car as it ran out of fuel and slowed suddenly, hurling his machine into the air and against the circuit’s retaining fence where it broke up.
In a statement issued by his Dreyer & Reinbold team, he said: “I’m feeling fine at the moment, all things considered. I’m just thankful that I came out of it alive.
“I want to thank all of the medical staff at Methodist Hospital, as well as the IRL safety team and all of those at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that pulled me out of the car. They’ve all done a fantastic job.
“I also want to thank my parents, friends and race team for all of their support and all of those that have sent on their well wishes.
“I’m hoping for a speedy recovery and I’m already looking forward to being back behind the wheel of a race car.”
Conway is being replaced in today’s race at the Texas Motor Speedway by South Africa’s Tomas Scheckter, who raced for the team in the Indianapolis 500 this year, and for much of last season. He is running with “get well” messages on his car and helmet.
He said: “Firstly, I’m upset about seeing my friend and roommate for most of last year get in such a terrible accident and my thoughts are with him. I am happy that the team has chosen me to step in for him this weekend while he recovers. I have won at Texas, earned two pole positions and led over 200 laps at the track. I always love coming here.”
Dennis Reinbold, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing co-owner, said Scheckter was the obvious choice in the absence of Conway: “We wish that Mike could be with us this weekend, but right now we are happy that he is okay and we just want him to have a speedy recovery.
“For us, Tomas made the most sense because we had a great run with him at this year’s Indianapolis 500, he has a ton of oval experience and we have a seat fitted for him.”
Meanwhile, some of Conway’s support team have called for changes in IndyCar rules to prevent similar accidents happening in future.
Manager Mark Blundell, who raced on high-speed ovals during his years in CART, said there was no way his driver could have avoided hitting Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car when it slowed.
He said: “If you haven’t driven an IndyCar at those speeds you could never understand, but there is nothing a driver can do in those situations. If a driver has run out of fuel and is coasting on the racing line you simply have no time to react at all.”
Talking to Autosport, he said drivers saving fuel should be forced to keep off the main racing line, and a rule should be put in place specifying a minimum amount of fuel that cars must finish the race with.
He said: “The bottom line is that they need to introduce a rule to ensure drivers finish with fuel in the tank. That would take some of this kind of thing away.”
His views were echoed by two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, who coached Conway for the race: “The IRL needs to change the rules because normally, if you’re running way off the pace on an oval, they black flag you to prevent accidents because of the huge speed difference – the closing rates are so great.
“Mike had nowhere to go, he was running 220mph laps and most others were at around 200. I believe there is a rule in F1 to have 1.5 gallons of fuel left in the car at the conclusion of a race. It would be a good rule to have that here.”