In just a few seconds, Justin Wilson's 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season was thrown into jeopardy.
When Wilson's car went airborne during morning practice for the Mid-Ohio Indy 200, only to bottom out across a service road, his back suffered an anterior compression fracture of the fifth thoracic vertebrae. He was unable to get out of the car under his own power, and was subsequently transported to the hospital in a brace and board.
With the end of the season only two months off, there is plenty of concern Wilson won't return in time. If so, it's a frustrating end to a season where nothing has gone right for the lanky Sheffield, England native.
This was supposed to be a year where Dreyer & Reinbold Racing took a big step forward, possibly to the top tier of teams in the series. Instead, we've seen struggle after struggle.
Wilson is widely regarded as one of the most experienced and talented road-course drivers in this series, but trouble at races such as Alabama and Long Beach simply exacerabted rough results on ovals like Texas. Of course, there were the run-ins on track. Rafa Matos, Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, EJ Viso, and others have all sent Wilson's car parts flying at one point or another this year. As a result, Wilson found himself an underwhelming P14 in the points standings heading into Mid-Ohio.
It seemed as if things may have been turning around for Justin, after an excellent P5 result at Edmonton (his first Top 5 of the year). But that all changed with his injury at Mid-Ohio. The irony was Wilson felt he had a great car for the race. After his injury, he tweeted "I think we had a race winning car this weekend. I dropped 2 wheels off on exit of one then bottomed out on service road."
This isn't Justin Wilson's first injury of the 2011 campaign; he broke his wrist earlier in the year after contact at Alabama, though that injury caused only pain, not missed races. He knows very well that injuries are part of the profession.
The fact that the team's season must go on is also known to racers; Simon Pagenaud stepped into the #22 car to finish P13, a good result for such hasty, emergency preparations. Wilson was being transported on a medical flight to Indianapolis, and could only follow via timing and scoring. Like the rest of us, he'll have to wait and see if it's Pagenaud who covers for the races he'll be missing.
When Justin Wilson returns from this injury, he'll have to look at 2011 as a year of injuries, disappointments, and plain bad luck. It's a harsh situation to bear for one of the nicest, most genuine drivers in the paddock. No one disputes that Wilson or Dreyer and Reinbold can run up front, a fact which makes this season's shortfalls even more difficult to shoulder. Whether or not he returns this year, chances are he'll have to wait for 2012 to help alleviate the bad taste of this season.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can findhim on Twitter at @indycaradvocate, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org