Indy Wreck Halts Hamilton’s Texas Return

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 1 2010

The car of Mike Conway crashes into the catch fence during the Indy 500. Conway will be out of the car with injuries for several months. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD Indy Racing League)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Davey Hamilton’s drive in the 94th Indianapolis 500 was over before he could say “The Biggest Spectacle in Greatness.”

A spinout and crash on the first of 200 laps relegated Hamilton to a 33rd and last-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. And on Monday, the management of de Ferran Dragon Racing decided its suddenly depleted inventory of Dallara/Hondas would not allow it to enter Hamilton in the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Firestone 550k at Texas Motor Speedway.

Saturday night’s race was scheduled to be Hamilton’s first on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval since the Casino Magic 500k on June 9, 2001. Hamilton finished 24th and last in that event after a horrific crash exiting Turn 2 triggered by the car driven by Jaret Schroeder.

Hamilton suffered near-crippling injuries to both feet on Lap 71 of that event, forcing him into an early retirement. After enduring 21 surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, Hamilton marked his comeback to the open-wheel series at the 2007 Indy 500, while plotting an eventual return to TMS.

“It’s been something that I wanted to come back and finish,” Hamilton said during a recent test session at TMS. “I just wanted to make sure I had a car and a team that would be able to do it properly.”

That moment now has been shelved for another year.

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Olinger, the Indy Racing League’s director of medical services, confirmed that Mike Conway will be sidelined for at least three months following injuries suffered in a spectacular crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race.

Conway, a 26-year-old native of England, underwent surgery Sunday night to repair fractures to his lower left leg. He also suffered a soft tissue injury to that leg and is expected to undergo another surgical procedure later this week. Additionally, Conway suffered a compression fracture of one of his thoracic vertebrae and is being fitted for a back brace, which he will wear for three months.

Conway’s No. 24 Dallara/Honda, fielded by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, went airborne in Turn 4 after wheel-to-wheel contact with the car driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Conway’s car crashed into the catch fence, shed parts everywhere and fell back onto the track as Dario Franchitti crossed the finish line to record his second Indy 500 victory.

D&R management has not announced a replacement driver for Conway either for this weekend, or the remainder of the season. But South African Tomas Scheckter, who drew the ire of Hamilton while driving for D&R on Sunday, qualified on-pole and led 119 of 200 laps en route to winning the 2005 Bombardier Learjet 500k at TMS while employed by Panther Racing.

Scheckter has compiled a solid record at TMS. His three IndyCar poles in 10 starts are most in series history here, and his combined 371 laps-led trail only three-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr.’s total of 446 laps-led in 13 starts.

Hunter-Reay, of Andretti Autosport, underwent surgery Monday on his left thumb.  Fitted with a carbon fiber splint, he should be able to drive the No. 37 car at TMS this weekend. The race, Round 7 of the series, will be telecast live in High Definition at 8 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS.

Unfortunately for de Ferran Dragon Racing, both Hamilton and Raphael Matos – the team’s fulltime driver – crashed-out of the Indy 500 before the halfway mark.  Hamilton spun out and made contact with the inside retaining wall exiting Turn 2 of the 2.5-mile oval as he tried to avoid contact with Scheckter, while Matos’ promising day ended when he hit the Turn 2 wall on lap 73. Both Dallara/Hondas went into the concrete back-end first, with Matos shearing off the left side of his No. 2 entry.

Both drivers were uninjured. But the team co-owned by Jay Penske, youngest son of motorsports mogul Roger Penske, only will field a car for Matos at TMS.

“Whoever said racing is a predictable sport was not in our shoes today,” Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy 500 champion and managing partner/president of de Ferran Dragon Racing, said in a statement. “It was unfortunate what happened to Davey at the start. Rafa clearly showed his quality as a driver and how fast our car was, running a genuine third and keeping pace with the leaders. But then fate intervened.”

Matos, who started 12th, climbed into the top five on Lap 13 and jumped up to third on Lap 44. The Brazilian remained a solid third for the next 22 laps when his day began to unravel. First, the left rear tire came off the car as Matos fired out from his second pit stop. Matos dropped into 24th place after that mishap, then spun into the wall seven laps later.

“I’m very disappointed the way it ended,” said Matos, 28. “We had some trouble in the pits and I was trying hard to recover. I got into the marbles and that was it.”

Earlier, Hamilton’s 10th Indy 500 start was over in a matter of seconds. Scheckter was charging into Turn 2 along the wall when Hamilton closed and suddenly turned left to avoid contact, a maneuver that sent his No. 21 car spinning into the infield wall.

“It’s just hard to believe that we went out on the first lap,” said Hamilton, who at 47 was the oldest driver in the Indy 500. “I’m very disappointed with Scheckter. I know you can’t win on the first lap. It’s unfortunate for the team and sponsors who worked so hard to put me in this race to not make it through Turn 2 of the first lap. We didn’t even get to race.”

Hamilton, who started 14th, said during the test at TMS that he hoped to run as many as five oval-track races this season, thanks to a relationship with sponsor Hewlett-Packard that began in 2007. “They’re fulltime with Matos’ car and there was enough in the budget for me to run three or four or five races,” said Hamilton, a resident of Eagle, Idaho. “I obviously picked Indy and then Texas – the only two I have solidly in the schedule.”

Hamilton, who spent his first two years (1996-97) in the series driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises, has logged eight starts at TMS. His best finishes were second in the Mall.com 500k in October 1999, a race won by Mark Dismore, and third in the inaugural True Value 500k in June 1997. Hamilton led four laps in that event, the only laps he has paced at TMS.

“I ran good at TMS…all the way up to the accident,” Hamilton said. “The accident wasn’t the track’s fault by any stretch. A guy blew an engine and I was just in an unfortunate spot when he spun and hit me. It wasn’t a mistake I made or somebody made or the track had something to do with it, the design or speed of the racetrack. I love the track.”

Hamilton said he has learned to drive with a left ankle and foot that is completely fused, and a right foot that has limited motion.

“I have my good days and my bad,” Hamilton said. “I still have days I limp. Some days I have pain, some days I don’t. At this point in my life, I don’t know what they (his feet) were like before. God does good things for us, that is, you can’t re-enact pain – which is good because I had a lot in 2001. One good thing is it’s not every-day pain.”

Hamilton said he also has learned not to worry about the possibility of hitting the wall again, and re-injuring his tender feet.

“I’ve been in thousands of races. I started racing in 1979 and fulltime in 1980,” said Hamilton, a graduate of the USAC Silver Crown and Super Modified ranks. “I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living in the sport I love and win championships and races and been in every kind of race car there is.  I had one real big accident and it was a guy blowing an engine and me being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Part of the recovery was purely wanting to race again. I know I didn’t want to end my career with an accident, especially as brutal as it was. I didn’t tell a lot of people that because they probably wouldn’t help me get healthy again, right? But in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to get back in a race car and try to compete. That’s all I really knew.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 1 2010
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