Justin Wilson braced himself for what he expected to be a hard hit into the wall at Auto Club Speedway when he lost control of his car in the IndyCar season finale. Confusion set in when the British driver felt a searing pain before he ever reached it.
Tristan Vautier, unable to see through the smoke of Wilson's spinning car, had driven directly into the side of Wilson's car. The impact left Wilson with a pelvic fracture and a bruised lung.
"I was spinning around, I can see the wall and getting ready to hit the wall, and before I got there, there's this big, big hurt," Wilson said in a telephone interview Monday with The Associated Press. "I thought, 'I don't understand this. I don't quite get why this hurt so much.' Just the initial impact was really painful and felt like the whole car crumpled up."
It was only later that Wilson understood what had happened, why he had blood running down his hand from a small cut and what caused the damage to his Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
"The whole side of the car, it broke," Wilson said. "The tub was broken, right where the steering wheel is, in line with where the steering wheel is, vertically, all the way down the tub and then the same behind the seat, so that whole section is caved in."
Wilson won't be able to put any weight on his right leg for at least six weeks, but was thankful the three pelvic fractures won't require surgery. He was hoping for a Monday release from the California hospital where he's been since Saturday night so he can return home to Colorado, where his wife and two young daughters are awaiting his return.
But Wilson, who cycled 100 miles the weekend before the IndyCar finale for fellow racer and actor Patrick Dempsey's charitable cause, will have his work cut out for him upon his return. His 5-year-old and 3-year-old girls may have a hard time understanding why their usually active father is now sedentary.
"Daddy's climbing frame is going to be out of action for a while," the 6-foot-4 Wilson said. "Trying to get them to understand I can't pick them up and I can't really twist in my hips too much is going to be hard. Just the little things you don't even realize. Trying to sit up in bed is so hard; you naturally twist your hips when you don't even think about it.
"It's going to be frustrating for about four weeks, and then the pain should be easing up and then I should be getting more and more mobile."
It's the second serious accident in two years for Wilson, who broke a bone in his back in 2011. He missed the final six races of the season and wore a back brace for more than two months as he was restricted from any physical activity.
That back brace is very similar to the one Dario Franchitti was wearing in a photo his team released of the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner during his hospital stay after his Oct. 6 crash at Houston. Franchitti fractured two vertebrae and his right ankle and suffered a concussion when his car sailed into a fence on the last lap.
Although the final two IndyCar races of the season resulted in two hospitalized drivers, credit has been given to Dallara DW12 that Franchitti and Wilson were not hurt more seriously. Wilson said replays of Franchitti's accident reminded him of Jeff Krosnoff's fatal 1996 accident at Toronto. A track volunteer was also killed by debris from Krosnoff's crash; Franchitti's wreck sent debris into the grandstands that injured 13 fans and one IndyCar official.
"There are definitely things we can learn from this and we are going to be trying to work on and make it better and as safe as we can so we can walk away," Wilson said. "When I saw Dario's crash, you naturally think the worst. I think back to Jeff Krosnoff's crash, when strange things like that happen, it's just luck whether you go head first or the bottom of the car first.
"I'm sure Dario doesn't feel lucky, but we're all thankful he went in with the bottom of the car first and it stood up pretty well."
Wilson is also thankful the tubs where the driver sits in the DW12 were designed to be strong and absorb a hard hit. The new cars were introduced in 2012 and named after the late Dan Wheldon, who did much of the developmental testing for Dallara before his death in the 2011 IndyCar season finale.
Although he's not sure the smaller sidepods on the DW12 in comparison to older cars would have made a difference in his injuries, Wilson thinks the series can study his accident.
"Fortunately the tub is very strong, but I still think there are lessons we can learn from it," he said. "When another car hits you, that was always the point of the old cars, the big sidepods, on the Champ Cars, the old Indy car, the big sidepods that came past the cockpit, they would crumple. But on this car, we don't really have it. It hit right between.
"It would be nice if we had big sidepods again. I'm not saying it would have fixed that problem, but I think it would have helped. I'm fortunate that the tub is so strong, it stood up to that hit."