James Hinchcliffe joked that he received “a complete oil change” over the past month following his violent crash in the final practice prior to the Indianapolis 500.
In all seriousness, the affable Canadian IndyCar Series driver is lucky to be alive, and he knows it too.
The driver known as Hinchtown suffered a life-threatening leg injury on May 18, when a piece of suspension on his car broke during a crash, cracking his tub and spearing his leg and torso.
The Holmatro IndyCar Safety Team worked quickly to remove him from his Schmidt Peterson Racing Honda and had to give him 15 pints of blood in the ambulance as the transported him from the Speedway to IU Methodist Hospital in Downtown Indianapolis.
The remarkable thing is that Hinchcliffe does not have a single memory of the aftermath of the incident, only recalling events five days following his crash and the subsequent surgery that saved his life.
“I’m not sure if it’s some sort of defense mechanism or biology taking over – despite being conscious throughout the whole process but I was mercifully spared any memory of the accident whatsoever,” Hinchcliffe said. “Even the first couple days at the hospital are a bit of a blur.
“I remember waking up in ICU, knowing that obviously I had been in an accident and that I was somewhere I probably shouldn’t be.”
As a result, Hinchcliffe said it hadn’t dawned on him that his life was in danger until nearly a week after the fact.
“That was a first time I had an appreciation of the severity of the situation,” he added.
Hinchcliffe has seen the remains of his mangled car, seen the blood, and wanted to understand how the incident took place. In between reading books on space and sci-fi adventures, the four-time IndyCar race winner has even sought out video of his crash, watching it several times over the past several weeks.
The incident began when he spun coming out of turn 3 and drilled the outside retaining wall. If not for the SAFER barrier that wraps around the corners of the venerable old speedway, the impact alone may have seriously injured or killed him.
“It’s fascinating and terrifying all at the same time,” he said. “I still have a lot of questions about the day because I don’t remember it. I’m the luckiest unlucky guy.”
The contact shredded the right side of his Dallara spec chassis. That sent his car into a lackadaisical spin that flipped the car lightly on its side. While the second half of the crash wasn’t as dramatic as the first, that’s when the wishbone, the suspension piece, punctured the tub and went through his left thigh and fractured his pelvis.
The key aspect of the entire ordeal was the tremendous loss of blood.
The fifth-year driver plans to seek out the medical crew that saved his life in the coming months to help piece together the fuzzy memories and also buy them a steak, or whatever else they want, out of gratification.
“Having an understanding of racing, having an understanding of the kind of injuries that can happen in a racecar, it gives them such a leg up,” Hinchcliffe said. “You know, you can have the best surgeon in the world, but if he doesn’t have a grasp of what could potentially be wrong, it’s going to take him that much longer to really diagnose the problem.
In a situation like mine, there wasn’t any longer to diagnose the problem. It is no doubt in my mind a contributing factor to me surviving that accident, was not only having a safety team there, but one with the kind of skills and experience these guys have.”
Hinchcilffe was released from the hospital on May 26, but doesn’t know when he will race again. He has another surgery planned for sometime within the next month and a half and hopes to start working out shortly thereafter.
Despite what happened to him, there is absolutely no doubt in his mind that he wants to return to his sport as soon as possible.
“For me, being part of the pre- and post-race reports is one thing,” Hinchcliffe said. “But being able to be on the stands and hear it out of the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and to be able to sit in the debriefings – that’s going to give me a much better understanding of what’s happening.
“We’re still developing this car. If it was the same DW12, maybe that motivation would be a little less. To me this is still a new beast, something we’re trying to figure out. The more I can be present for that, for all the learning that’s happening, the more involved I can be, the better.
“So as soon as the doc says it’s all right, you’re going to see me sitting with a headset on trackside for sure.”