IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud walked away unharmed from a terrifying wreck during practice at Mid-Ohio on Saturday, when his car from Meyer Shank Racing rolled seven times through a gravel trap before coming to rest on its side.
Pagenaud told his team over the radio that his breaks had failed, and he was going about 180 mph (290 kph) at the end of a straightway when he tried to make the corner of the road course. The car catapulted through the gravel and into the air, rolling several times as pieces ripped away, before finally coming to a stop with Pagenaud motionless inside.
He climbed out as the AMR safety crew rushed to check on him, and the 2016 series champ sat on the gravel by the wreckage to collect himself. Pagenaud then got to his feet and stepped into the medical car for a trip to the track’s care center.
“It was a hell of a ride, that’s for sure,” Pagenaud said. “We had something go wrong and I couldn’t slow down. I tried to make the corner anyways. I know that gravel is deadly. Michael Andretti has done it, so I guess I joined another legend, so that’s cool.”
The wreck was reminiscent of Andretti’s crash 25 years ago at Mid-Ohio, where he also rolled through a gravel trap.
“I was just trying to bail out,” Pagenaud said. “It’s downhill, which is nuts. The car took off, I hit the gravel and it just rolled. I’m just glad I didn’t go over the tire wall. So glad that we have the aeroscreen — so thankful that the IndyCar has the aeroscreen.”
The screens are laminated polycarbonate and were implemented several years ago to protect drivers from debris. In this case, the screen not only protected Pagenaud from the gravel but kept his head from hitting the ground and tire barrier.
IndyCar said Pagenaud was evaluated and released from the care center but, according to series protocol, he would not be cleared to return to the track Saturday. That meant Pagenaud would miss qualifying scheduled for later in the day, though he could clear another evaluation Sunday that would allow him to race.
“I’m ready. I can get back in right now. It’s not a problem,” Pagenaud said. “There is a protocol to follow to keep the drivers safe. We will see what they say. But very unfortunate day for us. But I got some TV time, I guess.”
Pagenaud, whose future with Meyer Shank Racing is in question, has yet to finish in the top 10 through the first eight races this season. Pagenaud's best finish was 13th on the streets of Detroit, one week after the 2019 Indy 500 winner was involved in one of the late crashes that produced a series of red flags and controversial ending to the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Pagenaud finished only three laps in Saturday’s practice, which was led by Will Power of Team Penske. Series leader Alex Palou, who has won three of the past four races, was second on the speed chart for Chip Ganassi Racing. Colton Herta was third in his Andretti Autosport car with Pato O'Ward — fastest in Friday's qualifying session — fourth for Arrow McLaren.
There is rain in the forecast at Mid-Ohio, which could be to Pagenaud’s advantage as the team tries to ready his backup car.
“At the end of the day, if it’s raining, I’ll be all right,” the 39-year-old Frenchman said, “because the problem is, I’ve lost so much track time now and it’s so competitive. The track evolves so much that I’ve lost a lot of ground, so it’d be hard to be competitive in a dry situation. But if it is raining, my chances are good.”