CLICK: Full evening practice results from Auto Club Speedway
Mikhail Aleshin has suffered multiple serious injuries in an accident that occurred during the final Friday evening practice session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California ahead of this weekend's Verizon IndyCar Series season finale event.
Aleshin's car veered below the white line while closing up on the back of Scott Dixon as they exited turn 3 on the two-mile oval. That caused Aleshin to spin up the race track, where he went into the path of Charlie Kimball's car which was running at high speed. The contact launched Aleshin into the air and into the safety catchfence in turn 4 in what Ryan Hunter-Reay subsequently described as a "cheese grater situation," which then did devastating damage to the #7.
Aleshin was extracted from the wreckage and was described as awake and alert by the medical teams as he was stretchered away to the waiting ambulance. He was immediately airlifted by helicopter to the nearby Loma Linda University Medical Center where he was admitted and listed as being in a serious but stable condition.
IndyCar's medical consultant Dr Terry Trammell later said that the 27-year-old Russian had suffered a broken right clavicle, fractured ribs and chest injuries in the crash as well as a concussion.
Update on Saturday 4.30pm:
The hospital upgraded Aleshin to a 'stable' condition following a procedure for a chest injury. He will remain hospitalised while he continues to recover.
Despite striking Aleshin's car head-on at high speed, Kimball was not injured and was quickly cleared and released by the in-field care centre at the Speedway. However his car was heavily damaged in the impact and the Ganassi team were soon hard at work preparing the spare chassis and a fresh Chevrolet engine to use in the MAVTV 500. Despite the rebuild, Kimball will still be able to take up his original sixth place on the grid for the start.
"It was a T-bone," recalled Kimball of the accident. "Next thing I knew he was accelerating up the hill in front of me.
"I saw him spinning and figured I'd either make it through the cloud of tyre smoke, or we were going to have a pretty hard hit ... I really had nowhere to go," he said, adding: "It looked huge."
Marco Andretti was also involved in the incident after his Andretti Autosport car ran into debris from the collision between Aleshin and Kimball. He was not hurt and his car sustained only minor damage.
The track workers were left busy overnight repairing the extensive damage to the catchfence, which had been partially ripped away from the support struts where Aleshin's car had impacted and spun around several times. A wheel from the car was still left embedded in the fence from the accident.
Aleshin had earlier recorded his best qualifying result on an oval race for the season and had been looking at an eighth place start on the grid for the final race of the season, but he will now be absent from the race when the green flag comes out.
The Fontana track can be a hard venue for IndyCar racing: During last year's finale, Justin Wilson broke his pelvis and suffered a pulmonary contusion in a five-car accident during last year's event; Greg Moore died in a crash at Auto Club Speedway during the 1999 CART World Series finale, since which time there have been considerable safety upgrades to the facility.
The polesitter for the race, Helio Castroneves, was sixth fastest in the final practice session when Aleshin's accident 20 minutes into the scheduled 30 minute session curtailed proceedings. Leading the timesheets was Ganassi's Ryan Briscoe with a lap of 32.9279s (218.660mph), putting him a little over a tenth of a second faster than his team mate Scott Dixon.
Earlier in the session, Dixon had triggered a yellow flag when he spun at pit exit. However in the reigning IndyCar Series champion's case there was no contact with anyone else or with the wall and he was able to return to pit lane and subsequently rejoined the session.
Will Power, who is still on course to clinch this year's championship despite a disappointing qualifying session that leaves him starting from the back row of the grid for the season finale, was third fastest in evening practice less than seven hundredths of a second ahead of Kimball, with James Hinchcliffe fifth fastest for Andretti Autosport.
The Friday evening practice was the last track opportunity for the drivers before the green flag comes out for the start of the race itself on Saturday evening at 7.20pm (3.20am). In the UK, the race will be shown live on digital subscription channel ESPN.
See full evening practice results from Auto Club Speedway