Champ Car points leader Bruno Junqueira's hopes of finally landing the series title may have to be put on hold after the Brazilian suffered a violent accident during the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
Junqueira was one of two Champ Car regulars to tackle the IRL showpiece - along with Newman/Haas team-mate Sebastien Bourdais - but was forced into the wall after contact with a backmarker on lap 77 at the Brickyard. The Brazilian was running strongly in sixth at the time of the accident, which saw him airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
According to the IRL's resident director of medical services, Dr Henry Bock, Junqueira was diagnosed with concussion and fractures of the T-12 and L-1 vertebrae, and will have surgery today [Monday]. The Brazilian was naturally unavailable for comment, but team boss Carl Haas admitted that the incident was regrettable.
"Today's incident was very unfortunate," Haas said, "Bruno had been running an excellent race and was very happy with the performance of the car. He was running in sixth place when there was contact made with the lapped car of AJ Foyt IV.
"This is certainly not the way we had hoped to end the month of May, but Bruno is in the very capable hands of Dr Terry Trammel and the medical team at Methodist Hospital. Thankfully, Bruno was conscious after the incident, but the extent of his injuries and best course of treatment are still being determined."
Junqueira currently leads the Champ Car standings by a single point over NHR team-mate Bourdais after winning last time out in Mexico. The Frenchman was also taken out of the 500, fortunately without injury, after hitting the wall with two laps to run.
"I was very happy with where we were - running at the front at the end of the race," Bourdais said, "That was exactly what we wanted to do and that's why I am so disappointed.
"You can't pass in traffic, it's tough, and I couldn't back off big enough. When Vitor [Meira] passed Danica [Patrick], she had to back off big time and lost a lot of speed and I couldn't back off enough to get some clean air. She went down on the track quite a lot to protect her line quite well. I couldn't back off more because of the guys close behind me, so I lost the momentum myself. Although I tried hard I just moved a little to the left. [Buddy] Lazier was probably to close to me and touched my tyre and cut it. I didn't realise what was happening and started slowing down, but then I lost the engine and then hit the wall.
"The race was really crazy and wild - I should have been taken out five times before I was. Accidents happened right in front of me and I was able to avoid them."