James Hinchcliffe described himself as the “luckiest unlucky guy” following his life threatening accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 18.
Lucky as in the Holmatro Safety Team performed the savviest driver rescue since Alex Zanardi’s rescue in 2001 at the Eurospeedway Lausitz and saved his life on the track after he lost 14 pints of blood. Lucky as in that if the suspension piece that penetrated his leg would have been just five millimeters in a different direction, he may not be alive today.
Ironically he is also lucky that he does not remember the accident despite being awake and alert during the extraction.
“For me, I remember waking up in ICU, knowing that obviously I’d had an accident, that I was somewhere I probably shouldn’t be, all the rest of it,” said Hinchcliffe.
“But it really wasn’t until several days later when I’d been moved out of ICU, was kind of sitting around with some friends and family and some of the doctors, really hearing all of their first-person accounts of how that day was for them, that it really began to sink in just how serious the injuries were and how very close it was to being a different story. That was a first time I had an appreciation of the severity of the situation.”
Despite nearly losing his life, getting back behind the wheel of a racecar was always Hinchcliffe’s top priority. When he was on a ventilator and only able to communicate by handwriting, one of the first things that he asked was “When can I drive again?”
“I think some people in the room found it so bizarre and confusing that somebody in the state I was in, hooked up to 10 different machines, recently sewn up would say, How can I get back into the machine that did this to me?” said Hinchcliffe. “I think that’s how racing drivers are wired.”
That motivation was so strong that even while he was unable to speak he jotted down questions on a piece of paper to his crew as to why the accident occurred. Not just for curiosity’s sake but as part of his job as a racecar driver.
“I mean, that’s one of the first things I was curious about,” he said. “On a ventilator, I had to write on a piece of paper. I asked what happened. They told me part of the car broke. I asked which part, trying to figure it all out.”
I sat with my engineers. I sat with my chief mechanics. I looked at the tub. I’ve been to the shop and seen the tub, seen the damage.
“It’s equal parts fascinating and terrifying, to be honest. It was literally one of those one in a million situations. The part that failed is a part that we have almost no recorded failures of ever. I know a lot was spoken about mileage of pieces, this, that and the other in the aftermath of the crash. I know a lot of teams changed rockers, whether they were milaged or not, after my accident.”
Since returning home, Hinchcliffe’s condition has improved daily to the point where he is nearly weaned off of painkillers and even joked that his biggest decision is whether to lie in bed or sit on his couch. He is walking every day despite a broken pelvis and has been given permission by his doctors to increase the number of steps he takes each day.
“You have days where it’s a little easier to move, days where it’s obviously a bit more difficult, you’re managing pain a bit more,” he said. “Those days are getting fewer and fewer and further in between. That’s progress as far as I’m concerned”
He does need one more surgery to “undo some things that were done during the emergency surgery to keep me healthy and safe” which will add an approximate two months to his recovery time.