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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe thanked the "heroes" on Tuesday who helped him survive a dangerous crash a day earlier at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Team owner Sam Schmidt was just relieved.
One day after a broken wishbone punctured the popular Canadian driver's left leg, causing significant blood loss, IndyCar officials said Hinchcliffe was listed in stable condition, but was ruled out of racing indefinitely.
"Words can't describe how thankful I am to the on-track Holmatro safety team," Hinchcliffe said in a statement released by the series.
"Those guys, in addition to the doctors and staff at the hospital, are my heroes. I can't say enough how much I appreciate the outpouring of support from IndyCar fans, my family and fellow drivers. We are all one big family and it feels like that today."
In a phone interview, Schmidt described Hinchcliffe as getting better by the hour.
The accident was serious. Hinchcliffe was taken immediately to a hospital for surgery on his left thigh and pelvic area. The surgery at Indiana University Methodist Hospital was needed to stop the bleeding.
He was sent to intensive care following surgery after doctors stabilized his condition. But when Hinchcliffe awoke Tuesday morning, he was able to communicate with his girlfriend and spoke with Schmidt, one of the team owners.
"We're pretty lucky," Schmidt said. "I think his statement says it all. He was sedated and out cold last night when I saw him. When I went in this morning, he was awake and looked 100 times better."
Honda said Hinchcliffe's right front suspension failed, and the driver was sent hard into the third turn wall during practice for Indianapolis 500.
It was the fifth crash in a scary week, and IndyCar huddled with Honda and Chevrolet to determine whether new aerodynamic kits installed on the cars were causing problems ahead of its showcase race Sunday, the Indianapolis 500.
Series officials eliminated the extra horsepower the cars were supposed to have for last weekend's qualifying, which was also turned into a non-points event.
On Monday, even with less power and slower speeds, Hinchcliffe hit the wall so hard his car started to flip.
Unlike the three Chevrolet drivers who had frightening crashes last week, Hinchcliffe's car did not get airborne.
But he also did not walk away from the crash. Instead, the safety team tended to him on the track as former teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay rubbed his eyes.
Schmidt immediately started making phone calls and helped arrange a flight to get Hinchcliffe's parents in town. And he was far more worried about Hinchcliffe's health than the cause of the crash.
"He is stable and improving," said Dr. Timothy Pohlman, who performed the surgery. "His condition was critical upon his arrival and I think the IndyCar system as a whole needs to be commended for how well they can take care of drivers in this situation."
Now that Hinchcliffe appears to be out of the woods, Schmidt must deal with other matters — such as finding a replacement for Sunday's race.
Hinchcliffe qualified 24th, the outside of Row 8, with a four-lap average of 223.519 mph. But with a new driver in the cockpit, the car must go to the back of the 33-car field.
Possible candidates include Tristan Vautier, who qualified last weekend in place of James Davison of Dale Coyne Racing; Katherine Legge, who has previously driven for Schmidt; and Ryan Briscoe, a former pole winner at Indy.
Legge was in town last weekend when she was announced as the driver for an all-female team that plans to compete in next year's 100th running of the Indy 500.
Crew members were already working on tires in Hinchcliffe's garage Tuesday, without a car.
Schmidt hopes to have an answer Wednesday morning.
"We're just now starting to dig into that, and we have James' blessing to move forward," Schmidt said. "He knows he has a long-term contract and he has a seat as soon as he's approved to come back.
"It's not a very big list," Schmidt added. "Everyone can look at the list and figure out the names. We've got to buckle down in the next 12 hours."
Perhaps the best news is that Schmidt said there's still a possibility Hinchcliffe races again this season.
"I've been told not to speculate on that because A) it's just 24 hours old and B) because he's young, he's a really hard worker" Schmidt said. "I think anything's possible."
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