Graham Rahal to race Indy 500 for Stefan Wilson, who fractured vertebrae in practice crash

INDIANAPOLIS — Graham Rahal will replace Stefan Wilson in the No. 24 Chevy for Sunday's Indianapolis 500 after the British driver fractured his 12th thoracic vertebrae in a Monday afternoon practice crash, his team Dreyer and Reinbold announced Tuesday morning.

"I don't feel good filling in for an injured driver," Rahal said. "Unfortunately, in racing, things happen. But (given my relationship with the Wilsons) I felt like it was my calling to come help.

"I wouldn't come here if I didn't think we could win."

Dennis Reinbold confirmed his team will use its backup car that hadn't been on-track for the 500 yet, is two years old and, as of 4 p.m. Monday, had a go-kart motor in it.

DRR owner Dennis Reinbold, left, and Cusick Motorsports owner Don Cusick, right, announce Graham Rahal, center, as their replacement driver for the 2023 Indianapolis 500.
DRR owner Dennis Reinbold, left, and Cusick Motorsports owner Don Cusick, right, announce Graham Rahal, center, as their replacement driver for the 2023 Indianapolis 500.

WILSON: Suffers fractured vertebrae in practice crash, will miss Indy 500

Wilson was running in a single-file line with several cars just over halfway through practice, entering Turn 1 of the IMS oval when Graham's teammate, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Katherine Legge, came up from behind and ran into the back of Wilson's car. The impact spun the DRR No. 24 Chevy counter-clockwise, and it nearly made a full turn before slamming nose-first into the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 1. Legge lost the rear of the car and backed into the wall, hitting first with the right-rear with an impact that then snapped the rest of her car around, slamming the whole right side into the wall.

The left side of Legge's car briefly went airborne before all four wheels returned to the ground, and she skidded down south short-chute, again careening into the outside wall in Turn 2 before coming to a stop. The RLL driver managed to climb out of her car and walk into the AMR safety team truck under her own power, and after she was seen and released from the IMS infield care center, she said she was "fine."

Regarding the crash, she said she felt the line of cars ahead had "checked up", and, as she wrote in an Instagram post, she was "too close to (Wilson) to see how much." At the time, she said she was driving 220 mph and had down-shifted twice into fourth-gear but was unable to get her brakes to slow her enough to avoid the collision.

"Not excuses, just an explanation," she wrote. "Sorry to Stef and the team, my crew and to my awesome partners and supporters."

The AMR safety team took several minutes to extract Wilson from his car, first fitting him with a neck brace before strapping him onto a stretcher and rolling him into an ambulance. Before the doors on the ambulance were closed, he lifted his right arm twice and gave the cheering fans a 'thumbs up.'

Wilson was taken to Indiana University Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis for "advanced imaging" and additional observation, according to IndyCar medical director Dr. Julia Vaizer, who told reporters in the immediate aftermath of the crash that Wilson was "doing well", "in good spirits" and had not suffered "any significant issues."

In its Monday night release, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing said Wilson was to be held at Methodist overnight "for further tests and observation."

"Based on this type of injury," the team wrote in the release, "Wilson will not be allowed to compete in this Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race."

Before Legge and Wilson's crash, Rahal said on Monday's Peacock broadcast of the practice that neither he nor RLL would pursue "buying a seat" for Sunday's race after paddock members wondered if either Legge or Jack Harvey, who's on rocky footing in the final year of his deal with the team, would be forced to slide over to make room for Rahal in Sunday's race.

'WE DIDN'T EARN IT': Rahal said he wouldn't buy his way into Indy 500

OPINION: World watches as Rahal family suffers thru qualifying disaster

"At Indy, you've go to earn it, and we didn't earn it. I don't believe in that," Rahal said. "I'm not meant to be in this race. I'm not a super religious person, but I'm a firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason, and the 2023 Indy 500 was not in my cards."

But the landscape changed after the two-car incident. Though Rahal has been a longtime Honda IndyCar driver, arrangements were made by both teams and manufacturers involved to come to an agreement on the last-minute switch. He was also the only driver who had participated in last week's practices and who wouldn't require running through a refresher program ahead of Friday's two-hour Carb Day practice, the final on-track action for the field of 33 before the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Due to IndyCar rules around driver substitutions after qualifying has taken place, Rahal will start Sunday from the back of the field (on the outside of Row 11, the 33rd starting spot), meaning those originally slated 26th-33rd will move up one spot on the grid.

“I have to say this came out of the blue,” Bobby Rahal said in a statement. ”I’ve known Dennis for years personally. I have always liked and respected him as a fellow racer and also a car dealer. When Dennis called, we went to work to make this happen.

The most amazing thing is how all these different groups, out of respect for the sport and the Indy 500, agreed to agree and go forward even though it may have been somewhat of a difficult decision. The fact that everyone pulled together to make this happen for Dennis, and also for Graham, makes us very thankful.

I am also thankful that Dennis asked Graham to join him and his team and appreciate the commitment and excitement from Mike, Dave, United Rentals and Fifth Third Bank to see this happen. We wish them the best in the race.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indy 500: Graham Rahal in for Stefan Wilson after fractured vertebrae