Richard Westbrook is thanking his lucky stars after walking away unscathed following the biggest accident of his career Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway.
The GM factory driver, at the wheel of the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP, went for one of the wildest rides in recent memory when his Coyote-chassied car suffered a right-rear tire failure while exiting the high-speed tri-oval section of the 3.56-mile course.
“It obviously happened in the worst possible place,” Westbrook said in a Sportscar365 exclusive interview. “That’s when you’re doing 190 mph and it was just before the braking zone. I felt the right rear tire explode and the car started to spin. I thought I could have saved it and then the car just took off.”
From there, the Englishman was just a passenger as his DP did a reverse backflip, nearly clearing the catch fencing, before entering into a series of rolls before coming to rest right-side up.
“I just went airborne,” he said. “My immediate worry was that I was going to clear the catch fencing. But fortunately I didn’t and the catch fencing did its job. It was very, very violent in the car.
“I’ve never had an accident like that. I’ve had much lesser accidents that have hurt more so I just feel very, very lucky.
“I was in the air for a long time and had a long time to think about things. I didn’t think it was going to end in a nice way. I’m just so lucky that it did.”
Westbrook was quick to credit the rapid response of the local track safety crew and the strength of the tube-framed Daytona Prototype, which kept him safe through the violent, end-over-end shunt.
“When I looked back from it, it was very, very scary stuff when you start getting airborne at that speed,” Westbrook said. “I have to say that the car was very strong. I’m very lucky and thankful to the strength of this car.
“The safety crew at the track were on the car in seconds. Also, thanks to Darren Turner for stopping his car and checking that I was alright. It was good to get out of the car and give him a hug.”
The car was taken immediately to Spirit of Daytona’s shop nearby, where the team has already begun deconstructing and analyzing what exactly went wrong.
“My biggest thing is that the car did what it was supposed to do,” team owner Troy Flis told Sportscar365. “Thank goodness for GRAND-AM and the crash boxes. The car took two big hits in the crash boxes.
“The new diffuser helped take off a lot of energy off the back of the car when it did get into the fence.”
With the car having sustained roll-cage damage to the roof, Flis says parts of the tube-frame chassis will need to be replaced, but may not require an entirely new chassis.
He said a decision will likely be made in the next 48 hours, as to how they will go about getting the No. 90 entry back on track.
As for the cause of the accident, and the subsequent aftereffect, it is still under investigation. Multiple tire punctures were sustained on 2014-spec DPs here today, which resulted in a second, less severe airborne incident for Action Express Racing’s Joao Barbosa in the afternoon.
A Continental Tire spokesperson said the results are so far inconclusive and they are working diligently to pinpoint the issue, which could be a function of the additional load created by the DPs in their upgraded configuration.
The tire company has used the same P1000 tire compound (formerly DP-I) at Daytona for the past two years without problems, with the only new variables being the increased power and downforce generated by the new-style DPs.
What could arguably be more concerning, though, is that both the Spirit of Daytona and Action Express cars took flight after spinning backwards, which is believed to have been the first occurrence of that for a DP.
“I think there’s a lot to be learned from it,” Flis said. “I don’t know enough to say, other than us losing a tire, was it team inflicted or tire inflicted? I don’t know.
“But I’m going to say that the best thing of it all was that the car did what it needed to do and I still have a driver I can go race again with.”