Rookie driver Gonzalo Rodriguez was killed today when his car smashed into a concrete wall at about 160 mph during practice for Sunday's Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway.
The 27-year-old Uruguayan died of massive head and neck injuries, said Dr. Steve Olvey, director of medical affairs for the CART FedEx Series.
Rodriguez was pronounced dead at 10:10 PDT at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
He was the first driver fatality in the CART series since Jeff Krosnoff was killed in a crash during a race in Toronto in July 1996.
Rodriguez was approaching the famed Corkscrew turn on the road course when his brakes locked and his car hurtled off the track and through a gravel trap without losing speed. The car struck a tire barrier and slammed into the concrete wall behind the tires. The open-wheel car flipped about 30 feet, flying over a wall of advertisements and landing upside down on a grassy hill.
The practice was flagged to a stop as safety workers removed Rodriguez from the car. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
It appeared the throttle on Rodriguez's car may have stuck open. The car was impounded by CART for inspection.
The rest of the day's activities at the track were canceled. The 27 remaining cars will line up Sunday based on the qualifying speeds from Friday's time trials.
This was the first serious CART accident at Laguna Seca since the series first came here in 1983.
Rodriguez was a regular in the European Formula 3000 series, where he is second in the season points standings.