Wednesday, April 9, 2003 | 9:41 a.m.
Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or (702) 259-4089.
Perhaps Dario Franchitti should stick to driving vehicles with four wheels.
Franchitti will miss this weekend's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series race in Motegi, Japan, after his back was injured in a motorcycle accident last week in his native Scotland.
"The motorcycle had a mechanical problem," Franchitti said. "I tried to slow down but, of course, that was a bit difficult under the circumstances and I wound up crashing through a hedge and landing on my back."
Franchitti was taken by ambulance to St. John's Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment and X-rays, and spent Friday night in the hospital. He was diagnosed with a slight fracture of the L1 vertebra.
Dan Wheldon, test driver for Franchitti's Andretti Green Racing team, will replace Franchitti this weekend.
"This is the first time in 19 years of racing that I've missed an event due to injury, and I'm terribly disappointed to miss the Twin Ring Motegi race," Franchitti said.
"I've always enjoyed racing at Twin Ring Motegi. It's a sensational racetrack and a world class facility and my Japanese fans have always been very supportive, dating back to the days when I raced touring cars there."
Franchitti said he was confident he would be ready to get back in the car in time for the start of practice for the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Wheldon, 24, made two IndyCar Series starts last season for Pennzoil Panther Racing and finished 10th at Chicagoland Speedway and 15th in the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway.
Vasser finished 14th in Mexico after he was wrecked with two laps remaining in the race and is ninth in Champ Car points after two races.
"Traditionally I run pretty good (in Long Beach) so I'm optimistic that we can run good again this week," Vasser said. "I was on the pole last year and I think I should have won the race, so I like the layout."
Vasser sat on the pole last year in Long Beach and finished second to Michael Andretti.
Although Vasser, a Southern California native, has been a Las Vegas resident for nearly seven years, he said he still considers Long Beach his hometown race.
"I've got a soft spot in my heart for Long Beach, for sure -- Long Beach and Fontana," said Vasser, who won on the streets of Long Beach in 1996. "Since we don't race in Vegas, they're the closest races (to Las Vegas)."
Alonso, who finished third in the race, had bruises on his left elbow, thigh and knee but no other injuries. He has been cleared by doctors to race in the next F1 event, the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, on April 20.