IndyCar rookie Pippa Mann rejects the idea that the drivers in the Las Vegas finale did not have enough experience on ovals.
Mann was one of 15 drivers involved in a fiery accident in which two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed.
"They don't just let people come in off the street and race an IndyCar," Mann said Wednesday.
Las Vegas was Mann's third start in the IndyCar Series, and critics have complained that too many inexperienced drivers in the crowded 34-car field contributed to the accident. Eight of the 34 were rookies.
Mann was behind the accident when it began, one of the many drivers who had nowhere to go when the cars began spinning all over the track.
"There are always going to be rookies. What are we going to do?" said Mann, who had surgery Tuesday in Indianapolis to repair the badly burned pinkie finger on her right hand.
"Everybody has to go through being a rookie. Everybody has to do a first oval."
Las Vegas wasn't Mann's first oval.
She made her IndyCar debut at the Indianapolis 500 in May and finished 20th. She also raced at Kentucky two weeks before the Oct. 16 finale at Las Vegas and spent two seasons in Firestone Indy Lights, the feeder system for IndyCar.
In Indy Lights in 2010, Mann won the pole at Indy, Kentucky and Homestead, all ovals. She had two podium finishes on ovals and won at Kentucky.
Mann also defended Wade Cunningham, who made his fourth career start at Las Vegas and was involved in the accident. The 26-year-old Cunningham had 64 starts in Indy Lights, eight career victories and was the 2005 Indy Lights champion.
"Wade is a champion. We both have experience in a series where the speeds and the car handling are similar enough to (IndyCar)," she said. "The only thing we don't have a great deal of experience in is pit stops and adapting to cold tires."
The IndyCar rule book requires drivers to display "sufficient competitive driving ability and experience as determined by the Senior Official." There is a rookie orientation test -- Mann said she did hers at high-banked Texas Motor Speedway -- and a clause that allows IndyCar to hold a "refresher" test on any driver who has not competed in the last 12 months.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway also holds a second testing program for any rookie driver attempting to run the 500.
Four-time series champion Dario Franchitti did not blame the fatal accident on the varying levels of experience of the field.
"I will say, with rookies, there is a certain level of inexperience, but people at my level can make mistakes, too," he said.
Mann, a 27-year-old from London, was one of three drivers injured in the accident. Will Power suffered a broken vertebra in his back, and JR Hildebrand was treated for a bruised sternum.
She said she saw the accident ahead of her, tried to slow and headed for what she thought was a gap. Instead, Paul Tracy's car ended up in the same space, and Mann ended up airborne, upside down and on fire.
"I started to see it unfolding, but there was just not enough time to knock speed off the car," she said. "Usually when a car spins on an oval track, you head toward the spinning car because it won't be there when you get there. But this time, all you can try to do is aim for the gap. PT was in the gap when I got there."
Photographs of the accident show Mann's car sailing through the air upside down and engulfed in flames. Her car landed upside down, and, unable to open her eyes because of all the dirt and debris in her helmet, she could only wait for safety workers to arrive.
She doesn't have many details about the accident as it unfolded.
"The honest answer is at the point I knew I was going to hit the car, and there was no gap, I just pulled my arms in and shut my eyes," she said. "Nothing I was going to see was going to help me in the future mentally. When the car came to a stop, I just sat there and waited."
Mann suffered severe burns down to her pinkie bone on her right hand, and surgery Tuesday moved nerves, blood vessels, tendon and skin grafts from her hand in an effort to rebuild her pinkie. She's now in an oversized cast, wearing her boyfriends' clothes because hers don't fit over the cast, and asking her mother for help brushing her hair.
Doctors said it will be January before she can get back in a race car. Mann already was looking for funding to run a full season in 2012, which opens in St. Petersburg, Fla., and isn't sure what's next.
"My intention is for (Las Vegas) to not be my last IndyCar race," she said. "I would love to be in St. Pete. I intend to be in St. Pete, and I will work to be ready for St. Pete."