Motorsport: Stanaway climbing back to health after mighty crash

By Eric Thompson

Richie Stanaway will miss the rest of the season.
 Photo / Joel Ford
Richie Stanaway will miss the rest of the season. Photo / Joel Ford

Young New Zealand open-wheel racer Richie Stanaway's march towards his third consecutive overseas championship came to a screaming halt on June 5 when he was in a big accident.

After dominating the German ADAC championship and repeating the feat the next year in the German F3 series, Stanaway was relishing the idea of stepping up to the Formula Renault 3.5 litre championship.

Although struggling in the opening rounds in a new team with a new car, Stanaway showed he still had scintillating speed at times, but was looking for that elusive consistency that produces podiums and wins.

At one of his favourite tracks, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, he again suffered mechanical problems early on and pushed too hard in qualifying, incurring a red flag stop to proceedings, meaning he had to start from the rear of the grid.

In atrocious weather Stanaway, who likes the wet, carved his way through the field until he came upon another driver who had braked very early for a corner.

By the time Stanaway registered a car was rapidly emerging out of the spray and mist right in front of him it was too late.

His left front wheel mounted the right rear wheel of Carlos Huertas' car, launching the Kiwi skyward before he plunged back down on the track.

After Stanaway was pulled from the car and taken to Francorchamps Hospital, doctors diagnosed fractures to two of his vertebrae and elected to immobilise and stabilise him for a few days.

"When I ended up watching the accident on YouTube the next day I was quite surprised that the crash didn't look so dramatic," he said.

"It certainly felt a lot worse in the car. I've had a few accidents before that looked worse, but this time it was the way the car landed.

"It came down very flat and there's only about one millimetre of suspension travel, I think. The heavy impact went straight through the floor of the car into my back.

"Basically, when the car hit the ground it felt someone had taken a hammer and smashed it into my back," Stanaway said.

"It crushed the air out of my lungs and I couldn't breath for about a minute, and I started panicking a bit.

"When I started breathing again it was only at about 40 per cent capacity and I thought I might have punctured a lung. After a while I could breath normally but there was definitely something wrong with my back."

After his initial diagnosis Stanaway was transferred to one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe, Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, regarded as one of the best care centres for Stanaway's type of injury.

With the best care, a rather large brace and intensive physiotherapy, Stanaway is at the mid point in his recuperation.

He's putting in about four hours of recovery work a day to strengthen the muscle groups around the damaged vertebrae. He's walking well with the help of the support brace and is on track to making a full recovery.

"I'm expected to keep the brace on for about another six weeks.

"It's probably been one of the hardest things I've to deal with emotionally, rather than physically.

"Apart from the first few days, when it really hurt, it's been more about worrying about the spinal cord being damaged," said Stanaway.

"I hardly have any pain now and it's a matter of getting on with the recovery and getting back into the car.

"The first few days were scary though, not knowing if I needed surgery or not or how bad the injury was.

"It's not been very easy at all, but I guess it's things like this that make you stronger. I'm definitely looking ahead now and I'm keen to get back in the car as soon as I can.

"As you can imagine it's pretty frustrating, especially right in the middle of my season.

"If I'm lucky I might only end up only missing three races. I'm going to really focus over the next couple of months to get back in the car.

"If things keep going according to schedule I should be able to drive in about the middle of September."

No doubt his legion of fans wish the young Kiwi all the best for his continuing recovery and hope he continues to climb the motorsport ladder to his ultimate goal of Formula One.

- NZ Herald

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