Kazuki Nakajima will return to the #1 TS040 HYBRID on Sunday for the official Le Mans, the first time he has driven the car since an accident at Spa earlier this month left him with a fractured vertebra.
Following a rapid recovery, we caught up with Kazuki to find out how he is feeling:
How did you feel directly after the accident?
Right after accident firstly I thought about the car. I was worried about the chassis because we have damaged a couple this year already and if that was another one I would be very disappointed. I had some back pain so I was a bit worried about myself. But I could feel my legs so I knew it was not too serious and initially I still hoped to race at Spa. This is my first full season of WEC so I didn’t want to miss the second race.
So when you got out of the car, you were still thinking about Spa?
Until I got to the hospital and did the medical check I was hoping to race. At the same time I was in a bit of pain so I was also not too surprised to hear I had an injury.
Was it difficult to hear the news about your injury?
Actually it was not too difficult to accept what happened. I was ready to recover and mentally I was in good shape. It was not easy to stay in bed for four days without even getting out. But it was nice to have so many team members coming to see me; that was very encouraging and also helpful because they brought many things I needed. After four days I started to walk around which was a nice feeling and felt like my recovery had really started.
Then you moved to Nice Hospital…
We decided to go to Nice to go through a treatment there where they use a kind of cement or glue to fix the vertebra. The treatment went very well and the day after I was already out of the hospital. Straight away we started rehabilitation in Italy with my trainer. I went there every day and after only three days I could feel the recovery; my movement was less limited and I had less pain.
What kind of training did you do?
I focused a lot on core training because my muscles needed to be strengthened; we were training my inner muscles which stabilise the body. I used a special machine to exercise the muscles around my injury. I had some massage to relax the muscles and things like that. I went swimming too and this is always good because you have to keep your body straight which is good for the inner muscles, and you have less weight on your body which is better when you are recovering.
And we saw photos of you training together with the other drivers…
Yes, then we had a team camp together. It was nice to see the other guys and share the training time. I could do almost everything. I had fun but it was also good training; climbing, doing zip lines, rope walking etc. My trainer was not so happy to see me doing that but it worked out well! We also did canoeing for four hours which was very tough and that was very good for my back because you really have to use your inner muscles. That was very effective training.
During your recovery, did you ever doubt you would be here at Le Mans?
I was always thinking that I could drive. I did have a little pain in my muscles after the operation so I wondered then if it would work out okay. But the pain reduced every day and after a few days everything felt basically fine. In a way I think I am stronger now as a driver, certainly I am mentally stronger due to this experience.
Do you have any nerves getting back in the car?
I’m not worried about getting back in the car because the accident I had at Spa was just an unlucky one. I don’t think I made a mistake, it was pure bad luck in difficult conditions. I have no worries and I am looking forward to driving the car again.