CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, WHO SUFFERED A BROKEN LEG AUSTRALIA EARLY IN THE 1997 SEASON THAT SIDELINED HIM FOR SEVEN RACES, WILL RETURN TO SURFER'S PARADISE FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS WEEKEND. FITTIPALDI SPOKE ABOUT THE ACCIDENT AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED...
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, WHO SUFFERED A BROKEN LEG AUSTRALIA EARLY IN THE 1997 SEASON THAT SIDELINED HIM FOR SEVEN RACES, WILL RETURN TO SURFER'S PARADISE FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS WEEKEND.
FITTIPALDI SPOKE ABOUT THE ACCIDENT AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED THE WAY HE DRIVES A CAR AS WELL AS HIS DESIRE TO BRING BACK A DIFFERENT SOUVENIR FROM THIS YEAR'S VISIT. A TROPHY.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, -11- KMART SWIFT FORD-COSWORTH - WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT LAST YEAR'S ACCIDENT IN AUSTRALIA? "I remember everything. After I was hit from behind, I hit the wall in front of the pits. The second hit was absolutely unbelievable. I hit head on. I couldn't feel anything in my right leg so I was very worried. I saw the wall coming towards me and I was sure it was going to be a big crash. I knew I would be hurt, but I was very lucky that it wasn't worse. The safety crews did a great job of getting me out of the car as quick as possible. The car went from the left to the right and back to the left again. I had never been in an accident of that degree and hope that I never will again. The fact that I wasn't hurt more is a testament to the safety of these cars. CART is always looking for ways to make the races safer and I benefited from that."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, -6- TEAXCO HAVOLINE SWIFT FORD-COSWORTH -ON FITTIPALDI'S ACCIDENT. . . "When I saw Christian's accident I lost my breath. I was the first one to go by. I saw him hit the wall and it was gruesome sight. I was very worried until I saw him getting out of the car. He had been running so strong all weekend that I honestly thought he was going to win the race."
FITTIPALDI CONTINUED - WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE TO GO BACK TO AUSTRALIA? "Since the race date was moved from April to October, it will have been one-and-a-half years since the accident when I return. I have already passed the one year mark and put the accident out of my mind. For some people in Australia though it's as if it happened yesterday because that was the last time they saw me in person. It will be good to finally put all of this behind me. It will be like closing a chapter."
HAS THE ACCIDENT CHANGED YOU OR THE WAY RACE? "For sure, I was very lucky and overall the experience made me appreciate everything even more. When I got back in the car for the first time 66 days later, I had to re-learn my driving style because I couldn't use my right foot for braking. I had to basically forget how I had been driving since I was a little boy and learn to brake with my left foot. Not only did I have to learn how to do it, but I also had to learn how to do it competitively. Once I learned it, the new way actually helped me to conserve fuel. Many of our races come down to fuel conservation and if I hadn't been forced to drive a different way, I wouldn't have learned how to improve my fuel mileage. A lot of drivers talk about changing to left foot braking but racing is so competitive that you really can't take a chance and take a step back even if it could put you two steps ahead of everyone else. I didn't have a choice, but overall I was able to come away with something positive."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU TO WIN IN AUSTRALIA? Since the accident, I was able to make a strong return until one thing after another happened and the bad luck started. I hope that the race in Australia will turn things around. It doesn't matter when I win my first race, but I guess it would be nice if it was in Australia. After my first race back in Australia will be able to officially put everything behind me. Once I get on the track Friday, I will put the accident out of my mind and concentrate on doing my job the best way possible. The only thing left at that point from the accident will be the rod in my leg that is coming out in November. After that, it will be as if it never happened. I always try to look forward and not look back. This year I hope to bring home a better souvenir. A trophy would certainly be better than what I brought back last year."