Opening practice for the second round of the World Endurance Championship took place in continuous rain which contributed to an accident for Kazuki Nakajima, who hit the back of a slow-moving Audi #8 on the fast Kemmel Straight.
The impact damaged the monocoque but more significantly caused injury to Kazuki. After complaining of back pain immediately after the incident, he was assessed at the circuit medical centre then transferred to hospital in Verviers for precautionary checks. Unfortunately those checks have revealed a fractured vertebra.
Kazuki will remain in hospital for treatment, supported by team personnel, and will not participate this weekend. Further medical analysis in the coming days will determine if there are consequences beyond this weekend’s event.
The #1 car will therefore be driven by World Champions Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi this weekend, but the pair was unable to participate in second practice, due to the time required to change the monocoque.
That left Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway in the #2 as the only TS040 HYBRID on track. They continued a programme of set-up evaluation, with conditions continuing to be a challenge.
Practice concludes on Friday (14.00-15.00) prior to qualifying (18.35-19.00) while the race begins on Saturday at 14.30.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “We are all upset to hear about Kazuki’s injury. It is a very disappointing situation for all of us, but most of all Kazuki. The team will support him in these next days as he recovers in hospital before returning to Japan at the first opportunity. It is too early to speak about the future; we will fully analyse the situation and the possibilities before making a decision. Right now our priority is to make sure Kazuki is okay. Looking at the video of the accident it is clear he had no chance; the visibility was very poor due to the spray and there was nothing Kazuki could do.”
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 1: 2nd (2min 17.117secs), 20 laps
Free practice 2: Did not participate
Anthony Davidson: “It was obviously a very difficult day for our side of the garage. Kazuki suffered a high-speed incident so at the moment our main concern is his well being. We are all with him and supporting him through this tough time. The car, for what it’s worth, felt good in the wet conditions today and we were able to set some pretty competitive lap times. But I hope we can have some dry weather for the race to see where we are before we head to Le Mans.”
Sébastien Buemi: “It is very unfortunate what happened and it’s obviously not a good start at all to the weekend. We all hope Kazuki will be back with us very soon. We will go and see him in the hospital later to keep him company. It’s a pity that we had to change the monocoque and missed the second session. This meant I didn’t do any laps at all today. If the race is dry it’s not a huge loss but still we have to refocus as much as possible and try to get the best result we can.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “First of all I want to say thanks to the race director Eduardo Freitas and his safety crew at the circuit as well as the doctors at the hospital here in Verviers who have taken great care of me. Everyone has been extremely professional and I know I am in safe hands. Unfortunately the x-ray shows a fracture in one of my vertebra. It’s unbelievably disappointing but there’s nothing I can do now; I will just focus on coming back as soon as possible. There’s not much I can say about the accident. I was on the straight and suddenly through the spray there was a car right in front of me; I had no time to react.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Free practice 1: 7th (2min 22.232secs), 18 laps
Free practice 2: 6th (2min 28.732secs), 10 laps
Alex Wurz: “It was not an easy day in the office today and of course we are all thinking about Kazuki. As we expect the race to be in better conditions, we didn’t drive so much in the second session. After the incident with car #1 we didn’t want to take any risks. Let’s wait to see what the weather will bring for the rest of the weekend. It will be challenging because no one has had any dry running so we will try to squeeze all preparations into a short third practice tomorrow.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “Today it was a difficult day for us with Kazuki’s incident. It is really sad for the team and especially for him. We set up the car in wet conditions during the two sessions today. We are quite happy with the balance but it looks like being dry for the race so we will see. It will be another game I would say but we are ready for whatever comes.”
Mike Conway: “We had tricky conditions all day with the rain, which was very heavy at times. That reduces the visibility and increases the chance of aquaplaning so it was quite treacherous out there. It was a case of trying to learn as much as we could to improve the balance of the car, which changed depending on how much water was on track. We all hope Kazuki gets better soon; it’s a real pity for that to have happened.”