Coletti happy to be back behind the wheel
21 October 2011
Stefano Coletti had been enjoying a solid first full season in GP2 in 2011 with Trident Racing, with two sprint race wins under his belt (in Turkey and Hungary) in the GP2 main European series, following fourth place in the abbreviated GP2 Asia Series earlier in the year.
The 22-year-old Monaco-born driver was looking forward to finishing off the season in the final two race weekends of the season when a crash in the rain in Spa in August not only put him out of the feature race, but also left him with back injuries that forced him to sit out the rest of the season altogether.
When Coletti - unsighted by water spray in terrible conditions at Spa - ploughed into and over the rear of Mikhail Aleshin's Carlin car, Coletti was left with compression fractures of two vertebrae and the cracking of a third that meant he was to be out of the cockpit for the next 53 days. It was a period that included the GP2 series finale at Monza and the first post-season two-day test at Jerez in September.
"This is the first time - and hopefully the last - that I am forced to miss tests and races for so long," said Coletti, adding that he had been "counting the hours to my comeback."
He added that "I know that this test will be conditioned by the fact that I have been on a restricted work schedule for more than a month, following the complete stop after the crash in Spa," but that he needed to get back to active duty if he was to get a ride in November's GP2 Final exhibition event supporting the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi in November.
Coletti was lucky enough to get to drive the Dams car in Barcelona on Wednesday, which was the car that powered Romain Grosjean to a dominating drivers championship in 2011. And on Thursday, Coletti switched to a run with Scuderia Coloni, the team behind Luca Filippi's scorching late-season run to third place in the drivers championship.
Coletti thanked "all the people that have been close to me in this difficult period of my career" as he took up the chance to "test the two most winning cars of 2011 - this is an honour and an important privilege to me."
The first order of business was making sure Coletti's recovery was far enough along in the eyes of the medical staff. "We observed a period of absolute rest during the three weeks following the incident and then we started physiotherapy, first in the water at the Institute pool and then in the gym" said Doctor Giancarlo Raffermi, the orthopaedist overseeing Coletti's treatment and recuperation at the Monaco Institute of Sports Medicine and Surgery.
"We carefully avoided the athlete's loss of muscle tone and physical strength," Dr Raffermi added. "A complete recovery will need two to three more weeks of work but this test will allow us to check on the progress obtained so far."
Coletti found the first day of testing a bit to be more of a 'proof of concept' of his readiness to be back behind the wheel, confirming that he felt fine despite running 52 laps in total during the day, but his attempt to set a flying time on new tyres was thwarted by traffic and a red flag.
He had a much better time of things with Coloni on the Thursday, finishing fifth fastest in the morning session with a time of 1:29.736s and going fastest of all in the slower afternoon session largely dedicated to racing simulations as he completed another 46 laps in total.
"Today was a great day for me," said Coletti. "With the Scuderia Coloni car I felt at ease straight out of the box and already early in the morning, when the track was still damp, I could push as hard as I wanted.
"I could have entered the top 3 easily there, but together with the team we decided to keep a set of new tyres for the afternoon, and as we posted the quickest laptime of this last session we can say it worked pretty well despite my back aching a bit," he admitted. "Iï¿½m still recovering, and after such a lengthy stop driving for two whole days was a big effort."
After confirming that he was back to race fitness, Coloni now hopes to pick up a seat for next month's GP2 Final. While nothing is confirmed, Coletti's personal website refers to the driver's "probable participation" in the Abu Dhabi.
Coletti will also be hoping to get a deal with an F1 team to get time in one of the cars in the 'Young Driver' tests that the teams traditionally hold at the Yas Marina circuit in the days after the Grand Prix as they scout for the next generation of up-and-coming racing talent. Nothing is confirmed for Coletti for the rookie tests, as first he had to check out his recovery and fitness. Now that's done, he can start making plans:
"I want to start working to be ready, if possible, for Abu Dhabi's race in November," he confirmed, as the teams packed up in Barcelona, Coletti headed home to Monte Carlo and from there to holiday in Kenya - while the cars and equipment were crated up and started on their long trip to the Middle East.
Beyond the GP2 Final, there is also the question of the 2012 season looming large as well for Coletti: "Very good 2 days of testing," he concluded on Twitter. "Now have to choose a team for next year!"