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Oct 17, 2014

TEENAGER BACK ON TRACK AFTER BROKEN BACK

FOUR MONTHS after breaking his back in a hefty crash in practice for Round two of the Australian Formula Ford Series, 17-year-old Sydney driver Jimmy Vernon will make his racing comeback this weekend at Wakefield Park’s Shannons Australian Motor Racing Nationals round.

Vernon fractured the C7 vertebrae in his upper back when his car aquaplaned at 150km/hr in a wet practice session at Winton in late June, impacting the wall backwards at high speed just before turn one.

He’s spent the intervening time in a full back and neck brace but a speedy recovery has the Listec Racing driver ready for a racing return at what is essentially his home track.

The Australian Formula Ford Series joins a competitive program at the 2.2km circuit near Goulburn this weekend, the bumper program including the final rounds for the Australian Sports Racer Series, Dial Before You Dig Super Six Touring Cars and Australian Manufacturers Championship.

The penultimate round of the Kumho tyres V8 Touring Cars fight also features.

Vernon was competitive from the outset today, comfortably setting times well within the top-10 of a hugely competitive 19-car Formula Ford field today, less than one-second from the quickest time.

“I basically had an enforced three-month break where I couldn’t do anything,” Vernon explained.

“I fractured my C7 vertebrae in my neck and the hospital were pretty worried when they saw that – I was not allowed to move at all when they realised what was wrong because it was very close to my spinal cord.

“I went straight into a brace and was in it for three months before I was really allowed to do anything.”

He said the crash was one of those moments where the driver could do little to avoid a hefty impact.

“I had just completed my first flying lap in the first practice session and it was absolutely pouring down,” he explained.

“I lifted off before turn one and the car just aquaplaned and I was a passenger from there. The car spun and hit the wall backwards and that’s what did the damage.

“The data said it was a 150km/hr impact and I was pretty shaken up afterwards.”

Vernon kept his eye in by attending state championship rounds as a guest commentator – but said it was hard sitting on the sidelines for so long.

“It was really, really tough because we thought we would be battling for the NSW State championship this season, but we had to put that behind us and focus on getting back on track.

“We’re doing the last three rounds of the national series and plan to come back next year and fight for the title.”

Despite the setbacks, he said there was never any doubt of making a racing return.

“My parents were pretty worried afterwards and said ‘mate, do you want to keep doing this?’, but there was never any doubt.

“I love the sport and I really want to keep being a part of it.

“I raced for two years before the crash and probably felt a bit invincible, this has made me have a bit more respect for what we do.

“Even though it was a freak accident, you have to realise that even though as safe as it is, it can have very serious consequences.

“The doctors said without my Safety Gear, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Justin Ruggier topped practice in the Kumho V8 Touring Cars Series, heading his season-long title rival Ryan Simpson by just 0.22s across the three sessions today.

The intense battle for the Australian Sports Racer Series title kicked off today with Championship leader Roger I’Anson (West) heading Adam Proctor (Stohr) by fractions of a second overall today.

After a season-long rivalry that has seen the pair trade race and round victories all season, the pair are split by one solitary point ahead of the three races this weekend.

A marque switch to Holden from Ford has paid dividends for Australian Super Six Touring Car ace Ben Grice, the second-generation driver topping the Holden-versus-Ford category tomorrow.

The Mitsubishi EVO of Garry Holt and Stuart Kostera, along with the BMWs of Luke Searle and Beric Lynton, were amongst the pacesetters in the Australian Manufacturers Championship sessions today.

Official practice, qualifying and racing kicks off tomorrow at Wakefield Park.