Da Matta hopes for comeback
In August of 2006, former Formula 1 driver and Champ Car World series champion Cristiano da Matta had just notched his best race of the season when his team participated in a practice session at the very long, very rural Road America road course in Wisconsin. It's so rural that a deer ran out in front of da Matta's car, struck a front tire, then landed in the cockpit, striking da Matta's helmet.
An excellent on-scene medical staff did what they could, but da Matta was unconscious when he was helicoptered to the hospital. Many at the track figured they'd never see the slight, invariably cheerful little Brazilian again.
They very nearly didn't. Da Matta's brain swelled so much that doctors had to remove a large portion of his skull, so his brain could swell outside his head. The prognosis was grim; some publications began making notes for an obituary. We were told he may never awaken, and if he did... well, even that prospect was guarded.
No one told da Matta. Within months, he was home, working out on a stationary bicycle, updating his Web site for fans.
And last Wednesday, he was at Daytona International Speedway for the Grand-Am sports car series test, wandering the garages, visiting with friends.
Was he looking for a ride? Well, maybe. His doctors told him to hold off at least until the 2008 season before he considered a comeback, "but I told them," da Matta said, laughing, "that the 2008 season is starting here, now, in November of 2007!" Those doctors, he said, are concerned about what another major impact could do to him.
If da Matta does attempt a comeback, it could well be in these sports cars, rather than the open-wheel, open-cockpit cars he spent much of his career driving. Not just because the Grand-Am cars offer more protection to the driver, but because "This is where the growth seems to be," da Matta said. "I don't think it's in open wheel racing now. I've been following the news from my home in Brazil, and it does not look very positive."
Da Matta's friends and fans fear for him, as brain injuries are difficult to overcame -- just ask some NASCAR drivers like Ernie Irvan and Jerry Nadeau. And da Matta has nothing to prove, expect, perhaps, to himself.
Regardless of his decision, it's a near-miracle to have him back. I shook his hand and said, "It's been great talking to you."
Driver Max Papis, standing in our group, said: "It is great to talk to him, isn't it?"
Yes, it is. Orlando Sentinel