Motor Racing: Donnelly fights for full recovery

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(First Edition)

MARTIN DONNELLY takes the next step towards Grand Prix rehabilitation this weekend, insisting his chances of returning to the big time in motorsport are stronger than ever.

The 28-year-old Ulsterman says his Formula One ambitions are undiminished by the horrific crash at the Spanish Grand Prix two years ago, which threatened to end his promising career.

Donnelly is restricted, for the time being at least, to a modest outing behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Nova in the British Rallycross meeting at Brands Hatch today and tomorrow - an endeavour he claims is a diversion rather than part of a Formula One comeback.

The enduring image of Donnelly is of the limp, shattered figure sprawled across the track in Jerez following his 150 mph crash.

After countless operations on his devastated left leg, the rebuilt Donnelly contemplates the remaining obstacles to his comeback with realism. He will not be allowed back into Formula One unless he can satisfy a strict safety code which insists drivers must be able to climb out of the cockpit of their car inside five seconds.

'They put the stop-watch on me last week and I got out of a Jordan car in four seconds with the steering wheel off. 'But when they attached the wheel I could not do it because I cannot bend my knee. I don't think it will free up unless it is assisted by another operation,' he said.

Donnelly is awaiting the verdict of medical experts to judge whether or not to press ahead with yet more surgery, but, he said: 'After 101 setbacks you learn not to take anything for granted. Surgery is a long shot and I hope it works, but there are no guarantees.'

Yet he remains as determined as ever to get back. 'It's in my blood. There's nothing in life like the feeling you get from driving a Formula One car,' he said.

Donnelly has already driven a Formula Two car at Snetterton, when he overcame any self-doubts about the mental effects of his crash.