Tim Pappas is targeting a return to driving in 2020 as the Black Swan Racing team owner/driver continues his recovery from February’s accident at Bathurst.
Pappas sustained multiple fractures to his pelvis and a broken right arm in the high-speed crash in practice for the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, which resulted in the team’s withdrawal from the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season-opener.
Speaking for the first time since the accident, Pappas has recalled the dramatic moments leading up to the crash, when his Porsche 911 GT3 R was clocked at speeds in excess of 170 mph entering the highest-speed corner of the Australian circuit.
“When I went to the brake pedal at the Chase and the pedal goes to the firewall, you know where you are in the circuit, you know how fast you’re going and you know that it’s not going to be an easy little moment,” Pappas told Sportscar365.
“I wrestled the thing to try and get as much distance as I could before I hit something.
“I ended up spinning the car and ended up hitting a retaining wall in front of the hotel. It’s unfortunate that so few of the walls at Bathurst have any kind of protection because I think that my accident would have had far different circumstances if there were four or five rows of tires.”
The impact, which “massively deformed” the rear of the GT3 contender, saw the car ignite into flames, with an injured Pappas still inside the cockpit and safety crews nowhere in sight.
It led to the efforts of two fans, including Damian Mulder, whom Pappas had ironically met the day before in the team’s garage, jump into action to help put the blaze out, grabbing fire extinguishers on the side of the track.
“He was absolutely transfixed on the car and realized there was no one attending to the car,” Pappas said. “He and the guy next to him jumped up and went for it.
“The fact that he and I had happened to have this encounter the day before, it almost feels not coincidental. I’ve since spoken to him to thank him for helping me.
“That’s the testament to the kind of fans you have down at Bathurst.”
With the help of Porsche Motorsport’s on-site doctor, Pappas was airlifted to a hospital in Sydney, where he was stabilized and prepped for travel back to California.
Pappas also credits the assistance of Dr. Alex Garbino, an American ER doctor hired by Audi Sport customer racing for the event, in being instrumental in organizing his transport and medical arrangements, and even flying with him from Australia to Los Angeles to undergo surgery the following day.
Pappas “Focused on Recovery”; Daytona 2020 a “Reasonable Return” Goal
While already six weeks into his rehab program, Pappas said he continues to make progress although is not only dealing with the broken bones but severe bruising and other injuries related from the crash.
He expects to be back to “normal” by late summer, although is taking a measured approach on his return to the cockpit.
“The ways these injuries are and the way you go through a process like this, it’s hard to imagine myself stepping away forever,” Pappas said. “But I’m still so focused on recovery I really haven’t put much pressure on myself what I’m going to do one way or another.
“I can see myself at least sitting in the seat, driving around the track, just getting a feel for it, at some point late this year, just to see how I feel and how I’m going.
“I’m not going to put myself in a racing environment until next year. I think Daytona would be a good goal, if everything continues on the path it is now, that could be a reasonable return for me.”
Pappas said he’s thankful for the outpouring of support from the motorsports community, which has helped him cope through the challenging time.
“I’ve had an unbelievable number of phone calls, text messages and emails from fans, officials, other drivers, old crew,” he said.
“Everyone in this racing community sticks pretty closely together and that has meant a lot to me and has made it a lot easier to get through.
“I sat with those injuries in Australia and flew home to get surgery in LA. That wouldn’t have been possible without the support of everyone in the paddock.”
Black Swan Targeting IMSA Endurance Cup Races This Year
Pappas said he’s working on getting Black Swan back on track later this year, with the remaining IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races a target.
The team had initially been in discussions with Porsche to run a car in last weekend’s California 8 Hours, which did not materialize.
“There’s a chance we may run some races this season, without me driving, with some of the guys we’ve been racing with this season,” Pappas said.
“I think IMSA has done a great job and we’d like to be there. The team deserves to get back out, more than anything, for redemption after a tough couple of races.
“In Daytona, we were in a really good position and unfortunately the restart and rain and so much carnage… We were victims of that.
“Then to leave right away for Bathurst and have Bathurst be such a disaster, everyone just wants to get back into a normal racing mode. That’s what we’re hopeful to do.
“Watkins Glen is still quite a bit in the distance, so it’s about getting the car back together.”
While initially planning to purchase two new-for-2019 Porsches, Pappas said its Daytona car, which was damaged in a race-ending accident, did not sustain chassis damage as initially suspected and will be repaired.
Pappas said he’s looking to also “settle down” on a new base of operations for the team, which has floated between locations in Nevada, Daytona Beach and Massachusetts in recent years.