Paul Dalla Lana says he’s “ready to race” in tomorrow’s 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas, despite still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury that put him on the sidelines from the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The Canadian returned to the cockpit on Saturday for the first time since a skiing mishap in late December that forced him out of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener as well as a chance to drive in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
Instead, Dalla Lana has spent the last seven weeks in rehab from the injury to his left leg, although has made considerable enough progress to be cleared to race his No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE this weekend.
Dalla Lana and co-drivers Darren Turner and Ross Gunn currently sit third in the GTE-Am title race, 12.5 points behind the championship leaders entering the fifth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
While wearing a full-sized walking boot while in the paddock, Dalla Lana said he’s had no problem at all once inside the car, where he is using a “FIA brace” for the necessary support.
As a right-foot braker, Dalla Lana said the injury hasn’t caused any significant challenges when driving.
“Oddly enough you don’t have to use your left leg too much, so it’s been good,” he told Sportscar365.
“It’s really just being comfortable and being in the car and being ready to go.”
Dalla Lana turned a total of 19 laps in Free Practice 1, when it was determined he would take part in the remainder of the weekend.
The factory squad had fellow Bronze-rated driver Ahmad Al Harthy, who drives an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in GT World Challenge Europe with Oman Racing, on standby in case Dalla Lana was not comfortable.
“We always said I’d do the first Free Practice and then make a call. I had no problem at all,” Dalla Lana said.
“I wasn’t worried about my leg because I knew one way or another, it would either work or not work. But it was more general fitness and getting ready to race.”
Dalla Lana and Gunn combined to qualify the No. 98 Aston second in class, just 0.046 seconds off the class pole-sitting Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR.
While feeling he could have contributed slightly more in qualifying, Dalla Lana said he’s optimistic on their chances for the race.
He said they don’t anticipate having to alter the race strategy and have already successfully practiced driver changes.
“I think we’ll just do the normal strategy,” Dalla Lana said. “In general we’ve been double [stinting] to start.
“This is a hard track, though. It’s cool enough that I think you can do it. It’s a physical track, so let’s see how everyone goes.”
He said he expects to be in a walking boot, when outside of the car, until Sebring in what characterizes as a “very progressive” recovery process.
“They have a very simple program where [you have to] take it slowly,” Dalla Lana said. “Racing isn’t too hard on it except the extreme things but we don’t plan for those.”
Dalla Lana: “You Can’t Throw Away 25 Points”
While being in the midst of the GTE-Am title fight, Dalla Lana said it was important for him not to miss a WEC race, although stressed that he was not prepared to take any health risks.
“It’s so tight right now,” he said of the championship. “That’s the great thing about GTE-Am this year. There’s four or five groups [that are fighting for the title].
“It’s really a good battle. You can’t throw away 25 points. But I wasn’t going to risk anything for it if I didn’t feel good enough.
“If I had been off the pace or was uncomfortable, I would have stopped right away.
“In the end, we’re right there so I’m happy with it.”