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Aug 14, 2018

MotoGP: KTM's Pol Espargaro Working On Recovery From Spinal Injuries After A Paralysis Scare

Pol Espargaro on the MotoGP grid. Photo by DPPI Media.

Copyright 2018, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

Despite Serious Injury, Pol Espargaro Is Aiming For Silverstone Comeback

By Neil Morrison

At first, Pol Espargaro’s crash during the Sunday morning warm-up session at Brno seemed like nothing more than a painful mistake that fractured his left collarbone. However, the seriousness of his injuries was not revealed until the MotoGP paddock had settled in Austria for the 11th round of the 2018 season.

The younger of the two Espargaro brothers racing in the premier class was flicked from his KTM RC16 at Turn Three when he overshot the corner. He had flown back to Barcelona the evening of the race in the Czech Republic, and pictures on his social media account showed him to be banged up and bruised, but apparently OK.

However, his older brother Aleix later revealed that the ex-Moto2 World Champion had an inflamed spinal chord, which initially resulted in paralysis and is still causing numbness in his arms and hands.

“Actually he is worse than it looked like, because he has a spinal cord that is very inflamed,” explained Aleix at the Red Bull Ring last week. “I was there Tuesday and Wednesday, and Tuesday afternoon he couldn't touch anything with his hands, he had a lot of cramps in his arms and hands. Every time they put the medicine in the vein he cried a lot, so they had to move it to the arm and don't touch him. It was quite scary. We talked to a neurosurgeon [on Wednesday] and they told us he was very, very, very lucky. He missed it for just a little bit.

“So Pol for the first two days was very worried and had a lot of pain. I've never seen him that convinced to rest. He's not thinking about to race as we normally are because he was very worried. Yesterday night was the first time that he could start to touch things with his fingers. The first thing he touched was Max [Aleix’s baby son] and he was just asking to see Max so I go with him there.

“But he still has to be in the hospital. The doctors say they don't really have a lot of information about how the spinal cord will improve. They say in two-three days there could be no inflammation and perfect or it can be very long. So we have to wait because it's very dangerous if he moves or if he race or whatever before the inflammation is gone.”

On the crash itself, Aleix explained, “He said he changed a little bit the engine brake control, to try to stop the bike better and he locked the rear quite aggressive. Then after the second movement he saw that the wall was very close so he decided to brake more and then he hit the ground very, very aggressive (hard).

“Actually when I was in hospital I saw the helmet and I've never seen a helmet like it in my life. It was completely destroyed, the visor was half destroyed. He said he was very worried because when he crashed, before he arrived in the hospital with [Doctor Angel] Charte [Dorna’s official doctor] he couldn't feel the arms and the legs. Nothing.

“So he said he was very worried. And then when he arrived in hospital and Charte saw him, they start to touch him and he started to feel pain in his arms, so when he felt the pain in his arms he relaxed a lot. But he hit the ground very, very aggressively.”

After Aleix made his comments, Pol’s condition has reportedly improved. He was allowed to go home last Friday and is still determined to be present at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on August 24-26. KTM’s head of motorsport Pit Beirer also confirmed talks he had with the 27-year-old, in which Pol implored him not to find a replacement rider for Round 12 of the MotoGP World Championship, such was his belief he would be fit.

Ex-racer Jonas Folger was one option Beirer explored, should Espargaro not be ready for Silverstone, but the German does not want to race this year. “Of course we are considering options,” said Beirer. “But it's not easy because first of we hope Pol is fit and if not we have a problem, because to ride a MotoGP bike at that level, it's an incredible job what the guys are doing and there is not one bad rider on the MotoGP grid. But there are also not many guys sitting at home on the couch waiting for a call from KTM to ride.

“You've seen how many guys are in the same second as the first guy and for sure we could find guys to ride the bike, many people would be happy to do it, but if you send them out with 3-4-5 seconds slower I think it's even a safety problem for the others. So we really struggle, because the guy who we need to replace our race rider is not there at the moment. So we have to wait and see. Still (I) look through some lists but if anyone has a smart idea, send me an e-mail!”

Pol’s absence in Austria coupled with test-rider Mika Kallio’s serious knee injury, sustained at the German Grand Prix in mid-July, meant Bradley Smith was the Austrian factory’s sole MotoGP representative at the Red Bull Ring. The absence of a test rider has been a real burden for KTM in recent weeks.

As MotoGP team manager Mike Leitner explained, “We try of course always to bring some new items to races because we don’t have a test rider now so you are forced to bring some things to the race team. Not everything is working out in the first moments. So the situation, we don’t have Mika, is making our life on the race weeks hard.”

Thus on Sunday KTM announced the signing of ex-Grand Prix winner Randy de Puniet for its testing team for the remainder of 2018. It will also employ two MotoGP test riders in 2019, as Kallio’s injury has shown how the race team suffers if the test team cannot sample new parts before a race weekend.