TORONTO (AP) – Bruno Junqueira took cautious, careful steps, gently slid into his seat and let out a deep breath.

Six weeks after breaking his back in an accident during the Indianapolis 500, Junqueira is not completely healed.

But the Brazilian driver was feeling strong enough to make his first appearance a race track Friday. His time at the Toronto Molson Indy won’t help his recovery, but certainly lifted his spirits. “It is a very, very special moment for me to see the friends that I have in the Champ Car series,” he said. “I’m quite happy to be back, although not driving yet. I am feeling really good.”

Junqueira was poised to have a strong season for Newman-Haas Racing this year after finishing third in the opening event then winning in Mexico on May 22 to take over the points lead. But both he and teammate Sebastien Bourdais entered the Indy 500, and it ended up costing Junqueira his season. He was running sixth in the race May 29th when he collided with A.J. Foyt IV and spun into the wall.

Junqueira broke two vertebrae and had surgery the next day to place two rods and 10 screws into his back.

Doctors told him it would take weeks to be on his feet and moving around, then he proved them wrong by walking two days after surgery.

His fitness – which before the accident was achieved largely from a routine that alternated cycling, swimming and Pilates – has Junqueira hopeful he’ll race again this season.

Doctors aren’t so sure and have told him this kind of recovery usually takes more than a year. Still, Junqueira might be the exception.

“The doctor told, me “You are a very fit guy. I think I reckon six months,”‘ he said. “So I am working hard and praying to do a few races this year.”

Junqueira’s bid to get back on the track suffered a setback two weeks after the accident when doctors discovered he also had a broken ankle. It forced him into a soft cast and on crutches that limited his rehabilitation.

Unable to do much work at first, Junqueira estimated he lost 15 pounds. But now that he’s working out again, he said the weight is slowly coming back.

His new routine has him working out with a trainer three times a week at his Miami home, and on his own the other four days. He recently began riding a stationary bike in a swimming pool.

But there are still things he can’t do, such as picking up an item he has dropped or opening doors. For that, he leans on his mother and sister. They have moved in with him to help with his recovery.

“I am more like a girl now,” he joked. “I have two girls taking care of me, and they are doing the male part.”

Aside from his newfound passion for Playstation, the time away from the race track has given Junqueira plenty of time to reflect on his racing career. He has no fear of Indianapolis, would race there again, and doesn’t worry about future accidents even after this one, which he said was undoubtedly the hardest hit of his life.

“I love racing,” he said. “I know there are a lot of risks … but I would rather live a short life and be happy than a long life and be unhappy.”

The Foyt family sent him flowers in the hospital, but he has yet to speak to the driver or his grandfather, four-time Indy winner A.J. Foyt. Most have blamed the accident on the younger Foyt, although his grandfather said Junqueira was at fault.

Junqueira said he has moved on and expressed sympathy for the younger Foyt, speculating that he might be in over his head because of the pressures of driving for his grandfather.

“I forgive what has happened,” Junqueira said. “He has a lot of pressure to perform. It is very hard for him.”

Junqueira also has no hard feelings toward good friend Oriol Servia, who has replaced him at Newman-Haas. Like Junqueira, Servia lives in Miami and spent time this week helping Junqueira improve his Playstation skills.

And Servia is one of four drivers who calls Junqueira the day after every race. It’s their way of helping Junqueira stay in the loop and not feel like he’s missing out.

“I am quite happy that everyone keeps calling me,” he said.

AP-ES-07-08-05 1539EDT


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