French road racer Franck Petricola is set to return to this year’s Vauxhall International North West 200 after suffering serious injuries in a crash at the 2014 event.
The French rider careered into a lamp post when he slid off his Ice Valley BMW superbike at Primrose corner during practice for the race.
“It was the day after my birthday and I got a lot of broken bones as a present.” he jokes.
Petricola broke two vertebrae, his left arm, his right elbow and right leg, several ribs and suffered perforated lungs in the huge impact but the most serious injury was to his head.
“I hit my head and there was bleeding on my brain because of the trauma.” he recalls.
Petricola was treated within seconds of the crash by the travelling doctors from the race’s medical team and transferred by helicopter to the Royal hospital in Belfast.
In a coma, his life hung in the balance for several days before he eventually regained consciousness.
“At first I had no memory at all.” the native of Longwy, a small town on the Belgian border, says.
“I didn’t even know that I was at the North West when I woke up, I just saw all my family there at the bedside.”
Over the past year Petricola has made a complete recovery and, after racing in his first roads event at Scarborough last weekend, he says he can’t wait to get back to Portrush.
“I am ready for it.” he says emphatically.
“I don’t remember why I crashed but I accept it, I am a big boy. When you ride in a road race you know it is possible to have a hard crash like this. It is not a problem.”
He accepts it was a tough time for those closest to him though.
“For me there was a bit of pain, yes, but for my family and friends it was a very hard experience when I was in the coma.”
The amiable Frenchman will make his North West return with the same Ice Valley BMW team that he raced for last season. Like so many road racers who suffer injury, the Frenchman seems determined to put the past behind him and the only way he knows how to do this is to compete again.
“This year I want to have a lot of fun at the North West.” he smiles.
“I would love to be the fastest newcomer but I know my place, my level, because there are very fast riders from England and Ireland there.”
Incredibly, it is the sheer speed of the North West that still attracts Petricola so much.
“When I saw a map of the North West course before I came, I thought it is fast but not really amazing.” he says.
“But on my first lap I thought it was incredible. It was so fast and bumpy, especially the bit in the town, under the railway bridge. I love this track!”
Petricola admits he was nervous when he first threw his leg over a race bike again following the crash. He gave himself the sternest possible test by racing in a 24 hour endurance race at Le Mans. He finished the race and returned to between the hedges action at Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount last weekend.
“There was no fear.” he said after the meeting.
“I am happy now, it is OK.”
North West 200 Event Director, Mervyn Whyte, says he will be delighted to see Franck Petricola back racing at Portrush.
“Franck has made a great recovery and we will welcome him back to the paddock in May.” Whyte says.
“There are always risks in road racing but the North West organisers work tirelessly year after year to try to minimise the dangers and make the race as safe as possible for the competitors.” Whyte says.
“The medical facilities that we have in place at road races in Ireland provide the fastest response times for any motorsport event in the world. Franck owes his life to the men and women who provide that service and we are all very grateful to them for the brilliant work that they do.”