Updated at: 01/28/2013 5:37 AM
By MARK LONG
(AP) DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Forgive Anthony Davidson for being a little rusty behind the wheel.
It was just seven months ago that Davidson broke two vertebrae in his lower back in a horrific crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Englishman spent four days in a French hospital, six weeks in a full-body cast, another two weeks in a soft shell and then months recovering and rehabbing.
He made his return in the Rolex 24 at Daytona _ and things went better than he anticipated.
Davidson drove five mostly trouble-free stints in the twice-around-the-clock endurance race. His 8Star Motorsports team finished well behind race winner Scott Pruett _ 34th overall and 10th in the Daytona Prototype class.
For Davidson, though, being back in the car overshadowed being in the back of the field.
"I imagine anyone who didn’t do their job for seven months would struggle initially to be quite as sharp as you once were," Davidson said Sunday. "I can feel every time in the car I’m becoming my old self again."
Davidson was running third at Le Mans last June when he was bumped by Piergiuseppe Perazzini in a Ferrari. Davidson’s Toyota went airborne before crashing to the pavement and then slamming into a tire barrier.
Davidson was rushed to the hospital, where tests revealed he broke the T-11 and T-12 vertebrae in his back, along with other damage.
Davidson never questioned whether he would race again, but the road to recovery was far from easy. After being immobilized for days, he lost balance and dealt with dizziness.
Physical therapists pushed him through rehab, even prompting him to test his back in a go-kart three months after the crash. That gave Davidson some confidence, but he knew the real test would be turning laps around the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.
He signed with 8Star last month and got behind the wheel for a test a few weeks ago.
"That was a big moment," he said. "I had done a bit in go-karting, but that’s not the same. The first time on the banking and you’re with other cars wheel to wheel. It brought back a bunch of memories from the (Le Mans) moment."
Seeing Ferraris at Daytona brought back even more uneasy feelings.
"It’s funny. I give them a wide berth now when I’m out there," Davidson said.
The Daytona course is filled with tight turns and bumpy patches, so Davidson wondered how his back would react, especially in the long, grueling stints that come in an endurance race.
"I was pretty confident it wasn’t going to hurt," Davidson said. "But I guess, in the back of your mind, I was thinking, `Am I going to feel any effects from that?’ But I haven’t. It’s been perfect in the car, absolutely perfect. It feels as good as new. I can still make it hurt outside the car if I twist too much or lift up heavy things. But seven months in, I think that’s quite normal."
He still feels a "dull ache" after exercising and driving, but it’s becoming less noticeable every day.
He has plans to race at Le Mans again this summer, but he’s unsure about his future outside duties as a commentator with Sky Sports.
Nonetheless, he believes he learned something from the unfortunate crash.
"You’ve just got to expect the unexpected sometimes in traffic," he said. "You might lose a little bit on it, but ultimately you’ll be there at the end. To finish first, first you have to finish."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)