Patrick Dempsey back for second start at Le Mans

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Patrick Dempsey is back at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. That sentence is enough to make the entire French countryside swoon.

The actor’s racing career has really taken off in the last five years since his initial appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2009. He raced a GT2-class Ferrari F430 to a ninth-place finish with co-drivers Joe Foster and Don Kitch Jr., although Kitch took ill due mid-race which left Dempsey and Foster to bring home the car on their own for the last 12-plus hours.

Now, Dempsey’s back with his own team for the first time. The Dempsey Del Piero Racing squad, which competes full time in the American Le Mans Series in a GTC-class Porsche GT3 Cup, has partnered with the German Proton Competition team to run a 2012-spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the GTE Am class at Le Mans.

Dempsey, Foster and Porsche’s lone American factory driver, Patrick Long, will race the No. 77 Porsche.

For Dempsey, having had the experience of driving here once before, he’s better prepared for the entirety of the week this year.

“You really have to pace yourself and be strong mentally because you have to really be careful in how much energy you release,” he said Tuesday in a media teleconference. “So there was something about that moment and that challenge that we wanted to come back and see if we could go to the next step.”

Dempsey and Foster had the opportunity to commit to Porsche after their prior relationship with Mazda ended at the end of 2012. With a documentary being filmed about Dempsey, the driver and Dempsey Del Piero, the team, going to Le Mans, they needed a car for this year’s race. For Dempsey, the opportunity to drive one of the legendary sports car marquees is something he couldn’t pass up.

“My first car was a 1963 356 Porsche Convertible that I still have, so I’ve always had a fond appreciation,” he said. “I just love the brand and what it represents, and now to be able to represent Porsche here at Le Mans in the RSR is such a tremendous honor. It’s forced me to step up my game because what the brand represents and what the car represents, it’s won more races than anybody else here.”

Winning is achievable for the team. Dempsey’s partnered with Italian soccer star Alessandro Del Piero in the team, and in the 14-car GTE Am class, the car is one of only two with a Porsche factory driver on board. The class regulations allow for only one pro driver of three in the car.

Long has two Le Mans class wins, with his presence also helping to spur the team forward.

“I got drafted in pretty late, and jumped in the car, found a good baseline,” Long said. “The team that we have linked up with in partnership is Proton-Felbermayr, and these guys really know what they’re doing.

“Once Patrick  and Joe got in the car and picked up the RSR  really quickly, I started to feel really positive about  our chances, and that was sort of capped off by the test that we just had two weeks ago.”

Neurosurgeon discusses brain injuries such as Michael Schumacher’s

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PARIS (AP) — More than four years after a ski accident caused him a near-fatal brain injury, little is known about Michael Schumacher’s current condition. Updates on his health have been extremely scarce ever since he left hospital in September 2014 to be cared for privately at his Swiss home on the shores of Lake Geneva. Details of his specific condition and the treatment he received have been kept strictly private. The last public statement 16 months ago clarified nothing further would be said.

Colin Shieff is a retired neurosurgeon from Britain’s National Health Service and a trustee of Headway, the national brain injury charity. Although he has never treated Schumacher, or spoken with doctors who’ve treated Schumacher over the years, he has dealt with similar cases both at immediate critical-care level and further down the line in terms of long-term treatment.

Shieff spent many years working with people with brain injuries and trauma, including at NATO field hospitals in Afghanistan an Iraq. He answered questions for The Associated Press related to the nature of Schumacher’s brain injury, pertaining to how his condition may have evolved in the time since his accident.

MORE: As F1 season begins, Michael Schumacher still fighting, far from forgotten

Q. In your opinion, what’s the likely prognosis at this stage?

A. “The nature of his injury and those bits of information that are available, and have been available, suggest that he has sustained permanent and very major damage to his brain. As a consequence his brain does not function in a fashion similar to yours or mine. The longer one goes on after an injury the more remote it is that any improvement becomes. He is almost certainly not going to change from the situation he is now.”

Q. What ongoing treatments would he be having?

A. “He will have the kind of treatment, which is care: giving him nourishment, giving him fluid. The probability is that this is given in the main – or at least as supplements – through some tube passed into his intestinal system, either through his nose or mouth, or more likely a tube in the front wall of the tummy. He will have therapy to sit him, because he won’t be able to get himself out of a bed and into a chair. He will be treated in a way that will ensure his limbs move and don’t remain rigid.”

Q. Would someone in his position receive around-the-clock treatment?

A. “He will be allowed a period of rest and sleep and relaxation, and he will be given an environment. I’m positive as I can be without knowing the facts (that) he will be living in an environment that – although it’s got artificial bits of medical kit and care and people – will mimic a caring, warm, pleasant, socially stimulating environment.”

Q. Would he be able to sense he’s in such an environment?

A. “I don’t know. There is always a technical, medical and neurological issue with defining a coma. Almost certainly he cannot express himself (in a conversation). He may well be able to indicate, or it may be apparent to those around him, that he is uncomfortable or unhappy. Or (he) is perhaps getting pleasure from seeing his children or hearing music he’s always liked, or having his hand stroked.”

Q. Are patients in his situation aware of touch and voice from family members?

A. “Absolutely. Even in the early stages, even in a critical care unit, when medicines are being given, for one individual at one time there may be an ability to discern and show response to someone they are familiar with. Respond to familiar, respond to family you’re triggered to. You hear them all your life so that’s the very, very familiar (aspect) the person is going to respond to.”

Q. Is there a chance he can make A) a full recovery? B) A partial recovery?

A. “First one, absolutely, totally no. Number one statistically, number two neurologically, and number three he’s been ill for so long. He’s lost muscle bulk, even if he opened his eyes and started talking there will have been loss of memory, there will be impact on behavior, on cognitive functions. He would not be the same person. (As for a) partial recovery, even the smallest thing that gets better is some kind of recovery. But (it depends) whether that recovery contributes to a functional improvement for him to be able to express himself – other than an evidence of saying `Yes’ or an evidence of saying `No.’ (Therefore) if he could use words of two syllables, if he could turn on the remote control for the tele. One can do, professionally, all sorts of wonderful things with electronic devices and couple them up to eye and mouth movements. Sometimes with a person in a situation called `Locked In’ or `Profoundly neurologically comprised’ – which is essentially paralysis but with continuing intellectual function – ways can be found to communicate with those people. If that had been so with Michael Schumacher I am positive we would have known that is the case, so I don’t believe it’s so for him.”

Q. This is a deeply personal decision for the family. But how long can treatment last for?

A. “In, for example, our health system we don’t have the luxury to keep maximal intervention going in a high-tech hospital environment. For Michael Schumacher’s family, I suspect they have the financial support to be able to provide those things. Therefore, for him, the future is longer but it doesn’t imply any change in the quality of it.”

Q. Some reports have estimated the cost of treatment at anything up to 200,000 euros ($245,000) per week. Is that realistic?

A. “I would personally think that’s over the top, in terms of what I reckon that might buy him. He’ll have a nurse, a therapist, a visiting doctor. There’ll be an extra pair of hands when something physical is being done, when he’s being moved to somewhere. That doesn’t add up to 150,000 euros or 200,000 euros. He needs essentially, somebody with nursing or therapeutic qualifications with him at all times. So that’s however many people you need to run a 24/7 roster. You’re talking probably eight people to provide that level of care constantly over a year’s period. That’s the number of nurses required for instance, to nurse or to staff, one critical care bed in an intensive care unit.”

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