Alex Zanardi won two CART championship titles in North America during the late 1990s, as well as having a less successful career as a Formula One driver. He survived a horrific accident at the Lausitzring in a CART race in 2001 that resulted in the amputation of both of his legs.Zanardi returned to motor racing less than two years after the accident, competing in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for BMW Team Italy-Spain between 2003 and 2009. In 2005 the series became the World Touring Car Championship when it added two non-European races to the schedule. Zanardi won his first World Series race since his accident at Lausitzring, on August 24, 2005. He took further wins at Istanbul in 2006 and Brno in 2008 and 2009. At the end of the 2009 season he announced his retirement from the WTCC.
Switching sports, Zanardi took up competition in handbiking, a form of paralympic cycling. Zanardi won his first senior international handbiking medal, the silver medal in the H4 (Handbike) category time trial at the UCI World Road Para-Cycling Championships. In September 2011 Zanardi represents Italy at the 2012 Summer Paralympics.
On his return in 2003, Zanardi drove with the aid of hand-operated brake and accelerator controls. He completed the final thirteen laps at the race track which had nearly killed him in 2001, and did so at highly competitive speeds approaching 310 km/h (193 mph). In fact, had he been qualifying for the race that weekend, he would have been fifth on the grid.
In the Beginning
Alex Zanardi was born in Bologna, Italy. Zanardi began racing karts at the age of 13. His breakthrough year in karting came in 1985 when he won the Italian 100cc Avenir championship, the Coppa dei Campionl and the Hong Kong and International Grands Prix. Zanardi progressed into Italian Formula 3 in 1988. By 1990 the results were coming in – 2nd in the Italian F3 Championship, Zanardi also competed in the Monaco F3 Grand Prix, taking pole position in an RC Motorsport Dallara F390 Alfa Romeo, with which he also won the European F3 Cup and got 7th place in the Macau F3 Grand Prix. 2nd overall in the International F3000 Championship in 1991, was followed by a test in a Footwork Ford at Paul Ricard and then a drive for Eddie Jordan’s eponymous racing team, driving the Jordan 191 Ford HB V8. It was an encouraging debut year with 2 ninth places at the Spanish GP at Circuit Catalunya and the Australian GP in Adelaide, only marred by a retirement in the Japanese GP.
In 1992 Zanardi became the official test driver for the Benetton Ford team. He also had 3 entries in a Minardi M192 Lamborghini V12, but only qualified for one race, the German GP, from which he retired. He did not qualify for either the British or Hungarian GP’s.
A drive with Team Lotus driving a Lotus 107B in 1993, brought a best result of 6th at Interlagos in the Brazilian GP, but it was a dismal season with only 5 finishes out of 12 races, all retirements except 1 DNS (Did Not Start). 1994 was hardly any better with just 5 finishes from 10 starts and a best position of only 9th, this driving the now Mugen Honda V10 powered Lotus 107C and the 109.
From 1996 to 1998 Zanardi raced in the open wheeled CART series in America. He was instantly successful, coming 3rd in his first season and winning the Championship in both 1997 and 1998, his best season when he won 7 out of 19 races driving for the Chip Ganassi Team.
Back to the Formula
1999 saw Zanardi return to Formula 1 when he drove for the Williams Team (Winfield Williams) in the Supertec V10 powered FW21. The team managed three podiums, all scored by Ralf Schumacher. Zanardi had a season beset by reliability issues and the odd error here and there but In Belgium, Zanardi showed well starting from 8th and at the start he overtook Rubens Barrichello and Damon Hill into La Source. Zanardi ran as high as 4th before pitting and eventually finishing 8th. At Monza, Zanardi stunned the Formula One world by qualifying 4th ahead of team-mate Ralf Schumacher. He managed to overtake David Coulthard and Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the start, although Frentzen took over 2nd from Zanardi at the Roggia chicane. On the third lap with the floor on his Williams becoming loose Zanardi was forced to wave his rivals past but managed to finish 7th. The rest of the season was littered with accidents, incidents and failures, at the end of the season, Zanardi and the Williams team decided to go their separate ways with an estimated cost of $4 million for the termination of Zanardi’s contract.
Back in the CART
In 2000 Zanardi was not signed for a team, but was interested in a CART comeback. He tested for Mo Nunn and opted to sign to the team for 2001; however he was not successful for the most part. In his most competitive race of 2001, he suffered a violent accident at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz on September 15. Zanardi started from the back of the grid and was gaining ground on his rivals. The crash occurred while Zanardi was leading the race in the closing laps. After a late pit stop, Zanardi was attempting to merge back onto the track when he accelerated abruptly and spun into the path of Patrick Carpentier. Carpentier was able to avoid him, but Alex Tagliani, who was just behind Carpentier at the time, could not and Zanardi’s car was impacted from the side, behind the front wheel, severing the nose of the car. The crash had taken off Zanardi’s lower legs – his right at the knee and his left at the thigh, four to five inches above the knee in the impact and Zanardi lost nearly three-quarters of his blood volume, though rapid medical intervention saved his life. Further portions of his legs were amputated during three hours of surgery to clean and facilitate closing the wounds. This was the end of his open-wheel racing career.
Zanardi was fitted with two prosthetic limbs and began an ambitious rehabilitation program. Dissatisfied with the limitations of legs available commercially, Zanardi designed and built his own bespoke legs, to allow him to compare the weight and stiffness of various feet in order to find the most suitable for racing. In 2002, CART honoured Zanardi by giving him the privilege of waving the chequered flag in Toronto, Canada. By 2003, Zanardi was not only back behind the wheel, he was also racing again, with the aid of hand-operated brake and accelerator controls. He completed the final thirteen laps at the race track which had nearly killed him in 2001, at highly competitive speeds approaching 310 km/h (193 mph). Had he been qualifying for the race that weekend, he would have qualified fifth. It was a fitting testament to his recovery and persuaded him that a race return was something to pursue.
Return to Racing
In 2003 Zanardi competed at Monza, Italy, in his first race since the accident in a touring car modified to allow the use of his prosthetic feet, finishing seventh. A return to full time racing in 2004 with Roberto Ravaglia’s BMW Team, in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, did not see Zanardi score many points, but in 2005 matters improved, as the series became the World Touring Car Championship by adding two non-European races. On August 24, 2005, Zanardi won his first World Series race since his accident at the Lausitzring. He took further wins at Istanbul in 2006 and Brno in 2008 and 2009. At the end of the 2009 season he announced his retirement from the WTCC.
Zanardi returned to a Formula One car in late November 2006 at a testing session in a Sauber in Valencia, Spain. The car had been specially adapted to have hand controls fitted on the steering wheel. After the drive Zanardi told the main problem he was having was using only his right hand to steer through corners, as his left operated the throttle. Zanardi was quoted as saying, “Of course, I know that I won’t get a contract with the Formula One team, however having the chance to drive an F1 racer again is just incredible.”
Since 2004, he has been manufacturing his own range of kart chassis, called the Zanardi in which Martin Plowman has won the Asia-Pacific Championship for Zanardi – just three months after the formation of the company.
In 2007 he achieved 4th place in the New York City Marathon in the handcycle division, after only four weeks of training. He has since taken up handcycling in earnest, and In 2009 Zanardi competed at the Para-Cycling Road World Championships and won the Venice Marathon in the category for the disabled, riding his wheelchair in one hour, thirteen minutes, 56 seconds, and won the Rome City Marathon in 2010, in a time of one hour, fifteen minutes, 53 seconds. Alex Zanardi represented Italy in the 2012 Summer Paralympics, winning gold in the H1 – H4 handbike category at Brands Hatch riding a lightweight carbon fibre racing bike, which he helped design.
Alex Zanardi truly is a great hero and a fine sportsman, an inspiration to all of us. Alex Zanardi, we at PetrolHeaven salute you