It’s fair to say that Alessandro Zanardi is a seriously resilient racer. Even without the convenience of legs, Zanardi continues to chase the motorsport life in which he made his name. This weekend he’s testing with the BMW M8 team ahead of a Daytona 24 debut later this month. While he is still working on getting up to speed with a new track and a new car, he’s definitely got the speed and endurance to help BMW’s effort at the biggest North American sports car race.
After video of Zanardi’s driver-change practice hit Twitter, motorsport fans everywhere have been enamored with his ability to do his job. After nearly two decades without lower extremities, Zanardi is probably quite used to it by now. The man is a multiple paralympic gold medal champion, after all.
After a successful open wheel career that saw him start 41 Formula One Grands Prix, and win two back-to-back CART championships in 1997 and 1998. During a CART race in 2001, he lost both legs in a massive crash while leading the race in the closing laps. Within two years he was back racing European touring cars with BMW.
Zanardi largely left motorsport behind to take up international hand-cycle racing, where he won ten gold medals. A test in a BMW DTM car reignited Zanardi’s passion for motor racing, and he’s been sucked back into the game.
BMW has built a steering wheel specifically for Zanardi, which gets swapped out during pit stops, with throttle controls for his hands. While the other drivers in the car will make use of traditional pedals, there is a lever on the center console for Zanardi to use to actuate the car’s braking as well. It’s a trick way to get the man in the car without much change to how the other drivers race. You can see some of that operation in the video below, showing him putting in night laps at Daytona.
I’m looking forward to seeing how he does in the M8 GTE during the race weekend. Considering that Zanardi is partnered with Chaz Mostert, John Edwards, and Jesse Krohn, the team has a good chance of placing well at Daytona. Of course, the rest of the GTLM field, filled with Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, and Ford GT entries, is going to be tough to topple. You can rest assured that Alex Zanardi will never give up.