Zanardi drives Nurburgring
The accolades and accomplishments keep coming for Alessandro Zanardi, the two-time CART driving champion, winner of two hand-cycling gold medals (and one silver) at this year’s Paralympics and easily one of the most remarkable sentient beings on Planet Earth.
After conquering a lack of legs with his own-design prosthetics, racing – and winning – in the FIA WTCC, Zanardi put his infinite talents towards hand cycling and managed to decimate yet another field of competitors with his accomplishments this summer at Brands Hatch. Was anyone that knows this “little pineapple” surprised by his achievements? Certainly not. Alessandro can do whatever Alessandro chooses to do.
Now his former WTCC manufacturer partner, BMW Motorsport, has acknowledged Zanardi’s achievements by re-fitting one of its 2012 championship-winning M3 DTM saloons so that the master could celebrate “40 Years of BMW M” at the Nurburgring on 8 November 2012.
Shortly after 2PM, Zanardi left the pit lane at this truly iconic circuit for his first laps in the BMW M3 DTM. It didn’t take long for the 46-year-old Zanardi to put his brain back in race-driver mode, lapping the difficult track quicker and quicker each time around.
After his 32 laps at speed on the Nurburgring, Zanardi expressed his joy “to have been given the opportunity to drive the BMW M3 DTM today. This is a very special day for me and one I will always remember fondly,” he said. “It was a challenge to modify the car to meet my requirements and I am surprised just how quickly the BMW Motorsport engineers managed to complete the necessary modifications.”
Those modifications – not suitable for race conditions – included removing the accelerator and clutch pedals, moving the brake pedal to the right to allow Zanardi use of his right prosthetic leg to slow the BMW M3 DTM. He operated the accelerator with his left hand on the steering wheel and changed gears by pushing and pulling the shift paddle, as normal. The pneumatic-hydraulic clutch was located on the shift panel.
“I still have a passion for racing,” Zanardi confirmed. “However, I’m not sure whether our demonstration drive will be anything more than just that, as the level in the DTM may possibly prove to be too high for someone of my age. As such, my main focus is on something completely different after today’s drive. I felt that the BMW family is still behind me and loves me – they showed that once again today.”
Jens Marquardt, BMW Motorsport director made sure the car was turned out in proper celebratory colors for the occasion. To acknowledge Zanardi’s stellar achievements in the London Paralympics. the car was painted in gold with Zanardi’s hand-cycling image on the hood. The roof of the BMW M3 DTM featured depictions of his three medals. “I am delighted we have taken on this adventure successfully,” Marquardt said. “For years Alessandro has been a valued member of the BMW Motorsport family and is a great role model for us all.
“Despite his handicap, he approaches every challenge with great optimism and passes every test with flying colors. His medals at the Paralympic Games are fine examples of this, as are the four race victories he achieved in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for BMw Motorsport. As we have seen today, the challenge of driving the technically complex BMW M3 DTYM also proved to be no obstacle for him,” Marquardt concluded.
Alessandro Zanardi’s laps in the BMW M3 DTM were simply a part of the three-day celebration marking the 40th anniversary of BMW’s M brand. There were media/driver karting competition, a duel to see who could perform the fastest tire change and media also received driving lessons in a Formula BMW rae car, experienced taxi rides and demonstrations with various BMW race cars.
As customary, there was an evening “M Night” featuring early and current BMW M drivers and management celebrating the fascinating stories of the 40 years of M history. Still, nothing in this program elicited quite the feelings of joy that Zanardi’s laps around the Nurburgring brought to the fore.
And what’s the next hurdle for Alessandro Zanardi to conquer? Jimmy Vasser, former teammate and current co-owner of KV Racing Technology’s IZOD IndyCar Series team did manage to offer his good friend an Indianapolis 500 ride in 2013. Will it happen? Bet INDYCAR would love to make it so.
By Anne Proffit