Get to know Alex Zanardi
With his zest for life and his indefatigable ambition, Alessandro Zanardi is an inspiration for many. His serious crash in 2001 was not the end of the career, but the start of a new, successful stage in his life. Victories in the World Touring Car Championship and four handbike gold medals at the Paralympics: Zanardi is no stranger to making sporting history.
Alessandro Zanardi is a phenomenon. Just when one believes the Italian has achieved the maximum in a given discipline, he simply seeks another challenge – and promptly masters it with his unique level of enthusiasm. Since losing both legs in an accident on the Eurospeedway Lausitz in 2001, Zanardi has given new hope to many who have met the same fate. “I am out to prove that there are no obstacles for the disabled,” the two-time ChampCar champion and former Formula One driver says succinctly.
Examples of his irrepressible spirit abound. Very few foresaw a comeback to motorsport after his accident. However, drawing on cast-iron determination and his enormous will to live, the Italian fought his way back. In 2003 he impressed the sport greatly by entering the final event of the European Touring Car Championship at Monza in a specially adapted BMW 320i.
These races in front of his home crowd whetted his appetite for more, and in 2004 Zanardi contested the entire ETCC season, going on to represent BMW Team Italy-Spain –in the World Touring Car Championship from 2005 to 2009. Merely competing, though, was simply not enough for the racer from Bologna. He targeted victories. And so it transpired: On 28th August 2005, Zanardi sensationally became the first disabled person to win a world championship motor race at Oschersleben. He followed this success with another victory in Istanbul a year later. One year later in 2009, Zanardi clinched his fourth race win in the World Touring Car Championship, again in Brno.
F1 Team garage at Valencia’s “Circuit de la Comunitat” on 25th November 2006, those fans and media present immediately realised they had witnessed history in the making: Zanardi had become the first amputee to drive an F1 car as he rolled off the first laps in a BMW Sauber F1 Team Formula One car. It was no surprise, either, that Zanardi’s lap times continuously fell as he increasingly badgered his engineers for information.
His immense ambition makes Zanardi a genuine anomaly – and his story transcends beyond the world of motor racing. He has also achieved star status in his second career of para-cycling, and is one of the best and most successful athletes in the world. Zanardi’s greatest achievement so far came at the 2012 Paralympics in London, where he won two gold medals and one silver to emphatically make his mark on the handbike competitions..
Zanardi will be back in the cockpit on a regular basis in 2014. He will race in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series, and has lost none of his desire. “No racing driver lines up with the goal of finishing last,” he said. “I obviously want to be up there with the front-runners, and maybe even challenge for victories. But that is not the be all and end all for me. It is more important to go about a new challenge with enthusiasm. And that is definitely the case here for me.”
In 2016 Zanardi confirmed his star status at Paralympics in Rio winning again two gold medals and one silver in handbike competitions.