There are stories out there of perseverance and drive that make you look in the mirror and question yourself for not working that extra hour or running that extra half mile. The story of Alessandro Zanardi is that kind of tale. Zanardi was a former Formula One racer who lost both his legs in an accident, and is now eyeing a return to racing.
Zanardi has raced in many series– F1, Champ Car, Indy Car, karting, Formula 3, Formula 3000. Then on September 15, 2001, he was leading a race at EuroSpeedway Lausitz (Germany), when he suffered a violent crash that resulted in the loss of both legs above the knee. (Below is a photo of Zanardi before the crash. He is standing next to a special edition Acura NSX that bears his name, built by Honda to commemorate his back-to-back Champ Car wins in ’97 and ’98)
Incredibly, Zanardi attempted a return to auto racing in 2003. He quickly designed his own prosthetic legs, dissatisfied with the models available. That same year, he was back racing again, with controls on the steering wheel for acceleration and braking. He went on to race touring cars around the world, including at the track that nearly killed him.
In 2007, Zanardi took up hand-cycling, placing fourth at the NYC Marathon’s Hand Cycle Division. He had trained for only four weeks. He went on to win his division in the 2010 Rome Marathon, earned two gold medals at the London Olympics, and was named one of the “Men of the Year” in 2012 by Top Gear. But Zanardi wants more.
According to the Indy Star, the 47-year old Italian will make a second return to auto racing. He is teaming up with BMW Motorsport to run a modified BMW Z4 GT3 in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series.
“From both a human and a sporting aspect, Alex is a role model to all of us.” Said BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt. “I am sure he will approach this new challenge in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series in the same manner we have become accustomed to from him. You can really sense just how much he has missed competing on four wheels.”
The racing series consists of seven events. Zanardi will compete in six of them. Engineers have once again created specially designed controls for when he takes to the track on April 18, 2014 at Coupes de Pâques in Nogaro, France. It will be another milestone in a life that should be an example to us all.