Alex Zanardi (Racing Driver) – Biography Points

Alex Zanardi (Alessandro Alex Zanardi)

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Alex Zanardi (Racing Driver)

Alessandro “Alex” Zanardi (born 23 October 1966) is an Italian professional racing driver and paracyclist. He clinched the CART championship titles in 1997 and 1998, securing 15 wins in the series. Zanardi also competed in Formula One from 1991 to 1994 and returned in 1999, achieving his best result with a sixth-place finish at the 1993 Brazilian Grand Prix. In 2001, he made a comeback to CART, but a severe crash during the American Memorial race led to the amputation of his legs. Remarkably, he returned to racing less than two years later, participating in the European Touring Car Championship (2003-2004) and the World Touring Car Championship (2005-2009), where he claimed four victories.

Beyond car racing, Zanardi pursued handcycling, a form of paralympic cycling, aiming to represent Italy at the 2012 Summer Paralympics. In September 2011, he won his first senior international handcycling medal, securing silver in the H4 category time trial at the UCI World Road Para-Cycling Championships. At the London 2012 Paralympics, Zanardi won gold in the individual H4 time trial and the H4 road race, and a silver in the mixed H1-4 team relay. He continued his success at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, earning a gold and a silver medal.

On 19 June 2020, Zanardi was involved in a severe road accident during the Obiettivo tricolore handcycling race near Siena. He underwent three hours of neurosurgery and maxillofacial surgery before being placed in a medically induced coma.

Bologna, Italy

Alessandro Zanardi
23 October 1966
Date of Birth23 October 1966
Birth PlaceBologna, Italy
NationalityItalian
Debut Season 2005
World Touring Car Championship
TeamsBMW Team Italy-Spain
Car number9
Starts105
Wins4
Poles1
Fastest laps4
Best finish10th in 2005
Championship Titles
2005Italian Superturismo
1997–98CART FedEx Championship Series
1990European F3 Cup

Early Life

Alex Zanardi was born in Bologna, Italy, to Dino and Anna Zanardi on 23 October 1966. At the age of four, his family moved to Castel Maggiore. Tragically, his sister Cristina, a promising swimmer, died in a car accident in 1979.

Zanardi’s racing career began at age 13 with homemade karts built from dustbin wheels and pipes from his father’s work. In 1988, he joined the Italian Formula 3 series, achieving a highest finish of fifth place. In 1989, despite his team’s switch to unleaded fuel which reduced engine power, he secured two pole positions and three podium finishes. Moving up to Formula 3000 in 1991 with the Il Barone Rampante team, Zanardi won his debut race, added two more victories, and finished second in the championship.

Motor Racing Career of Alex Zanardi

Formula One (1991–1994)

Alex Zanardi began his Formula One career after testing for the Footwork team and having a strong season in F3000. Eddie Jordan brought him into the team to replace Roberto Moreno for the last three races of the 1991 season, where Zanardi finished ninth in two of those races. In 1992, he had guest drives for Minardi, replacing the injured Christian Fittipaldi. After testing for Benetton during the off-season, Zanardi joined Lotus for 1993.

In 1993, Zanardi compared reasonably to teammate Johnny Herbert and played a crucial role in fine-tuning the team’s active suspension system. He scored his only F1 point at the Brazilian Grand Prix. However, his season was disrupted by an injury caused by an elderly motorist who collided with his bicycle, running over his left foot. Zanardi’s season ended prematurely after sustaining a concussion in a crash during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix.

Zanardi missed the start of the 1994 season while recovering but returned to replace Pedro Lamy at the Spanish Grand Prix. Unfortunately, Lotus struggled in its final F1 season, and Zanardi failed to score any points or qualify higher than 13th. He was eventually replaced by Philippe Adams for the races in Belgium and Portugal.

With Lotus defunct, Zanardi shifted focus to sports car racing. His debut was at a Porsche Supercup event at Imola, and he later competed in a four-hour race at Donington Park, where he and his co-driver retired with eight minutes remaining despite leading by a lap. They managed to finish fourth at a rainy Silverstone event.

CART Championship Series

In 1995, Zanardi moved to the United States to compete in the CART Series. Despite initial challenges in securing a race seat, Reynard Commercial Director Rick Gorne helped him get a test drive with Chip Ganassi Racing, leading to a contract signed on his birthday, 23 October 1995. Zanardi quickly became a fan favorite, securing three race wins and six pole positions in his rookie season, finishing third in the championship and being named Rookie of the Year.

One of his memorable victories came at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 1996, where he executed a daring overtake at the Corkscrew corner, a maneuver famously known as “The Pass.” In 1997, Zanardi won five of seventeen races, claiming the Drivers’ Championship. He continued his dominance in 1998, winning seven out of nineteen races and securing fifteen podium finishes, leading to his second consecutive CART title.

Return to Formula One

Zanardi’s success in CART caught the attention of Sir Frank Williams, leading to a three-year contract with Williams in 1998. Despite a promising start in testing, Zanardi struggled with reliability issues and limited track time in 1999. His best performance was at the Italian Grand Prix, where he qualified fourth and finished seventh. However, his season was marred by mechanical failures and other challenges, leading to an early termination of his contract at the end of the season.

Zanardi driving for Lotus at the 1994 British Grand Prix.
Zanardi driving for Lotus at the 1994 British Grand Prix.

CART Return and Lausitzring Crash

In 2000, Zanardi tested for Mo Nunn and signed with the team for the 2001 season. Despite a challenging season, he had three top-ten finishes, with his best result being fourth place at the 2001 Molson Indy Toronto. On 15 September 2001, during the American Memorial at EuroSpeedway Lausitz, Zanardi was involved in a severe crash. After a late pit stop, he lost control of his car while attempting to merge back onto the track and collided with Alex Tagliani. The impact resulted in the amputation of both his legs, but rapid medical intervention saved his life.

Zanardi’s incredible resilience and determination have made him an inspirational figure in motorsport and beyond. His ability to overcome adversity and continue competing at a high level is a testament to his remarkable spirit.

Post-Amputation Racing Career of Alex Zanardi

After losing both legs in a severe crash at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in 2001, Alex Zanardi was fitted with prosthetic limbs and began his rehabilitation. Unsatisfied with the limitations of commercially available prosthetics, Zanardi designed and built his own custom legs to suit his needs for racing. In 2002, CART honored him by allowing him to wave the checkered flag at the Toronto race.

By 2003, Zanardi was ready to return to the track with hand-operated brake and accelerator controls. He ceremonially drove the thirteen laps he never completed at the Lausitzring before the 2003 German 500, setting a lap time that would have qualified him fifth in the actual race.

Cockpit and Steering Wheel View of Red Ferrari Racing Sports Car
Cockpit and Steering Wheel View of Red Ferrari Racing Sports Car

Touring Car Racing

Zanardi competed in the 2003 European Touring Car Championship at Monza, finishing seventh in his first race since the accident. In 2004, he joined Roberto Ravaglia’s BMW Team Italy-Spain in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, which became the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in 2005. Zanardi won his first WTCC race in 2005 and celebrated with his signature “donuts.” He achieved additional victories in Istanbul (2006) and Brno (2008, 2009) before retiring from the WTCC at the end of the 2009 season. He also won the 2005 Italian Superturismo Championship, driving a BMW 320si for Team BMW Italy.

Formula One Test Drive

In November 2006, Zanardi tested a BMW Sauber Formula One car in Valencia, Spain. The car was specially adapted with hand controls. Zanardi found it challenging to steer with one hand while operating the throttle with the other but described the experience as incredible, despite not expecting to secure a Formula One contract.

Karting and Further Racing Ventures

Since 2004, CRG has produced and sold a range of kart chassis bearing Zanardi’s name. These karts have competed successfully in various championships, with Dutch driver Nyck de Vries winning the CIK-FIA Karting World Championship in 2010 and 2011 using Zanardi karts.

In November 2012, Zanardi tested a BMW DTM touring car, which rekindled his interest in motor racing. In 2014, he joined the Blancpain Sprint Series, racing a BMW Z4 GT3 for ROAL Motorsport. In 2018, Zanardi made a one-off appearance in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) at Misano, finishing fifth in mixed weather conditions in the second race.

24 Hours of Daytona

Zanardi returned to American motor racing by competing in the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona. Driving a BMW M8 GTE with specially adapted controls, Zanardi’s team finished 32nd overall and ninth in the GTLM category.

Zanardi Edition NSX

To commemorate Zanardi’s back-to-back CART championship wins in 1997 and 1998, Acura introduced the Alex Zanardi Edition NSX in 1999 for the U.S. market. This limited edition featured revised suspension, a fixed roof, lightweight BBS wheels, single-pane rear glass, a lightweight rear spoiler, manual steering, and a lighter battery, making it 149 pounds lighter than the targa top version. Only 51 units were produced, all painted in New Formula Red, reflecting the color of Zanardi’s Chip Ganassi Racing car.

Handcycling and Triathlon Achievements of Alex Zanardi

Following the injuries from his 2001 racing accident, Alex Zanardi embraced handcycling. Just four weeks after starting training, he placed 4th in the 2007 New York City Marathon’s handcycle division. Zanardi’s dedication to the sport grew, and he competed in the Para-Cycling Road World Championships in 2009, aiming to join the Italian team for the 2012 Summer Paralympics. He won the Venice Marathon for disabled athletes in 2009 and the Rome City Marathon in 2010. In 2011, Zanardi secured victory in his handcycling class at the New York City Marathon.

CART Return and Lausitzring Crash
CART Return and Lausitzring Crash

Paralympic Success

At the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Zanardi won gold in the men’s road time trial H4 and the individual H4 road race, and silver in the mixed team relay H1-4. His performance earned him a spot in “The Men of the Year 2012” by Top Gear and the title of best male athlete of the 2012 Paralympics.

Continued Athletic Pursuits

In 2013, Zanardi considered returning to auto racing for the Indianapolis 500, though it did not materialize. He completed the 2014 Ironman World Championship in 9:47’14, ranking 272nd overall and 19th in his age category, using a handbike for cycling and a wheelchair for running. In 2015, Zanardi participated in the Berlin Marathon with a recumbent hand cycle. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, he won gold in the H5 category road cycling men’s time trial and mixed team relay, and silver in the road race. In 2018, Zanardi set a new Ironman world record for disabled athletes in Cervia, Italy, with a time of 8:26’6, finishing fifth overall.

2020 Cycling Accident

On June 19, 2020, Zanardi was severely injured in a crash during the Obiettivo tricolore Italian national road race for paralympic athletes. While descending a hill, he lost control of his handbike and collided with an oncoming truck, suffering severe facial and cranial trauma. He was airlifted to Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena and treated in intensive care. By September 2020, Zanardi showed signs of interaction but remained in serious condition, undergoing several facial reconstructive surgeries. He was later transferred to a hospital in Padua in November 2020, closer to his home for continued recovery. By December 2020, Zanardi had regained sight, hearing, and could respond non-verbally. In January 2021, he began speaking again following a waking surgery. By December 2021, 18 months after the accident, Zanardi returned home to continue his rehabilitation.

Awards and Recognition

Zanardi has received numerous awards throughout his career:

  • Autosport Gregor Grant Award (1998 and 2003)
  • Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year (2005)
  • Gazzetta Legend Award (2015)
  • Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (2013)
  • Inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame (2022)

Personal Life

Alex Zanardi has been married to Daniela Manni since 1996, and they have a son named Niccolò, born on September 7, 1998. Zanardi has co-authored two books about his life: Alex Zanardi: My Story and Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory in 2004. His inspiring journey has also been featured on HBO’s sports series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Additionally, Zanardi contributed the opening chapters to Steve Olvey’s book, Rapid Response: My Inside Story as a Motor Racing Life Saver.

In July 2022, Zanardi faced another significant health challenge when a fire broke out at his home in Italy. The fire, caused by a defect in the solar panels, damaged the medical equipment Zanardi was using to recover from his hand-cycling crash. He was hospitalized but returned home 76 days later, in September 2022.

Statistics

International Formula 3000 Results of Alex Zanardi

Year Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 DC Points
1990 Il Barone Rampante SIL PAU VAL JER MNZ PER HOC SPA BRC LEV NUR 2nd 25
1991 Il Barone Rampante SIL PAU VAL JER MNZ PER HOC SPA BRC LEV NUR 2nd 25

Complete Formula One Results of Alex Zanardi

YearTeamCarNo.GPWPPodFLPtsPos
1991Jordan1913230000030
1992MinardiM1922370000027
1993Lotus107B11150000019
1994Lotus10912100000020
1999WilliamsFW215160000021

International Race of Champions

Year Season 1 2 3 4 Points Position
1997 XXI DAY TAL MCH IND 23 6th

Complete Blancpain Sprint Series Results

Year Team Car 1 2 3 4 5 6 DC Points
2014 ROAL Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3 NUR BRN SIL BUD POR ZAN 17th 27

Complete Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Results

Year Team Car 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 DC Points
2018 BMW Team RMG BMW M4 DTM HOC LSE MSC NUR MIS ZAN NUR OSC HAN BRH 20th 6

Complete WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Results

YearTeamCarClass24H DAYSEB6H WGLLIMGLNMOSROALAGPETDCPoints
2019BMW Team RLLBMW M8 GTEGTLM9thN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A32nd9

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