DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Alex Zanardi has achieved a lot during his storied racing career, but in a few weeks he’ll add to his legacy by competing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Zanardi is, of course, no ordinary racer. The two-time champion of the former CART series lost both of his legs in a crash at EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany in 2001. That might have stopped most racers, but for Zanardi it has simply been another challenge to overcome.
Since losing both of his legs he’s competed multiple times in the Paralympic Games, winning give gold medals and two silver medals in various handcycling divisions. The Italian also returned to racing, competing in the World Touring Car Championship for several seasons, scoring four victories between 2005 and ’09.
A year ago that Zanardi, now 52, announced he would be getting back behind the wheel of a race car again to compete in the Rolex 24 as part of a program with BMW. Last weekend during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 Zanardi got his first chance to turn laps at Daytona as part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s BMW factory program.
Zanardi will be paired with John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Chaz Mostert during the 24-hour classic and he got the chance to work with each of them during the test to prepare for the endurance event. The BMW M8 GTE the foursome will share is equipped with a special brake lever that enables Zanardi to brake by hand.
Zanardi recently sat down for a interview to discuss the significance of the Rolex 24, the reception of the American fans, his impressions of his preparations for the Rolex 24 on Jan. 26-27 and the challenges in the actual race.
Question: Daytona is not just a race, it is one of the most important 24-hour races in the world. What do you think about Daytona?
Zanardi: “Daytona is a race that, when I was racing in the United States, many of my colleagues and rivals were engaged in as its dates never clashed with any of the Indycar championship races because it is very early in the season. I never had the opportunity for some reason to have a taste of it myself but hearing my colleagues talking about the event, how great it is, their excitement, what they had to say about it, got me very curious about it and it was a really long, long time ago when I said: down the road, sooner or later, I want to be at Daytona. So to finally have the opportunity to go there, not only just to be part of it but to go there with a very competitive machine, to represent BMW to the best of my ability as a driver and as a brand ambassador, it’s fantastic. Now I can’t wait to finally start the 24-hour race weekend.”
Q: Last weekend, you and BMW Team RLL completed the dress rehearsal for the 24-hour race, the Roar. Are you well prepared?
Zanardi: “You’re never prepared enough. You never feel totally prepared, even when the race is about to start and you are starting from pole position. The ‘Roar’ was a very important test but you don’t know how people are going to come back for the race where they really show the full potential of their cars. But that is the name of the game. You just try to do the best you can, analyse all the information you have collected and we feel pretty confident that we have done a good job.”