Despite facing tragic setbacks, dedication, energy and fighting spirit are the words that best describe Alessandro Zanardi. Even after losing his legs in a 2001 racing accident, the 51-year-old motorsports legend never gave up and is still successfully competing in races today. With steadfast determination, he has constantly pushed the boundaries of motorsports. Since 2003, he has also been supported by BMW. Working in close cooperation, the race cars Zanardi drives are developed precisely to meet his needs. This recently enabled Zanardi to reach a new milestone – his first race without prosthetic limbs. The Italian came through with flying colours: At the DTM Weekend in Misano, Italy, Zanardi guest-started in two races – and finished an impressive fifth in the BMW M4 DTM in the second race of the weekend.
Since the tragic accident at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in 2001, the Italian racing driver has driven race cars he controls using a hand-operated accelerator and a prosthetic attached to a special brake pedal. New special equipment in the BMW M4 DTM now allows Zanardi to brake using his hand for the first time. The new brake lever is located next to him on the centre console. Zanardi can also downshift at the same time using a paddle on the brake lever. The clutch has also been modified by BMW technicians: Instead of a hydraulic clutch, Zanardi’s cars use a centrifugal clutch that automatically opens and closes at certain speeds. The new system was originally developed for Zanardi's planned start in a BMW M8 at the 24 Hours of Daytona 2019, but ultimately came to be used at the DTM 2018.
“When I got the chance to race in the Misano DTM, we’d already put in the work and made a lot of progress, so I was pretty confident driving without prosthetics could potentially improve my performance. The physical advantages get bigger from one race to the next,” says Zanardi. The prosthetic legs hamper him during driving since they produce a vacuum effect that does not allow any transpiration. This means the body is unable to cool itself, even when temperatures in the race car’s cockpit become almost unbearable. The new brake technology therefore increases Zanardi’s driving comfort considerably.
Nor were there any safety concerns. On the contrary, the new technology offers many benefits: It is much easier for the racing legend to climb in and out of the cockpit with his hands, without anything hampering his movement. And if the car breaks down and he has to get out quickly, Zanardi has a solution: “It may not look pretty, but I assure you that I can move faster with my arms on grass and gravel than on my artificial legs.”
Zanardi’s outstanding performance in the Misano DTM has shown one thing for certain: No matter how successful he is in future races, Alessandro Zanardi will never lose his unbridled passion and sheer enjoyment of driving. The same applies to his sense of humour. Asked what adventures he still dreams of, he laughs: “A new adventure? I don’t know. Maybe the first man on Mars? Something easy like that, definitely.”
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