Amputee Zanardi eyes DTM future
BACK IN THE SADDLE: Alex Zanardi is helped into the M3 racer ahead of his celebratory spin in the BMW DTM car. The former F1 driver is hopeful he'll be able to secure a race seat with the team.
Author: MAXIMILIAN HAUPT
NURBURG, Germany - Alessandro Zanardi is the toast of the Nurburgring after his 32 laps in a BMW Touring Car.
There are hands to shake, lots of shoulder-patting to endure, but Zanardi never loses his composure and has a smile and a word for every fan and journalist.
The 46-year-old former Formula 1 driver and Paralympic gold medallist is simply happy that the day has possibly brought him another step closer to racing again.
Zanardi lost both legs in a race at the Lausitzring in Germany in 2001 but was back to compete in Touring Car races for BMW from 2004 to 2009. Now he is making an attempt to get into their team for the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) series.
Zanardi received a three-hour drive in the golden racing car as a gift from BMW in recognition of his two gold and one
silver medal in hand-cycling at the 2012 London Paralympics.
He said of the session: "If they (BMW) become curious enough to say 'why not, give this guy another opportunity?' then I will be available."
The Bavarian automaker noticed that the Italian improved his time in every lap but he readily admits that it was a strenuous affair with the specially prepared car whose accelerator was a lever on the steering wheel.
"I had cramp at the end because I was squeezing that pedal. but I didn't get any extra power," he said with a chuckle.
AWARE OF PROBLEMS
BMW was willing in principle to add him to its line-up for DTM but motorsport director Jens Marquardt said it was not yet fully clear if the scheme would work out. "It's not only a matter of wanting it, but a matter of technology. There must be a solution to make Alex competitive."
Zanaradi is aware of the problems and is certainly not making any demands. "Even if nothing more happens, I am a happy man. I can come and join them to cheer. They don't need a name like me to get more attention in BMW because technically they could not have done a better job.
"I have too much respect for the drivers to believe it will be easy. I am sure to reach their times within a half-second but that half-second is the difference between winning and inhaling their fuel. I'm not interested in that."
After all, Zanardi still has his hand-cycling career which he originally planned to end after his Paralympic medals - time trial and road race gold, team silver - on the Brands Hatch racing track.
EYE ON THE PRIZE
Zanardi said he would give skiing - cross-country rather than alpine - a try and does not completely rule out competing at the Sochi Winter Paralympics in 2014. But far more in his mind are the next Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016.
"It is not a dream, it is already a goal," he said. "I have to qualify. I have to perform well. But I am quite optimistic. I think that physically I will not be better then. My coach believes I may lose a little bit in performance but there is a lot to gain in terms of improving training, the technique, developing even further my seating position on the cycle.
"A horizon like this is what really matters for me."
Zanardi sees cycling as an addition to motorsport rather than an alternative.
"I want to compete at the World championships. They are in September. I have already checked, there is no DTM race on that weekend," he said.