It truly was a golden moment for Alessandro "Alex" Zanardi in Germany today. The Italian who recently won gold medals as a paracyclist entered the cockpit of a special BMW M3 DTM to turn laps at the Nürburgring. It was fitting that the historic moment was on the historic circuit.
On a beautiful fall day, Zanardi was back on a circuit as a race car driver. At the age of 46, he toured the circuit for 32 laps, and appeared to be “at home” in the BMW cockpit.
I had great fun out on the track.
“I am overjoyed to have been given the opportunity to drive the BMW M3 DTM today,” said Zanardi. “This is a very special day for me, and one I will always remember fondly. I would like to thank everyone at BMW who has helped make this special moment possible for me.”
The opportunity came after the Paralympic Games held in London, England. The handbike racer left there with not one, but two gold medals and one silver one. Despite the loss of his legs in 2001 after scoring two CART championships, the Italian never gave up racing.
“I am delighted we have taken on this adventure successfully with Alessandro Zanardi,” said BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt. “For years he has been a valued member of the BMW Motorsport family and is a great role model for us all. Despite his handicap, he approaches every challenge with great optimism and passes every test with flying colours.”
In order for Zanardi’s demonstrations in the M3 to take place, the engineers and technicians had to remove the accelerator and clutch pedals. They also had to shift the brake pedal to the right so that he could brake using his prosthetic right leg. They also modified the steering wheel so that he could accelerate with his left hand. In order to change gears, they had a shift paddle that he was able to push and pull due to the pneumatic-hydraulic clutch.
Zanardi was present at the DTM season finale in Hockenheim where he thrilled the crowd by touring the track on his handbike with his medals around his neck. That was the same weekend that BMW and their Canadian driver, Bruno Spengler, won the 2012 championship in their return to the German series.