CHAMPCAR/CART: Alex Zanardi press conference, part I

Cart Media Teleconference Presented By Worldcom An Interview With Alex Zanardi May 28, 2002 Part 1 of 3: Alex updates his progress. Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART Media ...

Cart Media Teleconference
Presented By Worldcom
An Interview With Alex Zanardi
May 28, 2002

Part 1 of 3: Alex updates his progress.

Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today on this week's CART Media Teleconference. Before we get to today's guest, Alex Zanardi, we'd like to congratulate all of the drivers that competed in the Indy 500 this past weekend. The CART contingent had another good showing highlighted by Paul Tracy's second place finish and we'd like to congratulate all of them on a very good performance this weekend.

Now we get onto today's call. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. It is truly a privilege to welcome in our guest on this week's call. He is a man who has touched so many of us in motor racing, not only by his performances on the track, but for his engaging personality and spirit off the track as well. He joins us today from his home in Monte Carlo where it's getting into the evening. We're happy to be joined today by Alex Zanardi. Thank you for joining us today.

Alex Zanardi: It's a pleasure. Good afternoon to everyone.

Merrill Cain: I am sure all of you are well aware of Alex's background, but let's quickly run through a couple of highlights and then we'll get right to some questions.

Alex came to the CART Series like a breath of fresh air in 1996 after competing on the Formula One circuit. He earned the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award in CART, driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing that same year. And the following season he posted five race victories en route to the CART FedEx Championship Series title.

Alex made it back-to-back Championships in 1998 after recording seven race wins and he broke a lot of hearts when he decided to return to Formula One in 1999. CART was happy to welcome him back to the series last season and he made his Champ Car return competing for Mo Nunn Racing. Alex recorded three top 10 finishes through 15 events in 2001, and he was having his best performance of the season at the American Memorial in Lausitz, Germany on September 15 when he tragically lost both legs in a terrible crash as he was exiting pit lane. Since the accident Alex has shown his fierce competitive drive undergoing rehabilitation after being fitted with prosthetic legs and his story has served as an inspiration for many as he continues on the road to recovery.

Alex, we'll open it up for questions in just a second. First off, I'd like to just throw one out to you. Give us an update how you are doing and what you have been up to in the past few months.

Alex Zanardi: Things are going pretty well. Obviously it's a big change, therefore, you know, you need more time for me to probably to bring out the best of the equipment of the prosthetic legs, but I thought -- I had a lot of dreams when I was sitting in my hospital bed in Berlin. I was very anxious to really step on these prosthetic legs and then when I did it for the first time it was a big disappointment because it was very, very painful. It was really hard just to hold on; to stay up. I had no balance at all. So I got a little, you know, depressed. But then I said only by exercising and only trying harder I will get something out of it, and that's what I did. So I did and right now I am actually surprised to see where I am after such a poor start because that's what I thought it was, you know, very poor start. Instead, this is probably a route which every man that had misfortunes to lose both his legs has to go through.

But obviously, maybe being a race driver, you know, I am never content with the result. I always want something more and therefore, it was a little bit hard at the beginning, but right now, things are going much, much better.

Merrill Cain: Glad to hear it. We're all sure that you are going to make the most of it, with what you have to work with, that's for sure.

Q Are you driving a street car these days with some kind of hand control? If so, how does that work?

Alex Zanardi: Well, yes, the answer is yes, it is a very, very simple system. I've got a lever that comes out under the steering wheel and has something that's linked directly to the brake pedal. At the edge of this lever there is another little knob that I can pull which is the throttle control. It is electronically controlled so it is very soft around and it can be operated with only a finger. Therefore, that's the most simple system which is, you know, what I thought was indicated for me. But there's many, many different kinds.

Q You can pretty much drive a street car like normal before?

Alex Zanardi: Oh, yes. I mean, actually the very next day I came home from Berlin, I was driving my car around, so you know, I didn't need legs to do it but obviously it is much easier now that I have legs to get in and out. I can go straight to the door whereas, before I had to go from the back, you know, I had to basically push myself up on the back of the car, pull the wheelchair in, close the door, and slide myself forward to the driving seat, which was, you know, not inconvenient, but obviously a little long.

Q Is there a scenario where you can see yourself getting back in a race car of some kind in the future?

Alex Zanardi: No, not in some kind because quite frankly, I mean, with all the respect for the people competing in different form of racing, so it is not a question of disrespect, but I've been basically driving all my life and especially in the last few years, the best cars in the world, in terms of a feeling that you can get out of driving a beautiful machine like the one I was driving. So for me to go back and race in some sort of car, right now that's the way I feel. It is not really what I want to do. I'd rather stay with my family. I rather enjoy my boat, you know, do things that obviously if I was busy racing, you know, I could not do. But this does not mean that maybe at the end of the year I will not do something like that if the occasion comes along.

If you ask me, "Alex, would you compete again at the top of motor racing like you were before," Champ Cars, for instance? Well, there's two aspects. One is purely technical, could I do that. And maybe if they would change the rule a little bit because power brakes, for instance, is not allowed in single seated cars. If they would change the rule for me, then, you know, then I could see myself driving with only my hands, and therefore, I could probably do that and probably very well because you have much more sensitivity, I find out, in your hands than you do have in your feet.

Can I do it myself? Well, the desire is still there, but quite frankly, this accident that I had had a change in all my relatives, all my family around me a lot. It didn't change me at all - not one bit. I have the same attitude towards motor racing which is a dangerous activity, but my result was just a result of -- my accident was just a result of fate. So I wouldn't be scared to drive again. I would only be excited to do it again. But I have great resolve behind me, a lot of trophies, is it really worth to jeopardize the quiet of my family, you know, I don't know. It is something that I will find out along the way.

Q Zanardi!

Alex Zanardi: My friend, how are you doing?

Q Good, Alex. Hey, the last time we talked you were thinking we were just talking about some of the things you were looking at to take the place of running everyday and we were talking about rowing and different things. Have you come up with some different ways to keep active and that you enjoy?

Alex Zanardi: Swimming. Now that the good season is coming, I do swim, and I do different activities, you know, besides the sea is big enough for nobody to notice a strange human being without legs going up and down the water. (Laughs) I have to say that it's, you know, whatever you put it, it's pretty embarrassing to go into a swimming pool and take your legs off and jump into the water and especially the kids, they tend to watch you like you were a strange kind of animal. So it's easy for other people to say: What do you care, come on, but it's not that easy for me. So the sea, it's actually much better because I can go down and hunt some fish and, you know, I do walk a lot with my prosthetic legs, and I try to do as much exercise as I can. This is actually really very, very important for me because the more I walk, the more I keep my muscle up to good size and the more consistent it is my, you know, my feel on the prosthetic legs because if you let your muscle go and lose size, then everyday you are to change the molds that you wear, the stump, how you call it, and so, you know, I try to do my part. That's why I say things are going pretty well.

Actually today I was working on my boat and then I came out and I found out that I was coming home for this call, and I realized I had a flat tire. So I tried this new exercise, change my own tire. Which I didn't know I could do it before, but now I do.

Q Morris (Nunn) will be proud of you knowing that you are a mechanic.

Alex Zanardi: Only took me 15 minutes to get the tire out of the back of the car, and do everything.

Q Have you had a chance to talk -- there was really a good article in Sports Illustrated about you. Have you had a chance to talk directly with (CART Director of Medical Affairs) Steve (Olvey) or (CART Chief Orthopedic Consultant) Terry (Trammell)?

Alex Zanardi: Yeah, I do talk to them every once in a while, and obviously the conversation normally is obviously related to how things are with me, with what I am doing. They want to know my progress. I guess they feel like my parents, my second parents because they must know that they saved my life, you know, and really great to them, but also to all the safety group that CART has at their service which is great for the drivers. I think they did a superb job. Certainly I did my part reaching the hospital with only one liter of blood left, but man, I mean, they did a miracle. They did everything right, and that's why I am here talking to you guys.

Q I just have one question, sounds like you have kind of ruled out coming back as a driver, but have you given any thought to possibly pursuing an ownership, maybe owning a team in some series?

Alex Zanardi: No. I don't think so. Owning a team is certainly not my business. (Laughs) I do not have the determination and the self-discipline it takes to do that. I am only good for big effort that doesn't last very long. If I have to get up every morning at the same time, and ask myself what do I have to do and be very consistent in something, I mean, that's not what I am good for. Therefore, you know, as a driver, I think I was sometime good enough to put some good results, and I was very passionate for what I was doing, developing the car, and everything. Owning a team, I wouldn't be successful. If I would, it would only be luck. So (laughs) I don't count on luck to try to succeed.

Q Just wondered are we going to see you any time soon? Do you have any plans to try to get to a race any time in the near future?

Alex Zanardi: Well, you know, you pose the question in the sense that I always change my plan. First I was talking to a friend and I said to him that I was trying to go to Long Beach and for some reason that appeared on the CART web site, and so it created a lot of expectations from people that love me and they still have good feelings for me and they want to see me.

I want to come to a race. I want to come to America. I don't want to wait for the series to come over to Europe because I would miss a lot of the people that are my friends that they would not go there, so the answer is yes. I haven't yet planned.

The other problem is that during my accident my son was here at home for more than one month and he was partly questioning in his mind what happened, and why dad and mommy weren't coming home. Now every time we go away he's very, very scared, we're going to go away for long. Although he's obviously growing and he's understanding things, but he's -- it's kind of inevitable that when you have something like what I had, it put everything upside-down, you know, and so I am trying to reorganize my life and I will certainly cut a space to come to America. Even if it's not easy for me, but I want to come and my wife wants to come too because she's also really grateful to all the people that have been so helpful right after the accident. And there were many - basically everybody in the CART community - so we want to make this trip. I still don't know when, but we want to make one.

-cart-

Alex Zanardi, part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Chip Ganassi , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing