LAUSITZ, Germany (May 11, 2003) -- Emotions ran high this afternoon in CART's return to EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany as 1997-98 series champion Alex Zanardi ( ...
LAUSITZ, Germany (May 11, 2003) -- Emotions ran high this afternoon in CART's return to EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany as 1997-98 series champion Alex Zanardi (#66 Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) completed the final 13 laps of the 2001 German 500, where he was involved in an incident that resulted in the loss of his lower legs.
Zanardi, wearing a pair of special prosthetic legs, drove a modified 2002 Reynard Ford-Cosworth fitted with a hand controlled accelerator, special clutch and shifter assembly and a purpose-built boxed pedal assembly that allowed him to apply the brakes by shifting his hip and thigh. He ran the 13 laps at full-racing speed around the 2.023-mile state-of-the-art EuroSpeedway with a top lap of 38.487 seconds (194.275 mph), playing to an audience of 68,000 race fans who chanted "Zanardi, Zanardi" over and over again and did The Wave each time Zanardi sped past. Zanardi's wife Daniela and close friend and fellow CART champion Jimmy Vasser and the entire racing community all paused to view the action with Vasser waving the checkered flag to complete the memorable run. Officially timed by CART Champ Car Timing & Scoring, Zanardi's special run will be submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records as an official closed course record performance for a disabled athlete.
Zanardi originally presented the idea to complete his 2001 race to CART President & CEO Christopher R. Pook while serving as Grand Marshal of the 2002 Molson Indy Toronto. With technical support from CART Racing Operations, Zanardi's Reynard was built by Mi-Jack Conquest Racing with assistance from Walker Racing.
Zanardi also served as Grand Marshal for the German 500, Round 5 of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, and slightly altered the most famous words in racing to fit the circumstances of his triumphant return when he said, "Friends, Start Your Engines." Zanardi's 13-lap run went off about a half hour before the German 500 started, a race that was won by Rookie Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais (Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
The event was also run as a charity fund raiser, as the Italian took the track in a driver suit reminiscent of his 2001 Pioneer Electronics uniform. Both Pioneer and CART made charitable donations to the Alex Zanardi Foundation.