Toronto, Ont. (July 5, 2002) - You would never know that former CART driver and two-time driver's champion Alex Zanardi lost both of his legs in a race in Germany less than a year ago. Zanardi, in attendance at the 17th Annual Molson Indy at ...
Toronto, Ont. (July 5, 2002) - You would never know that former CART driver and two-time driver's champion Alex Zanardi lost both of his legs in a race in Germany less than a year ago. Zanardi, in attendance at the 17th Annual Molson Indy at Exhibition Place in Toronto, was in high spirits, very motivational and often comical at a noon press conference today.
On September 15, 2001, Alex Tagliani crashed into Zanardi's car at 200 mph during a CART race in Germany after Zanardi lost control pulling out of pit road. Zanardi had to have both legs amputated above the knee. Walking into the interview under his own power, with crutches, he talked about the accident and his rehabilitation, family life, new priorities and his future.
The speed of his rehabilitation reflects the competitiveness and determination of a racing career that included both CART and Formula 1. He has had a tremendous recovery, since waking up in a hospital in Berlin.
Recalls Zanardi, "I have been able to achieve a lot of things in a very short time that a lot of other guys haven't been able to do. Some people have their prosthetic legs for looks and just sit in their wheelchair. I am not like that. I was proud back in February because I was released, actually I released myself, earlier than expected."
Family has been the driving force behind the quick recovery.
"Optimism is what drives me the most," said Zanardi. "My son is a great inspiration and I want to do my best for him. My son is a gift from God. I love him more than I love myself. My wife has been the greatest. She is very strong. I have been very lucky to have her on my side."
Asked if his son Nicolas will follow in his father's footsteps and pursue a career in auto racing, Zanardi responded, "It wouldn't happen. He is too careful. He takes after his mother.
Zanardi flew in to Toronto yesterday morning and was busy all day with CART activities. He attended a Black and White Gala Dinner last night at which he joked around with former teammates Jimmy Vasser and Dario Franchitti. Zanardi admitted that the long day was his most difficult since the accident.
Some of the difficulties he has encountered have been very amusing to him. He has been provided with a hand-operated automobile to drive around in during his stay in Toronto. Zanardi mentioned that he is having a little trouble driving a North American automobile with the controls on the left.
"It is okay when I hit the brake when I want to accelerate, but when I accelerate instead of braking, I could get into trouble." He also mentioned his difficulties driving a motorcycle. "I can still drive a bike, but if I hit a red light, I have a real problem."
Prior to the accident, Zanardi said that the most difficult time for him was as a child, trying to finish school and making his parents happy.
The 13th race of the CART series will be held in Montreal on August 25 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a track that also hosts the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix. Having raced in both CART and Formula 1, Zanardi was asked to compare how the CART cars will compare on the F1 track.
"It is going to be interesting to see. These days I think the CHAMP cars are suffering because they are using hard tires. I'm expecting CHAMP cars to be not that far away from F1 cars in lap times."
Zanardi has decided to settle down and live in Europe. So he dismissed any chance at becoming involved in CART with a team in a non-driving role due to the difficulties of travel.
"Right now in my life, it is not priority number 1. One thing I would like to go back and do again is ski because I love skiing. My main priority is to enjoy my time with family and friends."
He will be the Grand Marshall at the German 500 in Lausitz, Germany on September 21.
Going over his life in general after the accident, Zanardi first wished for a normal life. But now he says, "I look at my house, my beautiful garden, and the beautiful woman sitting next to me and ask 'What more would you want?'"