Munich/Moza. When Alessandro Zanardi makes his first competitive outing in a racing car for over two years at Monza this weekend it will be at the wheel of a BMW 320i ETCC. This one-off appearance in the final round of the 2003 FIA European...
Munich/Moza. When Alessandro Zanardi makes his first competitive outing in a racing car for over two years at Monza this weekend it will be at the wheel of a BMW 320i ETCC. This one-off appearance in the final round of the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship is a dream come true for the Italian driver and has been made possible thanks to Ravaglia Motorsport, who run the BMW Team Italy-Spain entries in the series.
The car has been specially modified for him, but surprisingly few changes have had to be made to accommodate the Monaco based driver who lost both of his legs while taking part in the German 500, a round of the American CART series, at the Lausitz EuroSpeedway on 15 September, 2001.
The idea for the modifications came when Zanardi took his road-going BMW 540i to the team, who are based in Padova not far from Bologna where he was born, for them to modify it for him. The suggestion of them doing the same for a racing car started as a joke. However Ravaglia engineer, Roberto Trevisan, who worked with Zanardi in Formula 3000, suggested they could do the modifications to a 320i built for the 2001 season that was used for winter testing. Fantasy became realty.
The team tried many different systems but claim in the end the simple ones were the best. The throttle has been moved to the steering wheel and Zanardi will use his left hand to operate it, while he uses his right to operate the gear lever.
For safety reasons it was obvious he must be able to brake quickly and it soon became obvious to the team he had enough force in his prosthesis to brake normally. The main task then was to move the brake to where the throttle was usually located, and also to put the seat in a position where Alex would be able to brake with the force of 85 kilos, which matches that of the other drivers.
The clutch system on the car is normally a quick shift, which is used by the drivers only for downshifting and not for upshifting. For Alex there is now a small lever on the gear lever and this he can use to adjust the clutch to the position he needs.
Although these modifications have added extra weight to the car, both Alex and the team feel confident he can be as competitive as the championship's regular drivers. This belief was born out when he drove the car in Monza on 25 September.
After this test Zanardi's comment was: "After my accident my biggest dream was to be able to carry my son, Niccolo, on my shoulders. I have done that thanks to the amazing medical team who looked after me. My next dream was to race a car again and Ravaglia Motorsport has now made this dream come true. I never thought that when I went to see them to discuss my road car it would end up like this."
Zanardi will be driving alongside BMW Team Italy-Spain regular drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi and Antonio Garcia. He will also be able to see first hand the battle for the championship. While BMW needs just two points to clinch the Manufacturers' title, it will be a very hard battle for the Drivers' Championship with BMW Team Deutschland's Jörg Müller and BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx still well in contention. Jörg goes into the final two races of the series in Monza tying with Gabriele Tarquini at the top of the table on 96 points, Andy is third with 89 and Nicola Larini is fourth on 87. Unfortunately fifth placed Dirk Müller in the second BMW Team Deutschland car is now out of contention for the title.
The usual championship timetable will apply to the Monza weekend with the two races taking place on Sunday afternoon. The points system is 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 for both races so it is obvious that there are still a lot of points to fight for.