Zanardi “not so far behind” BMW teammates at Daytona
Alex Zanardi admits he feels some pressure to match his BMW teammates on his Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona debut, but believes he’s reasonably close to their pace.
Despite his relative lack of experience with the BMW M8 and Daytona International Speedway, and the need still to acclimate to a new hand-operated braking system, the two-time IndyCar champion and gold medal-winning paralympian hero was within one second of his fastest teammates in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-run team through the three-day Roar Before the 24 test.
The 1997 and ’98 CART IndyCar champion Zanardi lost both legs in a shunt on the Lausitzring oval in 2001, and this year’s Rolex 24 will mark his first race in the U.S. since that accident.
Asked to comment on his co-drivers – the #24’s fulltime pilots John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, and fellow enduro driver, Supercars ace Chaz Mostert – Zanardi said: “These guys are terrific!
“Jesse, Chaz and John are very, very talented drivers, very professional and it’s fantastic and also very helpful, because to be in a team with those drivers is a huge plus.
“It is inevitable to feel pressure because I would really like to perform at their level and on top of my personal problems, my age and whatever, it’s a question of their talent knowing the car the way they do.
“I will try my best but so far so good. I’m not so far behind, actually.”
Where Zanardi once used his prosthetic legs while racing, operating the throttle with hand controls but using a modified foot brake using pressure applied from his hip, BMW have switched him to a hand operated braking lever. This lever also has a button with which Zanardi can simultaneously downshift the gears. Acceleration is still governed by a ring around the steering wheel.
Asked how much difference this new braking device has made, Zanardi was very enthusiastic, although he admits he’s still working to make its operation second nature.
“Physically speaking it’s incomparable – it’s like night and day compared to what I was doing before,” he said. “It helps far more than we expected when we started to investigate solutions to follow that direction. From that point of view it’s 100 percent a success.
“Still, I think for me to negotiate some of the actions that I have to do, I am still a student. I hope I can learn some more but I will have 24-hours of time to go through my mental data and to try to develop the right technique.”
Being able to race without prosthetic legs was essential to enable quick driver changeovers in a multi-driver race. Watch [BELOW] Zanardi’s remarkable practice changeover with Krohn – not only extracting himself swiftly but also carrying out the traditional duty of returning to the car to help his co-driver hook up the radio and tighten his safety harness.
Despite the need to smooth out these additional techniques required to compete in an endurance race, it was inevitable that Zanardi would do so, as it transpires that he had long wished to compete in the Rolex 24 Hours.
He said: “Daytona is a race that, when I was racing in the United States, many of my colleagues and rivals were engaged in as its dates never clashed with any of the Indy car championship races because it is very early in the season.
“I never had the opportunity for some reason to have a taste of it myself but hearing my colleagues talking about the event, how great it is, their excitement, what they had to say about it, got me very curious about it and it was a really long, long time ago when I said, ‘Down the road, sooner or later, I want to be at Daytona.
“So to finally have the opportunity to go there, not only just to be part of it but to go there with a very competitive machine, to represent BMW to the best of my ability as a driver and as a brand ambassador, it’s fantastic.
“Now I can’t wait to finally start the 24-hour race weekend. Every single member of the team, starting from the BMW M Motorsport guys who came from Munich to support and the guys who live here and are a full-time part of the BMW Team RLL organization, is very professional but also excited.
“You can tell that they are all very, very happy to be here, they are totally dedicated and you can see the passion for what they do. They want to do everything they can to steer luck in our favor because at the end of the day it still is a race, and actually it’s a 24-hour race where there are a lot of things that could go wrong and you can only control it up to a certain point.”
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