CHAMPCAR/CART: Alex Zanardi press conference, Part I

CART Champ Car Teleconference Transcript: Alex Zanardi Part 1 of 2 Eric Mauk: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference where we are privileged to have with us today a two-time series title winner who won the championship in 1997 and...

CART Champ Car Teleconference Transcript: Alex Zanardi

Part 1 of 2

Eric Mauk: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference where we are privileged to have with us today a two-time series title winner who won the championship in 1997 and '98, one of the most popular drivers in CART champ car history and a man that will be serving as the Grand Marshal for the upcoming German 500 at EuroSpeedway Lausitz, Mr. Alex Zanardi. Obviously a lot of reporters out there know that you are going to be the Grand Marshal for the German 500 and again returning to the track, coming back to see the Champ Cars for the first time since you were at the Molson Indy Toronto last year, but a lot of reports over what's going on and people making all kinds of speculation, and just want to give you a chance to address what's going to happen over there.

Alex Zanardi: Thank you a lot. First of all, it's quite emotional to be speaking to you guys through the phone. It brings me back with good memories that I have from the days that I was driving and attending an event only as a Grand Marshal, which is -- it's great for me. I'm very, very proud to come back and to be named Grand Marshal for the event. CART gave me a very, very big honor for this.

I let it slip out of my lips that I'm going to try to bring a surprise. "Obviously, well, Alex, you used to be a driver, so what's the surprise?" And therefore people are basically drawing conclusions and everybody is saying that I'm probably going to drive something, the speculation that I heard today went from driving the pace car to competing in the main event. Again, I'm honored that I'm still news for someone and people are still interested in my progress. And again, I'm very honored to serve the role of Grand Marshal for the event and it will be exciting for me to put my helmet on and compete in the main event. Unfortunately this won't be the case, but again it will be a joy for me to watch all of my friends in the CART community and again be close to the fans that supported me.

Mauk: With all you've accomplished in Champ Car racing, it's going to be a long time before anything you do is not going to be news in the Champ car Community.

Zanardi: Well, I don't know that, but again, it's going to be fun for me and it doesn't really matter whether there is going to be news or not. For me the important thing is to be, again, with people that I love, people that I've enjoyed together in my racing career.

Mauk: Now we'll go ahead and open it up to questions from the media.

Q: Going back to Lausitz, I don't know how much you remember about anything, I guess you don't remember too much about the accident, but is there any feeling about going back to that particular track?

Zanardi: Well, Mike, obviously there will be something going through my mind. I wouldn't be human otherwise, I guess. But, quite frankly, I feel that psychologically, the accident is definitely behind me. And again, I've said that a few times, I don't feel I have to take any credit for that. I just feel very lucky that Mother Nature made me like that.

I'm a very optimistic person. I think definitely the accident is behind me, and honestly, I have no problems to admit that just after the accident when I came home, when I found myself playing with the remote control of the television on the wheelchair, I felt kind of miserable sometimes. I also thought about the days where I could just go out, fool around or for a ride with my bicycle and things like that, but I stayed very little on that attitude. Fortunately, I've met people along the way that helped me a lot, technically speaking, as well, to put my life back together, and it didn't take long for me to be completely over that.

So now I wake up in the morning and the way I see life is simply as it is. I organize myself to achieve what I want to. Yes, sure, there are things I can't do anymore, but there are others that I do thanks to what happened to me. I don't think the feelings that I will have driving into Lausitzring with my rental car will be feelings of fear. It will probably be more feelings of pride to say, "You didn't do me this time." I'm still going to be very proud to go back to that place and probably this time leave the place with a smile on my face hopefully.

Q: At Toronto you showed us you were pretty good in a flagstand, as well. Are you going to be doing the flagstand thing at the Lausitzring, is that part of your Grand Marshal assignment or what do you know about that?

Zanardi: Funny that you ask because I spoke to Chris Pook a few months ago when the idea came along and I said, "So, Chris, I'm very honored that you named me the Grand Marshal, but what exactly is a Grand Marshal is supposed to do?" "Well," he said, "Alex, what the hell you want?" (Laughing). So, I guess, yeah, that would probably be part of the -- of the routine, but again, hopefully not only that, PR activities. But that's a pretty good position to watch the start of the race, I have to say. It's going to be exciting to do anything if they ask me to.

Q: And you assured us you don't be driving in the race itself, but is there any chance you might do a demonstration lap or two?

Zanardi: Actually we talked about something like this, driving the pace car or this and that. We were working on something originally but it wouldn't be a surprise if I tell you, anyway.

Q: You still have a crash helmet, I'm sure?

Zanardi: We'll see.

Q: The first part is about skiing and the second part is about go-karts. In Toronto you mentioned you liked to go back skiing, is there any progress? And tell me about go-kart racing, what have you done and how are your plans?

Zanardi: Something has happened since then. Concerning the ski, I was on the snow last winter and I did ski and I did enjoy that a lot because basically I skied with a solution called the mono ski. It is sort of tiny wheelchair with a mono shock, with a shock absorber mounted on a single ski and you also have two stabilizers, which are like two little canes with a ski on each end. This is a solution that is being invented for people that cannot use their legs, paraplegic or in any case, paralyzed people. I had to do a lot of adaptation because originally when I visited the guy that is building the thing, he told me that I had to take my legs off; I told him no way. For me, skiing is fun and it's not going to be very funny if I can't even jump off the thing and go buy myself a cappuccino. So fortunately, I can walk, so I want to be able to do that. And they said, well, nobody ever did it. So I said I'll be the one.

Sure enough, I went home, I went to the workshop of a friend of mine and we started to cut, we had the glue, weld and finally something which allowed me to go ski. I really enjoyed it because originally I thought that would be a way for me to be able to ski with my wife and son but was not going to be really challenging. In fact, I was absolutely wrong. This was fantastic and it gave me a lot of the emotion which I felt when I used to ski with my own legs, and it's very challenging, as a matter of fact. So, that's that.

I'll have to tell you, chapter two will come next winter and concerning the go-kart. Well, the problem is that I kept bouncing on people that couldn't really build me something that I'd like. So I came up with a solution that I'm building my own go-kart. Very shortly a chassis called Zanardi is going to come out and it's going to be sold also in the United States. And so I'm making this together with some friends that are in the business already from many years and I race with which is a company which is called CRG, an Italian company. So we are building a chassis which is going to be named Zanardi, and, I don't know, probably I'll call the racing one doughnut and I'll call the one -- the pineapple or something like this, I haven't come up with names yet. The good thing is that from now on the next race I'll do with go-karts, it will be with my own chassis.

Q: There's been some controversy about the Elkhart Lake race this year, and it looks like now with Mario Andretti's help it's actually going to happen. Could you talk about your memories of racing in Elkhart Lake, you won there in '97, and if you think it's an important race for the Champ Car series?

Zanardi: Well, absolutely. The opportunities for the human beings to show their capability and to express their talent in comparison to a group in which obviously everybody is really talented, but to really show that they have something more -- well, these opportunities are already so few because the competitiveness already is so intense and the technology has took over so much. Look at Formula 1, for instance. Obviously, CART is not an exception. It's the challenge, very simply dominated by the technology that is involved in this sport.

So therefore, circuits like Elkhart Lake are really the paradise of the good drivers. You know, when you win a championship, it's a reason of pride. When you win on oval, it's a reason of pride. But when you win in Elkhart Lake, it's a reason of pride, for sure, because you know that suddenly you had the car to do the job but the job was done and was done well, because otherwise you don't win on a place like Elkhart Lake if you don't have it as a driver.

I hope this answers your question. This is one of my best memories from my days in CART. I remember with a lot of pride as well the very first test I did in Elkhart Lake where Morris Nunn was asking my teammate Jimmy, Jimmy Vasser, whether he would let me follow him for a few laps at the beginning of the pack because he kept telling me: "Alex, you have to take it easy, this is a very difficult circuit, you will probably be two seconds off the pace for the first moment of testing. Just take it easy, don't worry, the circuit can't long, two seconds there don't mean much. It's like half a second someone else, so expect to be behind," and etc., Etc.

Well, what happened is that Jimmy's car let him down basically even before they could leave the pit lane. So he was down for the morning because they were changing the engine, and therefore, I could not have my guys in place. But nevertheless, like 11:30-ish, I was two seconds faster than everyone there and the entire community was testing that day. So it was pretty funny because Jimmy has one of these books, English/Italian, with all of the sentences, like if you go to the airport or if you jump in a cab or something like this. He had this sentence, when you take a cab, which meant in Italian, was "can you go a little slowly, please." And he came to me and he used that sentence in his reluctant Italian, it was really funny because it was very appropriate. But obviously, these were the days where I had a great car and it was really easy for me to do things like that. But in any case, to win a race on a normal road course, it's important, it's a reason of pride. But to win in Elkhart Lake, it's much better from the driver's point of view. I really hope that all of the champ car drivers will have the opportunity to compete in such a place.

Q: Any truth to the rumor that you've hired a full-time engineer to work on the damping of that skiing machine to go a little quicker?

Zanardi: No. I sent the design to Morris and he took a look at it. (Laughing). But he said that on the ski ramps there's too many bumps for his taste.

Q: What's happening with the Alex Zanardi Foundation that you started and what's the status of that these days?

Zanardi: Well, thanks a lot for bringing up the question because this will give me the opportunity to talk about it a little bit. The Foundation, as you know, it was made because -- I shouldn't say only thanks. Thanks, and because of the generosity of especially the American people. Still, when I was in my hospital bed, people which would sign a letter simply with a name of Mark or Eric, they start to send from one dollar to even $10,000, and obviously, we had to open a foundation to collect that money and to make sure that that it would go somewhere.

Eventually, last year I checked it, the account and the number was more than interesting so I decide to donate $85,000 to a foundation called AMAD, which is a French foundation that was opened from Princess Grace and it is still around for Prince Albert of Monaco and AMAD stands for Association -- World Association for Child Aid, so it helps children. Thanks to that amount of money, they were able to complete a project that they had going in Madagascar in a school which is also first aid pediatric center and they had that going and with that amount of money they were able to complete it. So that is the first thing that my foundation has done.

Now, my foundation, because obviously I'm -- right now I'm currently busy with a lot of projects but I don't have time to follow my own foundation to do my own projects. Right now it's only working this bank account. I collect money, again, thanks to the generosity of people which keep sending it to us, but also throughout activities that I do myself. For instance, CART itself, I don't know whether I'm allowed to say the exact amount, but they are making a very, very generous donation to the foundation for me to come to Germany. And also, I'm collecting money towards other activities. Last year I came to Toronto. I was invited to go to the gala that the promoter holds and I accepted the invitation and with my total surprise, I was very happy, Molson wrote a check of $25,000 and they presented me with a check of $25,000. So in these days I get very often requests to do particular interviews, interviews that for their nature they take obviously some time.

For me, it's work. I certainly enjoy when I see my ugly face on television, but it's not the reason of my life, you know. Therefore, once I have done a couple, I'm happy and my ego is satisfied and this becomes work for me. And these Italians, they never get tired of asking. So what I have done, we have started asking for money. Some they don't call back again and some they say they are very happy and they make a donation to the foundation. All of these activities other times, I get invited to do promotions for companies that they want to use my image to draw attention and I ask for money, it all goes to the foundation. I don't take anything for myself.

So right how, again, it would be terrible not to use this opportunity, because now with very, very little effort, I can make a lot. I can turn that into a lot of money which I put into the foundation and then time for to time, I then decide how to use that money to donate to this foundation or to this other. It may come the day where I have less commitments, less things to do and I will find the time to promote my own foundation which may have particular goals but now, as I said, it mainly works as a bank account where I put all of the money that I make into all of these activities and with that, hopefully I will be able to help some of the kids.

Part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Alex Zanardi , Mario Andretti , Morris Nunn , Chris Pook