CHAMPCAR/CART: Alex Zanardi press conference, part II

An interview with Alex Zanardi Part 2 of 2 Q: Do you plan to see all the drivers and team members this weekend? Alex Zanardi: Of course. I didn't come to Toronto just to go up in the tower and come down and catch a plane and go home. I...

An interview with Alex Zanardi Part 2 of 2

Q: Do you plan to see all the drivers and team members this weekend?

Alex Zanardi: Of course. I didn't come to Toronto just to go up in the tower and come down and catch a plane and go home. I want to see everybody that I can, spend as much time as I have with them. And, of course, I would love to see Alex (Tagliani) and tell him once again that it's totally understandable that he still feels guilty, but he has no reason for it. He was only unlucky to be there at that time.

Q: What's the most difficult thing you've had to do?

Alex Zanardi: Certainly the most difficult thing I had to do was -- yesterday, actually, was a very long day. Change the tire, I mean, I just drop myself on my knee or whatever you want to call it, and I still have my hands to do the job. Actually, you know, when I sit down, I am a totally normal person. I mean, as normal as I was. (Laughter).

It was not very difficult to change the tire. The only thing that's hard for me is when I have to work under the sun because I tend to suffer the heat much more than I did before. My legs are trapped in two pieces of plastic that cannot let -- obviously, aspirate my skin, otherwise I could lose them. They stay in because they are in a vacuum in a way. It's pretty hard. With that, also, the doctors say that the feet are the cooler of the body because the blood goes down and comes back cooler, so I have a big problem there because it comes back hotter. (Laughs).

So my only problem normally is the temperature. But to change a tire, I did it before. I always work, even on my boat, I do little things. I was actually -- as I said in, Corsica the other day and we went from one place to the other. And we got a lot of salt all around the water and I wanted to give it a wash before we put it to bed for the evening. My brother-in-law was with me, and I said, "Would you help me to wash the boat?" And he says, okay, and so I just give him the tube with the water. I turn around, and when I turned around, he was watering -- he was washing the boat like you would water the flower like this. We had a very long day and by then we were tired. I said, "Are you tired, if you want to sit down"; he says, "No, I'll take a quick nap." He went in and took a quick nap and I wash all the boat on my own. (Laughter.) So, it's obviously harder for me to do things, but I'm still doing a lot of things.

Q: Compare Formula 1 to CART on the Montreal circuit.

Alex Zanardi: Well, starting with that, that is going to be very interesting because it's basically the first time that we are going to see Champ Cars competing on a circuit that was -- that is normally visited by the Formula 1 circuit. So it's going to be obviously very, very interesting to watch.

Although, I think that these days, Champ Cars are really suffering with Bridgestone, supplying very, very hard tires. Champ Cars could go much faster these days if they would only let them run the same boost we were running a few years ago, and if we had the same soft tires we used to run when there was a competition in between Bridgestone and Goodyear.

But I'm expecting to see Champ Cars not so far away from the neighborhood of lifetime that normally form Formula 1 does. For sure I think they are going to produce, champ cars, are going to produce a better race because it's much easier to overtake with the champ car. And normally, races in champ cars are for their own nature, more uncertain. The pit stops and the strategy can often put the fastest car behind, and then that fast car has to come back through the field. In Montreal, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of places for drivers to overtake each other. It's going to be interesting and I very much look forward to it. Concerning what was most difficult thing I did in my life prior to the accident, I don't know, because if I did, it was probably not that difficult. Probably at school, to be a good student. (Laughter). Making my parents happy was very hard. Finally, I did it.

Adam Saal: I was going to say Laguna Seca, 1996, but he made it look easy.

Alex Zanardi: That was not difficult. I have to admit that Jimmy Vasser had the right version of my pass. He thinks that the way I overtook Bryan Herta was simply because a plastic bag dropped by a fan hit my shield, and by the time I took it off, I was in front. (Laughter). That was the secret behind my magic pass in Laguna Seca.

Q: Do you have any plans to stay in racing?

Alex Zanardi: Well, I would have to say, if I was an American resident, if I had to live here, I probably would be very, very interested and just because I love the sport, I love the activity, I love this environment. Sometimes you tend to forget, but you guys have over here the capability -- Americans in general, you have the capability of making friends really easily, of having relationship, even at a very high level, professional relationship, a very high level. Even with a pair of jeans, you don't necessarily have to be in a black suit or whatever. The important thing is what you talk about and with who you talk about. That's what really matters.

In Europe, it's much more formal. It's taken this sport on to a platform that is totally different, and some people might like it and some others won't. Personally, when I was driving Formula 1, I loved the car that I was driving, but I didn't enjoy staying on the paddocks having any relationship with the people as much as I did when I was over here. Not because here I was winning and there I wasn't, but simply because it's different. I mean, last night, I jumped into a limo, I was taken to the party, I was there with Jimmy, with Tony, and we were kidding and teasing each other; and that's very normal over here, where in Formula 1, it does not happen.

So this is very special. It's the same with everyone else, as well. You can stop and chat with somebody. You can go into the coach in the evening and have a glass of wine and then the following race, you will race shoulder to shoulder and try to beat your opponents as hard as you can, but this does not really change the relationship with people.

So, that's why if I was living over here, I would be very, very interested in being involved on any level with a team. But quite frankly, I have decided to live over in Europe, and so it's impossible for me to fly every race weekend. Therefore, I will probably be only a fan which will always be addicted to motor racing as a fan, and every once in awhile, I will come back and greet my friends.

Q: What are you going to do if your son comes to you one day and tells you he wants to be a race-car driver?

Alex Zanardi: I don't know. He's too careful. He took after his mom. (Laughter).

Q: What are your thoughts on the Greg Moore Legacy Award?

Alex Zanardi: It means a lot. The award is named after a guy that was not only a great race car driver. A very -- I would say we were really similar in the way we were driving, both very aggressive. I think both were never content with the result. Always wanting to do something more. And ironically, our careers, although I was a little older than him, our careers were very similar because we were both fighting for the Rookie of the Year in '96 and he was my main opponent in '97 and in '98, especially throughout the first part of the season. And so, we were very, very competitive. I can't say we were close friends, but we were friends, and for sure, we had a great deal of respect for each other.

I remember Greg in Las Vegas in '98, we were playing billiards, pool at Jimmy Vasser's house, and I explained to him the way we play in Italy. We don't play it with a stick; we just throw the ball with our hands. Well, true enough, after five minutes, we are playing our way; he wants to beat me, and you can tell now he's very competitive and he's into the game. And I said, "Okay, Greg, we are going to go."

"No, another game."

"Yeah, but we have got to go."

"You're pathetic -- you bloody Zanardi. I want to kick your butt." And he said, "Man, I've been here three years, you kick my butt and now you are running away, it's not fair." So that was a great compliment to me because I rate him a great driver. And obviously through '96, '97, '98, Chip gave me a car that was really unbeatable, and certainly, I drove it well, but that was probably the reason why I ended up winning a lot of races more than other people, and that gave me two championships. But, I rate Greg a very, very capable driver. Somebody that would never give up, and for him to say something like this to me was a great compliment. And so, again, I know that trophy is not him, but it's very special. I wish it was him.

Q: Are you proud of what you have been able to achieve after the incident?

Alex Zanardi: Yeah, I'm happy -- I can't say proud, because obviously I still have some moments where I'm not as much fun to be around as I used to be, a little grumpy. But after all, I think the fact that I have many concerns before I went home of things that I would have to change to make me be able to do something -- in fact, I didn't have to change anything. Like at home, I mean, I do other things. Like I have to put minor controls in my car, but that's about it.

I was very proud when back in February, I was able to -- I was released from this -- actually, I released myself from the center because I had enough. I said, "That's good enough, I want to go home with my legs." I was able to take my son to the beach to throw stones in the water. That was a very, very special moment, just me and him together, and it was a very special moment.

But my wife, she's been fantastic throughout the entire thing. I mean, I had received from Father Phil the last rites, if that's what you call it, and everybody, not only people that didn't know anything about it, but doctors, very qualified doctors were telling people close to me that there was very little chance that I would make it. Not to say if I would wouldn't make it, what would have been Zanardi, once he turns the key again, would it be okay, would everything work, but it was very, very questionable whether I would pass in the night. And everybody was saying that. Obviously, thinking there was no way in the world I would come back to a point like the one I am now.

While all that was happening, my wife called BMW to order me a car with manual controls because she said "When he wakes up, he'll want to drive, I know." That's her, that's Daniella. She's a very strong lady, really, really strong. She likes to stay in the shadow, but she's very, very strong. She's been a great support for me throughout my entire career and I'm really lucky to have somebody like her on my side.

My son, as I said before, is a gift from God. Kids in general are very special. For them, it's not very difficult to adjust to things because they are discovering life. We are normally very, very scared when something change because we live in pre-formed -- everything has got to be under control. We know how things normally are, so when something changes, we are very compared; how are we going to adapt to that. Kids in general, they are discovering life, so they don't have preconceived ideas. They just say, "Oh, is that what it is? Okay." And that is it.

Five minutes later he's already joking with my legs. Normally when we go in the bath, I ticklish him, ticklish him in the feet and I say, "ticklish in my feet"; and he turns, he says, "You don't have feet, you are always kidding me." (Laughter) we are kidding about it, and that's the best way you can really put things to be absolutely normal. Obviously, I wish I could put him over my shoulders as I used to do -- and I probably could, but I love him too much to try.

Q: Do you follow the CART events while you are home in Europe?

Alex Zanardi: It's always a great show to watch. It's just a little sad that right now the TV package is not very strong, especially in Europe. But somehow I got a way to watch all of the races and I enjoy them a lot. Obviously, for me, it's easier because I know all of the drivers quite well, even though they changed it a little bit recently. But I totally understand what's going on throughout the race.

Now, for European fans, it's a little difficult because obviously, they would have to have somebody explaining exactly what's going on a little better because sometime they see somebody leading and they think that guy is obviously going to go on and win the race, and then he finishes 20th and they don't understand why. Well, that guy has another pit stop to do compared to everybody else. Yeah, I'm always tuned. I watch all of the races and I think Cristiano is doing a super job and right now it looks like he's totally in control of what's going on and it looks like nobody is capable to challenge him. But we've seen that kind of situation before in the past and from the midpoint of the season somebody comes along and starts to score points. So I would not be surprised to see somebody else coming.

Q: How do you feel about the future of the series?

Alex Zanardi: Well, there's been a point where I think Mr. Pook, he's a very smart gentleman and he'll do the best he can for the series. He is going to be very, very important, somebody like him; it's very important for the series.

There is no doubt that you can't talk about direction, because with all of the things which CART has suffered in the past few years, the direction is full of roundabouts and turns and circles, so it's not a straight arrow. Everybody was saying his own thing and then they changed the rules technically, to adapt, basically, the IRL technical regulations. And now they have gone to a different direction, which I think is needed at the time, of this moment, but it looks really, really positive and promising because with these rules they are going to be able to reduce the CART and allow more people to participate to the events. But I am sure that this is not it. There will be more changes needed. It is not up to me to say what they have to do, but I think they come to -- they came to realize that something has to be done and I really hope that the series will bring back the attention from the fans that it deserves.

And you know, this war between IRL and CART will end because it's really not needed. I mean, I'm a race fan and I don't care. I mean, I watch everything. I don't see why a fan can watch only one series. I mean, if he's a real fan, he's going to love motor sports in general, for sure. There is one particular series which ultimately will be his favorite, but I'm a race fan every time I switch the TV on and there is some sort of racing, I remain tuned on that channel because I like to watch. It doesn't matter whether it's single seat or super fast race car or all of the cars are racing around on a mad circle and beating each other; I watch everything.

So, to me, IRL races are very interesting to watch, but certainly, under a sporting point of view, everybody will have to convey to me, that if you want to see the difference between a very good driver and another, you can't just take them to an oval because on the ovals, the car it's much more than the driver. Maybe the courage of the driver is needed in some situations like the restarts or to drop somebody and get them on the outside, but it's not pure talent that is needed in that particular circumstance.

So I think that CART has the chemistry that is really magic. Some races on the ovals, some races on road courses and some races on street courses, which for the drivers are very, very fun, enjoyable. And for the public is great because you take them the show at their city, and this is the strong point on which I think CART has to capitalize and to build on for the future.

Q: Do you miss racing?

Alex Zanardi: Certainly, much more these days than I used to. Because in life, you always want what you don't have, and I remember there was a -- I have a friend, a very close friend which is a car dealer, and there's this dealership where he's got this office, air conditioning when outside it's really hot, and he's got a nice heater when outside it's cold. So in the quiet of his office, sometimes I go there and I sit down with him and we chat, we discuss.

I remember in 1998 calling from Indianapolis, I was sitting and talking to him and thinking, man, what would I give to have a normal life, to be there with him, to be able to 9:00 to 5:00, to close everything, go to the bar, play cards with my friends, speak in -- not my own language, but my own dialect, and have a normal life.

Funny enough, I was sitting on the back of my house with a beautiful garden, the lake in front, my jet ski anchored just in front, fantastic day. I just won a race the previous weekend. So now, these days I think: What more would you want in your life? I have a beautiful woman next to me, my wife, we were playing cards, no depression, nothing. I was on the top of the world. Now I say: What more would you want? Why couldn't be I be happy with what I had? But the reality is simply that it is human nature. You always want what you don't have. So I forgot what was the question -- (Laughter).

Exactly. Exactly. That was the question. So now I say -- now I look when I sit down in my billiard room in Italy and I sit down and watch all of my trophies and I watch that Laguna Seca 1996, I say, yeah, I did something good. And then I watch Cleveland '97 and I watch Long Beach '98, Toronto '98, and I just feel very proud. I realize now, because at that time they were just race wins. I mean, I was there Sunday night while I was on the podium, I was always thinking of the following race because what I want was winning more and collecting points, winning the championship. So I was so much into the mission that I did not have the time to enjoy, where now, I totally realize how great the memories I have. Not only the fact that I won two championships, but the way I won some races in particular, which is much more important than much better memories than the championship itself. So, yeah.

Adam Saal: Alex, again, last time you were here, you won on the streets of Toronto in 1998, but I also understand you drove on the streets of Toronto again today. Did you drive?

Alex Zanardi: Yeah, it was a little difficult because I got this car with hand controls. Normally, in my car, it's on the right and this is on the left. It must have been built from the English; they always do things upside down. (Laughter). So it's a little difficult. Sometime I brake thinking that I'm pushing the throttle. That's not a big problem. It's a bigger problem when I accelerate thinking I'm braking. (Laughter). So I'm still driving slowly. And if you see a green Chevy Monte Carlo going around with the lights coming up and down, be careful. That's me. (Laughter).

Adam Saal: Alex, thank you so much for being here and taking this time. (Applause).

-cart-

Alex Zanardi at Toronto, part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Greg Moore