Puebla: Alex Zanardi weekend summary

SORRY FOR THE DELAY... Dear Friends, I did not mean to pull the wool over your eyes, nor keeping a low profile for good luck; I was genuinely convinced that the Mexican race at Puebla would have not reserved anything good for us. Definitely,...


Dear Friends,

I did not mean to pull the wool over your eyes, nor keeping a low profile for good luck; I was genuinely convinced that the Mexican race at Puebla would have not reserved anything good for us.

Definitely, the track made all the difference. During past years the grip was almost null: you were either sliding on the crumbling tarmac or you were not able to stay on track due to the filler powder put by marshals to avoid too much stress on the road bed. This year we found a situation clearly different and this allowed us to be on average five seconds faster than last year's lap times (!). The increased grip gave more sense to more conventional setups and eliminated a problem that our BMWs were particularly suffering due to their rear-wheel drive.

This is the story of the weekend for the brand that I proudly represent, whereby Farfus and Andy Priaulx organized the BMW's counter-charge since qualifying in which they got the front row.

As regarding myself, things started not as well: I was twelfth on the grid with a not very encouraging gap of more than a second and a half. I was counting on my proverbial race pace constancy to set a recovery in place. At the start I managed to avoid all the dangers of the first corner and after some overtaking I had in my target Larini to obtain the eight place that would have been worth the pole position of race two.

Unfortunately, at that point (we were not half-way through yet) the car started 'suffering'. Probably since the start, the alternator was broken and the slow consumption of what was stored in the battery was granting me a survival chance that was very much like an unavoidable agony.

I suffered first a general power lack and afterwards sudden losses due to the fact that, the insufficient voltage was activating the shift and I had to disconnect it switching to the security mapping that involves manual acceleration upon shifting. Finally, the power steering: small signals that something was wrong but then within a single lap the steering-wheel became very stiff and I was left without any power steering at all.

I do not want to sell as heroism my obstinacy to finishing the race in these conditions, but I can assure that the training with the handbike turned out to be really useful in these conditions; a car designed to work with power steering is really un-drivable without it (have a go yourself if you do not believe this). In the last corner, a very wide hairpin similar to American ovals whereby you are flat-out, it was really painful to keep the wheel with just one hand when I was shifting three gears with my right hand. Add to this the fact that I also had to release the fingers of the left hand from the accelerator due to the system failure I mentioned earlier and keep the damn heavy steering wheel with my thumb for seven laps. well I am pretty sure that a lot of drivers would have retired instead!

The thirteenth place in race one being history, I had just a small remaining hope to get something home in the second race. Fixing the car in the usual 15 minutes after the opening of park ferme' seemed a hopeless case. Compared to this, what my guys managed to do at Macau seemed an amateurs deed: while I was dragging myself to the finish line I also managed to get a good bumping from one of my old friends and this caused the exhaust pipe to be bent near catalyzers and the pillar of the rear left suspension was hurt too.

I reckon I am a driver with a fairly good technical preparation and I can estimate the amount of work since I never disdained making my hands dirty with car's oil from time to time and I know the meaning of using a wrench and an hammer. This is why I was listening and nodding to my friends-mechanics saying in turn: 'Ale, come a Macao dai che ghe' a femo!' (north-eastern Italian dialect for Ale, you'll see, as at Macau we'll make it!), but due to what I said earlier, I have to admit that I was not sceptical. I am honestly convinced that I have in my team the best mechanics of the whole paddock but in that moment my verdict was that the task was not achievable because impossible.

With a minute to the alarm that would have marked the end of park ferme' and the green-light, due to their absurd effort, the guys of BMW-Italy Spain were all in position. My easy duty was to get in the car as soon as possible to get out of the way and avoid standing on their path. After this I would just had to use the following 15 minutes to wear helmet, racing gloves and keep the steering wheel straight during the toe-in and setup recovery after the contact in race one.

With my hand stretched towards the door, I glance once more at "Lupo" and to ease the tension I ask him: "Do we have any hope?" He winks at me and with a punchy smile says: "P.F.!" (standing for "Per Forza", an Italian way to say "Of course") 'P.F.' repeats Bicio, his voice being more than convinced and all the others behind are laughing at the challenge. Zanella concludes the conversation addressing with affection: "Come on kid, get into the car and do not hassle me, we will make it!) You cannot change a vital organ without taking care of all what's around it and in the case of the alternator as well in the case of the exhaust and catalysers, a lot of parts need to be removed before substituting the actual broken element. Combining delicacy and precision with the necessity of being fast is difficult in itself, moreover everyone knew that he needed to do its bit in a flexible way to make his effort complementary to that of the mates. In fact, changing a battery is one thing, but doing it in a small space shared with other people changing a control unit with all the wires and electronic parts to be unwired and rewired synchronously is rather a different thing.

It is definitely one thing to change exhaust and catalysers, it's another one when you have to do it next to someone removing the hub to change a rod. Also, it is not easy to remove half engine to get to the alternator, taking care not to touch the wire needed to adjust camber and toe-in standing between your legs.

Nevertheless, with a global dance in which the exceptional synchrony seemed to be the end result of a thousand trials, I have seen coming out of the bonnet and the bottom of the car an incredible amount of components, wires, aspiration caps that invaded the space nearby my car. Finally, everything was put magically back in its place and I started seeing once again the tarmac around me.

The chronometer, apparently ignored due to the psychological pressure that it put on everyone, was there to remind us that the time was ticking by. Anyway, when the bonnet was closed, the engine started and, with my car, I was on my way to the track with 25 seconds still to go before the pit-lane closure.

"Not as at Macau, but way better!" I thought and after thanking all the guys for their exceptional work, I just added on the radio: "I wish I could award you with the satisfaction of a good result today, you deserve it!"

At 42, with a lot of wrinkles on my face more and two legs less, sometimes it happens that even the strongest of the passions is questioned by the difficulties of a tough sport like mine. But when the obstinacy of trying once again takes you to live such moments, based on the magical power of an amazing group of people, well at that point you realize that it is really worthy, that it is good to be around because good things like these still happen.

You have seen the race, both my very good team-mate Sergio 'Nando' Hernandez and I were really fast and our recovery was not due to other people's retirement but the right outcome of the power we showed.

When I managed to overtake the good Nicola Larini, I was nine seconds adrift the leader Muller. Finishing the race at 6.2 seconds to the winner gives a great value to the performance in itself, but also allows us to look at the remaining of the season with great enthusiasm.

I finish this story, started yesterday on the plane, at home now while my Friends of the Team BMW Team Italy-Spain are coming back home a day later than the luckier myself. Tomorrow (Wednesday) they will have the morning free, but I can assure you that in the afternoon I'll be in the garage with them with some cheese, fresh bread and good wine to wash down all the good memories that will be good remembering and to prepare with a renewed enthusiasm new adventures.

I'll drink a toast to you, ciaooo!

-credit: alex zanardi

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About this article
Series WTCC
Drivers Andy Priaulx , Alex Zanardi , Nicola Larini