Italy’s hand-cycling champion, Alessandro Zanardi, headed out on to the iconic Nurburgring earlier today behind the wheel of the DTM title-winning M3 DTM, and completed a modest 32 laps. The test was in recognition of the Italian’s achievements at this year’s Paralympic Games in London, and his chariot for the day was sporting a special gold livery, designed in his honour.
The car was emblazoned with Zanardi’s image on the bonnet, as well as the gold and silver medals having pride of place on the roof, which made the occasion so much more emotional for the 46-year-old. BMW Motorsport director, Jens Marquardt, was clearly delighted with the new challenge this brought for the Munich manufacturer, which shows the fact that Zanardi is valued by BMW, as is a distinct role model for many.
“Despite his handicap, he approaches every challenge with great optimism and passes every test with flying colours,” said Marquardt, “His medals at the Paralympic Games in London are fine examples of this, as are the four race victories he achieved in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for BMW Motorsport. As we have seen today, the challenge of driving the technically complex BMW M3 DTM also proved to be no obstacle for him.”
Zanardi has been a really inspirational example for many, especially coming back to racing after the accident at the Lausitzring in 2001, whilst racing in IndyCar, where he lost both his legs after a collision coming out of the pit lane. He remains incredibly realistic about racing in the future, as he wasn’t sure whether his test today would possibly progress into a possible return to the racetrack.
But, nevertheless, it was a magical day for him, as it was his first time in a racecar since 2009, whereby he thanked BMW for making it possible for him, and was surprised on how quick it was for the necessary modifications to be adapted to the M3 DTM: “I had great fun out on the track. When I first saw the golden car I was overwhelmed. I still have a passion for racing. However, I’m not sure whether our demonstration drive will be anything more than just that, as the level in the DTM may possibly prove to be too high for someone of my age. As such, my main focus is on something completely different after today’s drive: I felt that the BMW family is still behind me and loves me. They showed that once again today.”
The challenge of engineering the car was considered to be more of feasibility in the unique test conditions only, as the modifications would not be suited to a race situation. The clutch and accelerator pedals were removed, with his left hand being able to control the accelerator on the steering wheel, and the brake pedal was fitted to the right hand side of the foot well. The shift paddle on the right of the steering wheel operated the gears via a push-pull system, with the clutch being controlled on it as well. To brake, Zanardi was able to use his right prosthetic leg on the reappointed pedal.
So in the title-winning year, which also encapsulated the “40 Years of M”, we see a historic moment in the DTM, and it shows what can be possible, no matter what challenges lie in front. Only time will tell, as to whether Zanardi may decide to give the DTM a go…