An inspiration…

Formula 1 drivers are often inspiring individuals but few compare to the extraordinary Alex Zanardi. For those who do not know him, Alex finished second to Christian Fittipaldi in the Formula 3000 series in 1991. He tried to break into F1 with various teams before landing a seat at Lotus in 1993 and 1994. He then went to the US and won two CART titles before returning to F1 with Williams in 1999 but things did not work out and he went back to the US in 2000 and in September 2001 lost his legs in a shocking accident at the Lausitzring in Germany. He returned to racing competing in the FIA World Touring Car Championship with a hand-controlled BMW between 2003 and 2009 and then retired from the sport and switched to handcycling, his goal being to compete in the Paralympics in London in 2012. He won gold medals in the individual H4 time trial and the individual H4 road race, followed by a silver medal in the mixed H1-4 team relay. Now 48, Alex is now competing in Ironman competitions. If you are looking for inspiration watch this and this.

28 thoughts on “An inspiration…

  1. That was a miserable weekend being just after the the September 11th attack. As, possibly, the largest single group of American civilians outside the country, many felt vulnerable and, with typical American lack of knowledge of geography, some there thought Afghanistan was less than 100 miles from the track. Several team owners got stuck in America because all the planes were grounded and those who were in Germany were getting scare stories broadcast on the news relayed by their loved ones back home. Our German hosts did their best to make us feel safe and wanted and then Alex, a very popular member of the paddock, had his awful accident.

    I don’t know who else could have bounced back like he did and I recommend his autobiography to anyone. A truly inspirational character.

    1. Yes Trevor, Alex Zanardi is a true Hero. I was at Lausitzring that day, and it was a truly horrible experience. Most people in our grandstand thought he’d never survive. But he fought back and is a solid gold inspiration for humankind. Not only that but he is an honest, honourable and friendly guy and a top driver too. It was a shame that his Lotus & Williams times bore little fruit, as he was a terrific driver, clean, fast and hard but fair. One that Ferrari should have had. It was a terrible week, and I always think of 9/11 & Alex together. I can’t remember who won the race, we went to the Rockingham race after that and that was blighted by track problems, I think Kenny Brack won, or might have been Gugelmin…not sure. To add to it all a great friend of mine committed suicide. And the other stand out thing on the drive back across Germany, was the mobilisation of US Army personnel and equipment which stretched across many many miles of Autobahn…that was a sight…I remember wishing a US Army Master Sgt good luck in passing, at a motorway services. I hope he came back.

  2. When he came back to the Lausitz ring to finish his race, about 13 laps, I was there. His fastest lap would have put him 5th on the grid. It was incredible!

  3. He’s an amazing person. I’ll always recall that when racing karts in Italy he took the time to help me mount my tires on their rims. I mean, nobody helps you with anything at a competitive event like the World Championships let alone the reigning European Champion.

  4. You know Joe, I was feeling a bit down about my bad back/neck etc. back in January and suddenly this exact story popped into my head and truly got me inspired. Next thing I know I’m in a Pilates class stretching like crazy. Nearly a year on and I’m doing great. But this guy… Awesome!

  5. This man is truly amazing! To continue to push himself to succeed in sport after what he has been through is unbelievable, and he always has such a positive outlook on life, were it would have been so easy for him to feel sorry for himself.
    A truly inspirational man.

  6. Thanks for your article and the Youtube links. I watched the Zanardi segments Monday night after recording Letterman’s show. It inspired me to look up his Ironman results, yesterday. He finished 19th in the 45-49 year old category, and 273rd overall with a time of 09:47:14. In total, there were nearly 2000 finishers, with the final ones taking almost 17 hours to complete the annual test of endurance. Alessandro Zanardi is amazing, and a great role model and inspiration. Wow.

    Joe, my copy of your ‘Grand Prix Saboteurs’ book is not too far from my copy of Zanardi’s autobiography ‘My Sweetest Victory’. I purchased and read his book probably a year or two after it was published in English in the US back in 2004. I think that I’ll reread it again in the near future. I’d love to see it updated to cover what he’s been doing these last ten years, but it’s not a necessity.

  7. Thank you. Alex’s story is an amazing example of what we each are capable to accomplish (even without full co-operation from the body) if the drive/ urge is large enough to will the body into submission.

  8. I for one thoroughly enjoyed watching Alex tear up the courses during his CART years. He became the Donut King; after every victory pulling over in various run-off areas and making donuts for the fans.

    The courage and life force it takes to accept and overcome his circumstances are a model for all.

    Thank you for the reminder of all his accomplishments.

  9. Alex Z was a terrific driver, but his accomplishments AFTER outweigh anything on the track, in my mind. Olympic champ … check. Compete at Kona, finish Kona 250 of 2200… check. The 2.5 miles of swim in the rough Hawaiian surf, the wind of the 112 bike is brutal, THEN you have a marathon to “run”. You can’t just show up out of the blue ….Alex is the MAN!!! (yes, I am a Zanardi fan).

  10. I’ve always considered personal ‘heros’ a bit of a schoolboy thing but Alez Zanardi transcends that, the other person in our sport I have astounding respect for is Dan Gurney, but for different reasons. Here’s the link to Zanardi’s final 13 laps Derek Daly is the interviewer.

    1. Wasn’t it AZ who parked his F3000 car sideways on the start/finish straight at Enna (having damaged it while leading) to try to get the race abandoned and claim the win? Admired his balls then! Let alone after the Lauzitzring accident….

  11. I was lucky enough to see him “finish” the 2001 race 2 years later. Amazing feature and goosebumps all over in the entire stands.

    This man is a hero and anyone who thinks their live is over after losing a leg should be required to read his live story.

  12. Even my young kids know about Mr. Zanardi. He is amazing. Until recently I didn’t know his injuries were as severe as they are, so my respect for him has since skyrocketed.

  13. Knowles, thank you for marring a sterling tribute to an inspiring individual with gratuitous, obnoxious, and laughably inaccurate xenophobia and smug condescension. I sincerely doubt that anyone, American or otherwise, thought Afghanistan was within 100 miles of Germany.

  14. I agree his achievements post-accident are truly astonisihing, my favourite memory of Alex is in a CART race at Vancouver (I think). He was pumping the brakes all the way down the main straight, and should he fail to stop for the first corner, he would disappear down the escape road, and plead with the marshals (hands together, praying-style) for a push. It happened time and again but he never gave up. What a star.

  15. He is truly a remarkable individual. I don’t think very many people would react to his accident the way he did. I guess you could call me a pretty jaded person, I don’t get inspired by much. But, Zanardi’s life is truly inspiring.

    Also, his pass of Herta at the corkscrew at Laguna Seca (1996) on the last lap, for the win, will always be one of the top overtakes of all time for me. I remember watching it live and just being floored that he pulled it off, let alone even thought of trying it. In this day and age, he’d probably be DQ’d for leaving the track, but it was a hell of a move.

  16. I was fortunate enough to have seen him race (at Brands) in F3000. The word ‘hero’ is overused a lot these days. Not in the case of AZ though. The guy’s absolutely mega in every sense. I’m sorry to say that I’ve not yet read his autobiography. Think I need to put that right…….

  17. For your interest, Alex didn’t completely stop racing in 2009. Last month he participated in the Blancpain GT series in Zolder with a BMW Z4.
    And just after the race, he was one of the few drivers who mingled with the crowd, just talking and laughing and signing photos.
    A true inspiration indeed !
    Nice initiative Joe to put once in a while an article like this in your blog !

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