Superhero Zanardi realises Olympic gold medal dream
6 September, 2012
Sep.5 (Reuters) – Former Formula 1 driver Alex Zanardi, who lost his legs after a horrific crash in 2001, enjoyed a golden finale to his “magical adventure” by winning the Paralympic men’s individual H4 handcycling time trial on Wednesday.
Zanardi finished more than 27 seconds ahead of German Norbert Mosandl, with American Oscar Sanchez taking bronze.
“This is a great accomplishment, one of the greatest of my life,” Zanardi said. “I worked very hard to get here. It was great to live such an experience at [the age of] 45.”
The Italian made his grand prix debut as a Jordan driver at the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix, and in his first four season stint in F1 he also raced for Minardi and Lotus before moving to Champ Car series with Chip Ganassi Racing and winning back to back titles in 1997 and 1998.
In 1999 Zanardi returned to F1, signing a three year contract with Williams, but he only completed a single season before agreeing to part ways, whereupon the Italian returned to race in the United States. His last grand prix was at the end of 1999 in Japan, having made 41 starts at the highest level.
Zanardi had both legs amputated above the knee after crashing in the Champ Car series in 2001.
The Italian was leading a race at Germany’s Lausitz track when he lost control of his red Reynard-Honda in the final laps and Canadian driver Alex Tagliani ran into him at more than 350 km/h (220 mph).
Earning praise for his recovery, he returned to racing only a year and a half after the crash and continued in the World Touring Car championships until 2009, by which time he had taken up handcycling.
“It seemed a stupid thing to do to drop everything. It was against all odds. But it’s not the first crazy thing I did in life. In the end I was right.
“You should not chase pipedreams, but if you have a horizon to look into, happiness is just around the corner.”
Zanardi was a former track record holder at Brands Hatch in the Formula 3000 category but admitted the circuit was hillier than he remembered.
“With an engine pushing me, I didn’t realise it was so hilly. It was very hard, but if I had to design a course, this is what I would have done. It is beautiful, hard…it suits my characteristics of an old man,” he said.
“When you are 40, you appreciate what you do every day. I enjoyed every day of training. I’ve had a magical adventure and this is a fantastic conclusion.”
All the Paralympic road cycling events will take place at Brands Hatch, Kent, 20 miles south east of the Olympic Stadium.
It began as a grass track for cycle racing in 1928. It staged the British F1 Grand Prix for the first time in 1976 and the last time in 1986.
Subbed by AJN.