A Word On Alex Zanardi

A warm congratulations to Alex Zanardi on his three medals, two Gold and one Silver, achieved last week in the handcycling at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Alex Zanardi up front at the start of the H4 64km Road Race (photo: P.Wotton)

It has been a very long journey since losing his legs at the 2001 American Memorial 500 at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany, just days after the attacks of September 11th. The man who according to NASA studies ought to have died with that amount of blood loss, through the skills of the CART medical team headed by Drs. Terry Trammel and Steve Olvey and also the German hospital staff, was able to make a remarkable recovery. Indeed just three months later Alex was at an Italian awards show where he stood again in public for the first time. Three months!

The largely American and Canadian CART paddock was already downhearted and didn’t really want to be in Europe, his accident only served to excacerbate the feelings. Somehow, because they are racing people and that’s what racing people seem able to do, they pulled through and ran the Rockingham race the next week (despite all the track problems there).

Via a short comeback to finish that race in Germany two years later, and a fairly successful career in touring cars with BMW (including WTCC race wins and an Italian national championship), he turned his hands to handcycling. He decided handcycle technology wasn’t good enough so, much like his prosthetic legs, he set about designing and modifying his own. He won the New York Marathon among many others. The goal: To win at the London 2012 Paralympics.

And now he has achieved it. Gold in the time trial. Gold in the 64km road race. Silver as a member of the team relay.

Last Friday I was lucky enough to have a ticket to watch Alex compete in the road race, and all of the great competitors in all six races held that day. This followed an evening at the stadium on that day, Thursday, the night GBR won many medals in the track and field competition which pumped up the 80,000-strong sellout crowd (as if they needed pumping up). By Friday evening it was tough to know which experience made the bigger impression. Brands Hatch held far less than 10% of the crowd the previous night yet the atmosphere during the Zanardi race was as good, the mix of motorsport fans, people who had discovered him thanks to Channel 4 kindly highlighting him so frequently (remember the UK general public who are not die-hard motorsport fans had little idea who he was), and also the supporters of the other athletes who were battling for the podium: Swiss, Austrian,  Belgian, Irish, and yes, Italian.
To be so close to Alex not only as he raced but also after Lou and I had managed to put ourselves where the victory podium was set up, to be no more than 10 metres from the man as his gold medal was draped around his neck and he sang his national anthem along with many in that crowd, it was a privelige to see a man achieve his dream.

What now? After the win he told interviewers he might feel a gap in his life now that he has achevied the goal of Paralympic Gold that he’d been working towards for so long. How to follow it? He jokingly said the next step is to add another wheel and an engine, but this is Alex Zanardi.. was it a joke? Jimmy Vasser and Chip Ganassi are allegedly working on car for the Indy 500. Another joke.. or serious? In a way I hope he does. In another way I hope he doesn’t because to my mind he has nothing left to prove.

Zanardi, van Dyk, and Decleir with their Paralympic medals, Brands Hatch – 7 Sept ’12 P. Wotton

(Apologies for slight fuzziness, the light was getting bad and I tried to correct it with software, if I hadn’t it would all be dark and you wouldn’t be able to see it!)

Finally, another fan at the event recorded a video of the day. It really does capture it perfectly – the video is just like being there. You might even get as sick of the Dolly Parton clips as we were – they played it every time the field came by the start line which was a lot with two races running at the same time! This guy does shout a bit much, though Alex doesn’t seem to mind.

For more photos of Zanardi and the other cyclists at Brands Hatch across the six races that day, as well those from my Thursday in London at the Paralympics, take a loko at my photoset on Picasa here. I also went up to London in July during the Olympics although not to many events, but if you want to see the city in the grips of Olympic spirit (and you should) then that set is here. I know I’ve been going about it on Twitter but I don’t care, it was such a great summer I want to share it with everyone who couldn’t be here!

On The Limit: Addicted To Speed

I used to run a sequence of posts featuring fun or interesting videos which I put into a category called ‘On The Limit’. I was checking the site and I realised the last was over a year ago so it is about time to bring it back. The name was supposed to refer to in-car footage but along the way it got turned into a thread for any interesting racing video. Anyway I’m not going back to change them all now, so enjoy the latest instalment of On The Limit.

This is a bit of fun. Back in 2002 someone put together this pilot for a TV magazine show based around the CART series. I’m not sure if it got turned into a series and some cursory searching suggests it didn’t get any further than this episode, but it was a long time ago now so details are hard to come by. It features upcoming drivers Townsend Bell, Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia as well as one of the big stars of the day, the 1996 CART PPG Indy Car World Series champion Jimmy Vasser. Join them as a fly on the wall as they work through the Long Beach race weekend, round two of what was now the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series.

It was dug out and posted to Townsend Bell’s own YouTube account, and he brought it up on Twitter on Monday.

Things to look for: Great-looking and great-sounding cars. The Long Beach track hasn’t changed at all. Michael Andretti’s goatee looks as stupid now as it did then. Dario’s straight and serious haircut, you can hardly tell it’s him. Back in 2002 I didn’t think much of Kanaan other than that he should be with a big team, otherwise I wasn’t interested but looking at this now it was me that had it wrong because he hasn’t changed a bit – okay he’s more experienced and is wiser now but he’s still the same fun-loving TK we know today!

[ video via @TownsendBell99 / Townsend Bell ]

Where are they now?

Jimmy Vasser retired from driving and bought out Craig ‘BAR’ Pollock’s share of PK Racing, itself a revamp of the old PacWest team. Via a spell as PKV, that team is currently known as KV Racing Technologies and hires Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello and EJ Viso as drivers.

A year after this video Tony Kanaan had switched to what was then the IRL and in 2004 became champion of that series with Andretti-Green. He’s won several races and his dream now is the big one: the Indy 500.

Oriol Servia is better than his career results would suggest. His best year was 2nd in the 2005 Champ Car season but he hasn’t been helped at having to change teams almost every season since 2001. He’s been with some good teams but never seems able to stay with any of them for longer than a season and a bit. I’d lay money that if he stayed at one team for three years we’d see magic happen. He’s currently at Dreyer & Reinbold who’s switch from Lotus to Chevy has helped immensely.

And finally to Townsend himself. 2002 wasn’t a good season – he got fired by Patrick Racing after the series placed him on probation. He spent the following year in F3000 for Arden where he scored a podium in Hungary, before heading back to the US for a part-season in the IRL. Despite regularly cropping up in the entry lists a few times a year in the IRL and then the re-invented IndyCar Series (notably well at the Indy 500), for reasons very few people understand he hasn’t yet landed a full-season ride in IndyCar. This year he switched codes to join the ALMS to develop the Lotus Evora GTE with Alex Job Racing, dovetailing it with IndyCar pit reporter work for NBC where he’s a broadcasting natural.