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Racing Hero Zanardi Prepares For Brands Hatch Return Next Weekend
Posted by: newsla on May 09, 2014 - 03:28 PM
Sports Cars
Racing Hero Zanardi Prepares For Brands Hatch Return Next Weekend

Double Paralympic Gold Medallist continues racing comeback at scene of his greatest triumph

Motor racing and Paralympic champion Alex Zanardi returns to Brands Hatch next weekend (17/18 May) in the Blancpain GT Series, the scene of his double Gold Medal triumph in the 2012 Games. It will be his second race weekend since making his motorsport comeback after a four-year hiatus.


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The Blancpain GT Series marks the return of international GT racing to Brands Hatch, with the world’s finest supercars taking to the Grand Prix circuit for two one-hour races. Each team features two drivers, except for Zanardi, who will be driving a BMW Z4 solo, dovetailing his racing commitments with preparations for the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Despite leaving the World Touring Car Championship to pursue his handcycling dream in late 2009, Alex did not officially retire from motorsport. He confirms that his return was influenced by long-term employer BMW: "I was approached several times, but quite frankly it was completely different when somebody at BMW had a very intriguing opportunity, because to drive the Z4 in Blancpain is something that to me sounds much more charming than driving a different type of car. It’s a very powerful machine, in my view a very good looking one, it performs from behind the wheel a lot like a real race car."

Having the freedom to continue his handcycling career was equally as important, he continued: "To compete in the Blancpain Sprint Championship is a very limited commitment, because we are talking about a pretty short calendar of only seven races well-spread throughout the season. It is difficult, for sure it is a little bit of a compromise, but nonetheless we can only live once and I believe that in 2014 and probably 2015 as well, I can take this compromise in order to really enjoy what I love, which is to be a race car driver. If I qualify for the Paralympic Games of Rio 2016 in good shape, in that year I will have to only prepare for this, or at least I should have to limit my activity as a racing driver to the first part of the season."

Just as in handcycling, Alex will be competing on board a machine tailored to his specific requirements. He is able to brake with his prosthetic leg by moving his hip, but needs to operate the clutch and accelerator with his hands. The technology for this has moved on a lot over the last five years, he explained: "Oh yes, dramatically I would say. Just to give you an example, when I was driving the BMW 320 in the WTCC, there was no automatic clutch available on the market, and BMW had to approach a big company in order to design one for me that would fit my requirements, which was about 15 kilos and was pretty voluminous. Now there is a clutch mechanism that is basically the standard system that is mounted on other racing cars, and these are tiny, very reliable, and work beautifully. As far as the ergonomics go, it’s a completely different deal, because of co urse that is pretty much related to my own personal needs, so we have to do a bit of work, but everything is improvable."

He admits that returning to Brands Hatch will be special, just as it was two years ago: "It’s been an incredible adventure. In 2009 I took part in my first edition of the World Championship as it was held in Italy and when I arrived at the finish of the time trial my main opponents had already taken a shower! I did improve a lot, but although I’d already won a race of the World Cup, I don’t think anybody would point at me as the main favourite of the event. When it was announced that our venue was going to be Brands Hatch, it felt like a little gift from heaven, so I was able to display my best performance. To be able to win my Gold Medals at Brands Hatch, a place that I love absolutely, was even more special."

This will be no lap of honour, however, and Alex’s legions of fans can be assured that will be performing at his usual high level next weekend. "If I do something I try to do it to the best of my ability and I do care these days of trying to drive my car to the limit as much as I used to do in my 20s. If it is enough you’ll go further, if not, you’ll have to be strong enough to step out of the car, shake the hand of all the opponents that did a better job than you, and decide whether it’s come the time to do something different. Fortunately for me at the age of 47, I think that moment has not yet arrived."

Tickets for the Blancpain GT Series at Brands Hatch on 17/18 May are available from £21 with free entry for children aged 12 and under.

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