Alex Zanardi: Indy 500 bid could still happen
25 May 2013
One of the surprising details about Alex Zanardi's career - in among all the success he had in CART, F1, WTCC and most recently in the London Paralympics 2012 - is that he's never had a chance of racing in the Indianapolis 500.
"We never had him in a race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," admitted team owner Chip Ganassi when talking about his biggest regrets in the sport. "It was one of those things that the timing or the political climate, it wasn't to be," he added, alluding to the CART/Indy Racing League split of the time. "The only lap I did here was I paid $1 and had the bus ride with all the tourists!"
There had been talk that Zanardi - who lost both of his legs in a horrific Champ Car World Series crash in September 2001 at Lausitz, Germany - might compete in this year's Indy 500 in a specially adapted car utilising hand controls in place of foot pedals, but that didn't come to fruition - this year, at least. Despite now being 46, the Italian hasn't given up hopes of making his Indy bow sometime in the future.
"At my age what you no longer have is the capability, the right focus throughout the season as when you are in your 20s. But if it is for one event then it would be a different deal," he said, speaking at a special event in his honour at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday.
"This would not be easy to organize but I am still very passionate about the sport,"" insisted Zanardi. "I still have the capability to steer the wheel and if down the road the right opportunity would arise it would be hard not to be curious about it and look at it."
"As we get older we would all like to make things happen in our lives that may or may not happen but you never know," Ganassi said about the possibility of Zanardi running in the Indy 500 in the future. "But he has a friend with a team that always has a car for him."
"It'd be fantastic," agreed Zanardi. "But it would also be fantastic to kiss Charlize Theron, and this will never happen in my life!" he laughed.
Zanardi was speaking at a special presentation at IMS in which he was presented with the Reynard 96I/Honda car in which he won at Mazda Raceway in Laguna Seca in September 1996 during his rookie season in the series. IN the course of winning the race he passed Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in what's still referred to among IndyCar fans as 'The Move.'
"Laguna Seca in 1996, of all the highlights of my racing career, was probably the most emotional one and the one that actually changed my life," said Zanardi on Friday. "I was very lucky that day, don't get me wrong, but had I not tried that move, who knows what my racing career would have been?
"For sure, it changed a lot of things," he continued. "The perception of all the people watching was that, after that day, I was a different guy, I was definitely a guy to keep an eye on. I'm sure I won a lot of fans that day and caused come controversy, as well. But, hey, this is what keeps us alive, and I was definitely alive that day."
And although Zanardi was clearly excited and rather moved by the reception he received in Indianapolis this week, he admitted that the Indy 500 hadn't been a childhood dream for him in the way that it had been for so many other motor sport drivers down the years.
"I cannot say it was a dream of my childhood because my dream was to drive a red car at Imola and pass Jody Scheckter on the last corner on the last lap," he admitted of his ambition to be a Ferrari driver racing in an F1 Grand Prix. It wasn't a Ferrari in the end, but he did get to race for Jordan, Minardi, Lotus and Williams in his time in the world championship.
Yet all these years later, the red car with the really special place in his heart turned out to be the Reynard 96I/Honda on which he and Chip Ganassi sat on Friday morning.
"It didn't look exactly the same as the one I was dreaming of as a little kid but it was as beautiful and as joyful for me to drive it and I had my last lap pass, although it was not Imola it was Laguna Seca," he said. "I had my great relationship not with Enzo Ferrari but with a friend named Chip Ganassi who changed my life," he insisted, adding: "My dream came true.
"It is really difficult to put it into words," said Zanardi. "I'm lucky enough to have had a long career, a career with many highlights, along with the two championships we won with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. which were, for sure, amazing accomplishments."
Chip Ganassi handed over the car on the famous yard of bricks that runs across the start/finish line at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
"Nothing that Alex Zanardi has done has surprised anybody, from Laguna Seca to two Paralympic gold medals. There is no one like Alex," said Ganassi. "The mold was broken when Alex Zanardi was born.
"In Alex you see a guy who transcends all the issues of the day when we were racing in the mid-'90s," Ganassi continued. "It was a breath of fresh air to see somebody who transcends all that and is all about racing.
"He's had some real accomplishments since he has not been in racing," he added. "Don't forget, you're talking about an Olympian here, and that's pretty heavy stuff. To be at the top of one sport and to go and be at the top of another - enough said. Only someone with his fortitude could accomplish that."
He summed up: "To say the words: 'Passion, commitment, excellence' - all the things that I grew up with that meant something; I think he embodies every one of those. He embodies what we would like every athlete, we look up to, to be in our lives."