Alessandro Zanardi will be back in the cockpit of a racecar on a regular basis this season, having agreed terms to rejoin BMW Motorsport in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series.
The Italian, who garnered three medals – two of them gold – from London's 2012 Paralympic Games, will be behind the wheel of a specially modified BMW Z4 GT3 run by the ROAL Motorsport team.
The 47-year old lost both legs while racing in the 2001 Champ Car World Series, but overcame his disability to return to motorsport. Among other things, Zanardi drove for BMW in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, where he stood on the top step of the podium on four occasions. While focusing on winning medals in the handbike discipline at London 2012, he also completed a test in the BMW M3 DTM and is now set to contest a full season for BMW for the first time since 2009.
“Alex is back and I cannot express how delighted I am that one of the greatest heroes in the history of BMW Motorsport is returning to the cockpit of one of our racing cars,” motorsport director Jens Marquardt admitted.
“From both a human and a sporting aspect, Alex is a role model to all of us. I am sure he will approach this new challenge in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series in the same manner we have become accustomed to from him. You can really sense just how much he has missed competing on four wheels.
“Modifying the BMW Z4 GT3 is a challenge for our engineers. However, we gained valuable experience in this regard when we modified the BMW M3 DTM in 2012, and that will come in very useful now. As far as we are concerned, there is nothing preventing Alex from making a successful comeback.”
The effervescent Zanardi naturally cannot wait to return to the motorsport scene.
“Even after leaving the sport in 2009, I was still a racing driver at heart,” he insisted, “When I took to the track in the BMW M3 DTM at the end of 2012, I immediately got itchy fingers again. Ever since that moment, I have been toying with the idea of returning to motor racing. Together with BMW we have looked at various options. I am even more pleased that it has worked out with my old friends at ROAL Motorsport. I would like to say a big thank you to BMW for this unique opportunity.”
Zanardi raced for the team belonging to former BMW DTM champion Roberto Ravaglia in the FIA European Touring Car Championship when he made his first comeback in 2003. Back then, a BMW 320i was adapted to suit his special needs and the 1997 and 1998 Champ Car champion duly claimed four victories before the parties went their separate ways – for a while at least – at the end of the 2009 season.
“Alex and I have gone through so much together in motorsport - therefore, I obviously did not hesitate when the opportunity arose to send him back into action for ROAL Motorsport in 2014,” Ravaglia said, “The sprints in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series are tailor-made for Alex. We will do everything in our power to give him a strong car, with which he can reproduce the performances and success we have seen from him in the past.”
Zanardi will drive one of the two ROAL Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3s in six of the seven Blancpain sprint races, which each last one hour.