When the inaugural German 500 was run in 2001, several of the current crop of veteran drivers in the Champ Car World Series were on hand to push the limits on the daunting 2.023-mile superspeedway, including Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier, owner/driver Adrian Fernandez, Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain Jr, Bruno Junqueira, Roberto Moreno, Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani and 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser.

Notable finishers included Carpentier who drove to the EuroSpeedway podium in third after starting ninth, and Servia who finished fifth after charging from 20th on the grid.

Alex Zanardi, the 1997 and '98 CART champion, will make an unprecedented return to the cockpit of a 750hp Champ Car this weekend, less than two years after suffering the traumatic amputation of both legs during an accident at the 2001 Champ Car race at EuroSpeedway Lausitz, as he will be driving a specially-prepared race car with hand controls that will allow him to finish the final 13 laps of the race that he did not get to complete in 2001. The car will be fitted with a hand clutch and throttle mechanism that will allow Zanardi to drive the laps around the two-mile superspeedway at speed, making the popular Italian champion the first driver to ever pilot a serious race car by using hand controls.

"I am honoured to serve as the Grand Marshal for the German 500 and look forward to seeing all of the Champ Car fans again," Zanardi said. "It was always nice to be cheered by the crowd and it will be great to hear those cheers even through a symbolic effort such as this."

The idea was developed through the efforts of Champ Car Director of Technology Lee Dykstra and Adam Schaechter, who was a race engineer at Mo Nunn Racing when Zanardi raced with the team in 2001. The Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone machine will be painted to match the #66 car that Zanardi was driving when he suffered his accident on Lap 142 of the 2001 event.

"I'm really excited about this and the opportunity to do this with Alex because I know that it is something that he really wants to do," Schaechter said. "The challenge really is just to make the car comfortable for Alex. Getting it to where he can drive it is not really a problem, and I know that he is not interested in doing anything half-measure. He will want to go flat out.".

The task was made easier for the engineers after Zanardi sent a surprising report to Schaechter about a trip to a local karting track with his son and his nephew. As the boys were rocketing around the track, Alex was coaxed into trying a few laps. His lower limb was secured to the brake pedal while he worked the throttle lever with his hand, but Zanardi found to his surprise that he could put enough pressure on the brake to get the car stopped and was immediately turning fast laps in the kart. He immediately sent an email message telling Schaechter of the development, which was a relief to the designers of the car controls.

"The most difficult part for us was to find a way to get the car stopped that was going to be 100 percent reliable," Dykstra said. "We were experimenting with hydraulics when we found out that Alex could work the brake himself. That made things much easier."

The fact that the car, which is being built and fielded by Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, with considerable help from Derrick Walker's organization, is running on a superspeedway makes the task a bit easier. The road-course wing package on the car means that Zanardi can run comfortably at top speed nearly all the way around the track. Zanardi tested the car earlier this week prior to the Brands Hatch event, and the hand controls were tested last week in a private test at Indianapolis Raceway Park with 1991 Indy Lights champion Eric Bachelart at the wheel. The 15-time Champ Car race winner will also be re-licensed as an official series driver by Chief Steward Chris Kneifel.