This is such a great story isn’t it? Alex Zanardi, former F1 driver and CART champion, who tragically lost his legs in a crash at Lausitzring in 2001, goes on to become a double Paralympics gold medallist at the London 2012 games.
Then BMW, who Zanardi drove for in the WTCC between 2003 and 2009, provide him with the opportunity to drive a ‘gold’ M3 DTM – the car which scooped this year’s championship on BMW’s return to the series after a 20 year absence.
Fairy tales in motorsport don’t come much better than this, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
It was BMW Motorsport’s way of acknowledging the outstanding sporting achievements of Zanardi, and in addition to the M3 DTM’s gold livery, it also featured three medals (two golds and one silver) on its roof, which Zanardi won at this summer’s Paralympic Games.
The venue was Germany’s Nürburgring grand prix circuit, and within just a few laps the 46-year-old Italian had slotted seamlessly back into race-driver mode and looked more at home in the car with each of his 32 laps.
“I am overjoyed to have been given the opportunity to drive the BMW M3 DTM today,” said Zanardi. “This is a very special day for me, and one I will always remember fondly. I would like to thank everyone at BMW who has helped make this special moment possible for me.
“It was a challenge to modify the car to meet my requirements and I am surprised just how quickly the BMW Motorsport engineers managed to complete the necessary modifications. However, the guys have done a great job. I had great fun out on the track.
“When I first saw the golden car I was overwhelmed. I still have a passion for racing. However, I’m not sure whether our demonstration drive will be anything more than just that, as the level in the DTM may possibly prove to be too high for someone of my age. As such, my main focus is on something completely different after today’s drive: I felt that the BMW family is still behind me and loves me. They showed that once again today.”
Jens Marquardt, BMW’s Motorsport Director, said of the occasion “I am delighted we have taken on this adventure successfully with Alessandro Zanardi, For years he has been a valued member of the BMW Motorsport family and is a great role model for us all. Despite his handicap, he approaches every challenge with great optimism and passes every test with flying colours.
“His medals at the Paralympic Games in London are fine examples of this, as are the four race victories he achieved in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for BMW Motorsport. As we have seen today, the challenge of driving the technically complex BMW M3 DTM also proved to be no obstacle for him.
Although the modifications made to the BMW M3 DTM would not be suitable for use under race conditions, they did allow Zanardi to complete the his demonstration drive at the Nürburgring.
Accelerator and clutch pedals were removed and the brake pedal was shifted to the right in order to allow Zanardi to brake with his prosthetic right leg. He operated the accelerator with his left hand on the steering wheel, while he was able to change gear by pushing and pulling the shift paddle. The application for the pneumatic-hydraulic clutch was located on the shift panel.
Zanardi’s outing in the BMW M3 DTM was one of the highlights of the three-day celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of BMW M, which also saw the new M6 Gran Coupe be revealed at the “M Night” evening event.