Alex Zanardi, a Crash Survivor
What is amazing about Alex is that only nineteen months later, after extensive rehabilitation, he returned to racing in May of 2003 and then went on to join the World Touring Car Championships up until 2009.
However, what elevates Alex from amazing to extraordinary is that in 2007, not letting his disability limit him from fully embracing life, he took up hand cycling and in less than five years later, he won the Rome City Marathon, Venice Marathon, New York Marathon, and most recently, secured two Gold Medal and a Silver at the 2012 London Paralympics. He declared his intention to compete again at the Indy 500 in 2013 when he will be 48 years old.
Alex Zanardi’s Racing Biography
Alex, born in the Italian city of Bologna on the 23rd of October 1966, is the son of parents Anna and Dino. The couple has another child, a daughter named Cristina.
In 1981, Alex’s racing career began at the young age of 13 when he took up the sport of go-cart racing, building his own carts by hand from materials found at his father’s workplace. He got the third place in the 100cc Italian Championships. In 1983, Alex competed in the "Avenir" Italian National Championship 100cc class finishing second overall.
In 1984, Alex represented St. Marino at the European championship and returns home with a third place. In 1985, he won multiple races and championships inside and outside of Italy including the Italian Championship, European Championship, the Coppa dei Campioni, and the International G.P. at Mentone, Hong Kong.
Alex is again crowned Italian Champion in 1986 and places second in the Hong Kong Grand Prix.
In 1987, Alex is disqualified for blocking another racer in the Italian Championship that he won. He again wins the European Championship, with five wins from five starts.
In 1988, Alex says it was a disappointing season after a highlight of a fifth place in Vallelunga. However, he returned to racing carts and he won the “World Championship” at the Hong Kong Grand Prix
Alex joins the “Erre Tre Racing for Italy" team in 1989 where he finished in seventh position by the end of the championship with seconds and thirds accumulating points in each race. In 1990, he placed 2nd in the Formula 3 Italian Championships, won the European Championship while achieving pole position for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix Race.
In 1991, Alex joins the "Il Barone Rampante" in his rookie Formula 3000 class. He goes on to win the first race and another one at Mugello. In recognition for his success, Alex is awarded the "driver revelation" title.
In 1993, Alex is racing in a Lotus, and crashes at the Spa circuit, which ended his year of racing. Alex returns to racing the next year but only as a test driver for the team; however, by the end of season, the team goes bankrupt and Alex had the worst fate because he wasn’t paid.
In 1995, Siegfried Stohr, hired Alex as a part-time instructor to help out at his driving school. That gave him an opportunity to race again in the BPR series. Alex won a race at Silverstone for his class and a third overall. Alex meets Chip Ganassi (USA) and was signed up on his birthday to race in the Indy Car Series in the USA—a contract that changed Alex’s life forever.
Alex Gets Married
In 1996, Alex married Daniela (née Manni) and raced in the US for Ganassi. He won three and was on pole position six times. He received the Rookie of the Year award after record leading laps surpassing his longtime hero Nigel Mansell’s record, which made him a crowd favorite.
Alex wins the World Champion Title in the newly born "CART" series (previously known as Open Wheel) in 1997 and in 1998, he finishes the season with another World Championship Title after a total of seven wins and being on the podium 15 times in a total of 19 race starts.
In 1999, Alex joined Formula1. The tour was a disappointment for Alex who encountered mechanical issues with his car. That distracted him and subsequently affected diluted his enthusiasm. He decided to take some time off and considered leaving racing indefinitely to devote more time to be with his wife and son Niccolo. He also planned buying a boat and fastidiously maintaining it, “I have so much time to rub oil on the well teak, that at a certain point I mirror myself into it.”
Alex Writes a Blog to Picture his Life After the Crash
In 2001, Alex was approached by Morris Nunn who has his own CART team with the backing of Honda. On the 15th of September 2001, after coming out of the pits to lead the race with thirteen laps to go, Alex was involved in a sickening accident. Merging back onto the track car spun across the grass and onto the track and he was hit at over 200 miles an hour by Patrick Carpentier. The accident severed Alex's car in half. His legs had to be amputated and he lost 90% of his blood. Alex was rushed to the hospital and after many hours of surgery, involving further removal of his legs, he was declared out of critical condition.
In 2001, Alex wrote in his blog: “My race is now at the prosthesis center of Budrio, the challenge is to make a pair of legs work. They do not have blood, but they hurt a lot, they are cold like metal, but they make me sweat as if I am always climbing, they allow me to move forward but they make me fall.”
Alex Keeps on Racing After the Crash
The racing press followed Alex’s recovery and story and over the next nineteen months, he spent all of his time in rehabilitation centers, learning to walk and putting back the pieces of his life. Alex’s tenacity and optimism shone through. It was reported that he, regaining consciousness after the surgery and learning of his legs now missing, said, “My first thought was how the hell am I going to do all the things still left in my life without my leg, but I had no doubt I was still going to do them!”
Either in an act of tenacity, stubbornness, or saying life can still go on even if it is without legs, in 2003, Alex accepted an invitation to race again. His race was covered by racing reporters across the globe. He is back at the Lausitzring, in the same car, to complete the last thirteen laps he missed in 2001. The money he raised in attending the event was donated to the Alex Zanardi Foundation, which in turn donated $85,000 to a French foundation for children’s aid.
Writing My Story and My Sweetest Victory
In 2003, Alex also wrote two books “Alex Zanardi: My Story," and "Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory."
By the year end of 2004, Alex was back again racing, this time in the World Touring Car Championships with BMW. The BMW is set up to accommodate Alex’s needs and he joked that he was the only one that can change his shoe size. After only two trials, Alex was considered one of the fastest drives on the circuit. He joined the tour qualifying in the 11th position and finishing seventh place.
In 2005, Alex won the Italian Championship and finished tenth overall in the World Touring Car Championships. In 2007, Alex decided to take part in the New York Marathon in the Hand cycling event. He finished 4th place. In 2009, he won a Gold Medal at the Venice Marathon & Competed in Para-Cycling Road World Championships. In 2010, Alex won a Gold Medal at the Rome City Marathon. 2011 He is the best racer and wins a Gold Medal at the New York City Marathon.
In 2012, Alex won two Gold Medals and a Silver at 2012 Paralympic Games held in London in addition to flagging his intention to compete again at the Indy 500 in 2013 when he will be 48 years old.
International Formula 3000
- 1989: Two pole positions and three podium places
- 1991: Winning on his F3000 debut, he went on to score two more wins that season, finishing second in the championship.
- 1993: First ever F1 point at the Brazilian Grand Prix. However, season ended after practice run crash.
American Open Wheel Cart
- 1996: Pole starting position in his second race. A total of three race wins in his first season and a total of five pole positions. Tied second in championship points.
- 1996: Won final race in the series finishing 3rd overall in the series.
- 1997: World Champion
- 1998: World Champion
- 2001: Finished 23rd after a career ending accident
Word Touring Car Championships
- 2005: Finished 10th position
- 2006: Finished 11th position
- 2007: Finished 15th position
- 2008: Finished 13th position
- 2009: Finished 12th position
- 2007: Finished 4th place in the New York City Marathon
- 2009: Gold Medal at the Venice Marathon & Competed in Para-Cycling Road World Championships
- 2010: Gold Medal at the Rome City Marathon
- 2011: Gold Medal at the New York City Marathon
- 2012: Two Gold Medals and Silver at the 2012 Paralympic Games