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Alessandro Zanardi: The indomitable will to out-power adversity

ANALYST
Modified 14 Jan 2014, 13:48 IST
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Molson Indy Toronto

TORONTO- JULY 5: Alex Zanardi during a press conference on the day of his return to a track after his life threatening accident in September 2001 in Germany, at the Molson Indy Toronto round 8 of the CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) FedEx Championship Series on July 5, 2002 at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Alessandro Zanardi, a former CART and Formula One driver has got universal acclaim for his will to get back to competitive sports even after a near fatal crash, in which he lost both legs.

Zanardi is an Italian race car driver, who was highly successful during the 1990s. After Karting, he made his debut in open wheel racing in Italian Formula 3 Championship in 1988. After this in 1991, he raced in the Formula 3000 Series, where after a strong season, he finished second in the final drivers standings. This year, he also made into Formula 1, driving for the Jordan F1 Team in three races.

In the following three years in the sport, he also drove for Lotus and Minardi. His time in Formula 1 was blemished by reliability issues and uncompetitive machinery, which affected his performance. With Team Lotus folding its operations in Formula 1 in 1994, he was left without a drive for the next season. After Formula 1, in 1996 he joined Champ Car or the CART championship in the USA. During his debut season, he became a highly regarded driver and finished third in the drivers standings. 1997 was finally the moment for him to shine as he got his hands on the drivers championship. Another victorious year followed, in which he succeeded in defending his drivers title.

Alessandro “Alex” Zanardi wins the first Champ Car title after the split with the IRL.

By this time, he had shown his mettle in the sport and again caught attention of the Formula 1 paddock. In 1999, he signed a three year deal with Williams, the 1997 World Champions. The season proved to be a disappointment for him as he was not able to replicate the success achieved in CART. After just one year, he terminated his contract and bid adieu to Formula One.

In 2001, he made a return to CART and had an underwhelming season until the race at Lausitzring, Germany, where he was leading the race, even though he had started from the back of the grid. Midway through the race, he came into the pits. As he exited the pits and rejoined the race, he spun out of control in front of Patrick Carpentier, who took avoiding action and escaped. But behind him another driver, Alex Tagliani, could not see Zanardi spin out of control and went straight into him. In the accident, Tagliani escaped unhurt, but the same was not the fate of Zanardi, whose car was seriously damaged from the side and front. But the worrying part was his legs where he had suffered serious injuries. When brought into the hospital, the doctors were successful in saving his life, but could not save his legs, which had to be amputated.

By this time, many had thought that a return to racing was impossible for him. But after just a few years, he proved everyone wrong. Through his sheer determination, he got back into racing in 2004, this time in FIA European Touring Car Championship, which became World Touring Car Championship in 2005. His car had been specially modified for him to allow use by prosthetic feet. He debuted in 2005 and had a modest season. In 2005, at Motorsport Arena Oschersleben in Germany, he finally got his first win since his accident, where ecstatic after winning, he performed several donuts on the track in celebration. Three more wins and several podiums followed in subsequent seasons, before his retirement in 2009.

2012 London Paralympics - Day 10 - Cycling - Road

LONGFIELD, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 08: Alessandro Zanardi of Italy competes in the Mixed H 1-4 relay on day 10 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Brands Hatch on September 8, 2012 in Longfield, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

After retiring from motorsports, he turned his attention towards handcycling. Here, he succeeded in winning several marathons at places like New York, Rome and Venice. By this time, he decided to enroll at the 2012 Paralympics in London as a competitor for Italy in handcycling, where the whole world watched in awe as he clinched two gold medals and a silver medal.

Alessandro Zanardi has achieved phenomenal recognition in the racing fraternity, as a racer who wasn’t affected by any setback. He stands out as an example to all and sundry as a person who didn’t let any calamity in his life affect the way he lived. Instead of giving up his career after the accident, he came back even stronger; it is for his this exceptional effort that he will be remembered now for generations to come as a symbol of courage and determination.

Published 14 Jan 2014, 13:48 IST
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