Alessandro Zanardi, the Paralympic Champion and former Formula 1 and Indycar driver whose open-wheel racing career was cut short by a violent crash that cost him his legs, will be back behind the wheel of a BMW M4 in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, for the first time without his prosthetics.
The main concern for Zanardi is not whether he can be competitive behind the wheel (he’s proven time and again since the crash that he can still drive quickly) but whether he can exit the car quickly, in an emergency scenario.
“When an accident occurs, all DTM drivers must be able to get out of their car on their own. This cannot take longer than seven seconds on the driver’s side and nine seconds on the passenger side,” explained Christian Schmidt, Technical Delegate for the DTM. “This is to ensure that no-one has to wait for outside assistance if a fire breaks out on board, for example. An official fitness test will take place at the weekend and Alex will have to pass this. After that, there will be nothing to prevent him competing.”
Zanardi has prepared for his test extensively, exiting the cockpit on the driver’s side in full racing attire, including helmet and HANS device, in roughly 4.5 seconds
“I am not worrying about this test,” said the Italian racer. “I have always been convinced that I will pass it easily. There are plenty of handholds in a DTM cockpit that I can use to pull myself out. I wouldn’t say that I am faster at getting out than the other DTM drivers, but I am certainly no slower.”
The BMW M4 DTM has been modified to allow him to accelerate and brake using just his hands, and Zanardi feels that the ability to race without his prosthetic legs is probably an advantage in getting out of the car in the event of a crash.
“I can move much faster without my prosthetic legs. There would be a greater risk of getting stuck somewhere with the prostheses,” he added. And if the car is stuck in gravel trap, Zanardi says he is also more agile without prosthetic legs because simply runs on his hands, which is easier for him thanks to his training for hand-cycling races in which he participates — since 2011 he is has won four gold and two silver Paralympic medals, and 14 world championship medals (10 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze).
“We have come to know Alex Zanardi as an unbelievably enthusiastic racing driver with a real eye for detail and we are sure that he meets all the conditions to drive a DTM car right at the limit,” concluded Schmidt.