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Alex Zanardi claims Paralympics gold at Brands Hatch
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Posted By: James Allen  |  05 Sep 2012   |  5:16 pm GMT  |  29 comments

The 2012 London Olympics have provided no end of inspirational stories over the past month and for the motorsport community the most poignant came on Wednesday afternoon at Brands Hatch as former F1 driver and double Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi claimed Paralympics gold in the handcycling time trial around the circuit he first competed on as a racing driver more than 20 years ago.

The 45-year-old came close to losing his life when he was involved in a horrific crash during his second stint in the American-based Champ Car series at Germany’s Lausitzring in 2001, an accident which saw him lose both of his legs. Yet since then his story, and return to top-level sporting competition, has been little short of remarkable.

Not only did Zanardi return to racing in a modified touring car in the World Touring Car Championship, he took his racer’s competitive instinct into the world of disability sport and handbiking with the goal of winning gold at the 2012 Paralympics.

Last November Zanardi, at the second attempt, won the handcycling class of the New York Marathon and in addition to winning silver at the World time trials and further marathon wins in Italy, collected enough points to make Italy’s Paralympics team for the handbiking road events at the 2012 Games. With the events taking place in and around London, the venue for today’s event was rather well known for Zanardi – even if the anti-clockwise route round the circuit would have been somewhat unintuitive – given he first raced at Brands Hatch in Formula 3000 in 1991, and more recently the WTCC, where he finished on the podium in 2008.

For Wednesday’s H4 category event, the athletes had to complete two laps of a 8km loop around the race circuit and surrounding roads with the 10 handcyclists’ start times staggered. By the end of the first split Zanardi was already a number of seconds up on his nearest competitors and by the end of the second lap had done enough to beat the German Norbert Mosandl to the gold medal by 27 seconds.

In an interview with Channel 4, the UK’s host Paralympics broadcaster, before the race Zanardi had spoken of his deep enjoyment of the build-up to the competition and admitted that finding a fresh challenge after the Games would be a difficult task.

“It’s a sad moment to a certain degree because I wouldn’t be here had I not loved every single second of this experience,” he said.” To be at the end of the road will also be a bit of a sad moment because if I won’t be able the day after to find a new horizon to fill my life honestly it would be a very empty life, so I will be a very busy man the following week looking for something new.

“But who knows – maybe I’m like red wine so I can go to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games!”

But before turning to the future, the former Jordan, Lotus and Williams driver will have two further opportunities to add to his medal count in London, with appearances in the individual road race on Friday and team relay event on Saturday.

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29 Comments
  1. MJ says:

    This guy is incredible. What ever he turns his hand to, he knows how to win at. After what he went through, Zanardi sure is an inspiration to all, and an all round nice chap too. Well done Alessandro!

  2. Tim says:

    A class act. God bless you, Alex Zanardi.

    Tim

  3. Phil says:

    I hope they find a car for him to get some celebratory donuts in. Incredible result.

  4. Marc Aubry says:

    Truly inspiring and it shows that competitors across sports share the same will/need to win.
    I would find the whole thing even more inspiring if the Paralympics were to be shown on TV around the world as the Olympics was for us to appreciate Alessandro’s and others’ achievements in their respective sport.
    Marc

  5. PeteJaxon says:

    Well done Alex!

  6. Bloke says:

    One of my treasures is a signed copy of his book “My Story”. If you have read that, then you will not be at all surprised by this remarkable win.

    A truly outstanding and inspirational man – one that for me, sets the standard in so many, many areas – dedication, sportsmanship, overcoming adversity, human endeavour.

    Congratulations, Alessandro

  7. After his crash, I never would have guessed he’d end up winning some WTCC races… and after he was done with touring cars, I never would have guessed he’d end up winning handcycling marathons and a Paralympic gold medal!

    After this, I won’t even try to guess what he’ll do next!

  8. There is only one thing left now – Chip Ganassi needs to meet with Indycar, get approval for hand controls to be installed on a car, and then set up a 2013 Indianapolis 500 program for Alex. There should be no objection to hand controls at Indy, braking and gear changing are less important there than at any other circuit.

  9. Sebee says:

    No F1 wins.
    No F1 championships.
    No F1 poles.

    Yet, Champion to F1 fans everywhere. Boys and Girls, pick your idols well.

    1. John says:

      Well said!

      1. olderguysrule says:

        I agree.

  10. Val Whiteway says:

    Well done Alex, you are a true athlete. Just awesome in what you have achieved, an inspiration to many people. Good luck in the next two events.

  11. Chris says:

    Alex Zanardi is an inspirational legend to all of us, 27 seconds, fair play Alex!!

  12. zx6dude says:

    Amazing!

  13. Kyle W says:

    If reports out of the US are true, Zanardi may have already found his next challenge – the Indianapolis 500. I read a report today saying he’s in talks to hopefully participate in next years race. Dallara (who manufacters the spec chassis for IndyCar) says they’ll produce the hand controls if given the ok to do so by IndyCar. I hope he does – he’s an inspiration to one and all – able bodied or not.

  14. woodward2 says:

    Truly inspirational. Words can’t express my admiration for Alex Zanardi.

    Certain current F1 “superstars” – take note; maybe you need to look beyond your own self-imposed mega-star horizons…

  15. Chris George says:

    Made me quite emotional that story

    Alex Zinardi is quite simply one of the most inspirational individuals imaginable

    Congratulations Alex, and good luck with your next endeavour, whatever it may be.

  16. Rein says:

    I never forget the images of his accident. Like many others I thought he got killed that moment.
    I followed his remarkable story ever since. Truly, truly inspirational in so many ways. Many congratulations to Alex Zanardi and all his fellow participants at the Paralympics! You are all heroes – every single one of you!

    1. Ian says:

      Well said, all heroes.

      My cousin was a race car designer and engineer. He started his career in F1 with Hesketh and worked with many top names in the 70′s and 80′s in Formula one,Le Mans,World Sports Car Championship and American Le Mans Series; of all the drivers he worked with he says the nicest most down to earth was Alex Zanardi.

      It is great news this inspirational man has Olympic Gold.

  17. Allie says:

    F1 isn’t everything. He was a champion in CART, and every F1 driver out there should be looking up to him. Sounds like, if he can get the testing, he may be doing the Indy 500 next year.

    I’m just so so happy for him.

    And in 2001 it was still CART, not Champ car if I remember correctly.

  18. Craig D says:

    Outstanding achievement. Such an amazing character and inspiration, as are all the paralympic athletes. Sometimes I forget that many of them led able lives before accidents or illness. I can honestly say I don’t know if I would have the mental strength to react the way these people do if I were to suffer a disabling incident.

  19. Rich C says:

    There are simply no words big enough to describe this man.

  20. Draven says:

    I met Alex after his win at Indycar on the Gold Coast in 1998,he was waliking back to his hotel after the win and he spent 30 minutes talking signing autographs and having photos with fans – This guy is ultimate definition tenacity!

  21. Liam in Sydney says:

    Alex is truly a Man among men. Delightful, humble, affable and humerous, there is no person who loves life and lives it to its fullest like he does. If the world was made up of individuals like Alex showing us the way, the world would be so much better and rewarding than now. In a similar vein to other great sporting stars who overcome travesty and adversity, he shows us that anything is possible. Alex, you make me cry with tears of joy for you. Good luck to you.

  22. KenC says:

    Alessandro is my hero!

    If he’s at the Indy500 next year, I’ll be there rooting him on.

  23. Nic Maennling says:

    I echo all the above sentiments. 27 seconds !! That’s enough time for a pit stop ! Hats off to Alex. What really drives a man like that ?

  24. Robert Gunning says:

    So glad you covered this story James; truly inspiration. In the face of adversity Zanardi has overcome what would appear to us mere mortals as an insurmountable challenge. It also could no have happened to a nicer person, he is a true gentleman, who has retained his sense of humour despite suffering from horrific injuries.

    Just to echo other people’s sentiments, Alex Zanardi is an exception ambassador, not only for Paralympic sports, but motor racing also. Well Done!

  25. Mack says:

    Just great, Alex. You are an inspiration to many.
    I loved his open approach to fans at the Gold Coast Indy – a really likeable fellow.

    All the best for the next events, Alex.

  26. Karen says:

    He claimed his 2nd gold on Friday, now just the final team relay event on Saturday

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