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Thursday, May 8
Updated: May 9, 11:48 AM ET
Zanardi: It should be fun
By Robin Miller
Special to

Robin Miller The most impressive piece of driving in this weekend's CART race at Lausitz, Germany, won't be by points leader Paul Tracy, Bruno Junqueira, Jimmy Vasser or rookie Sebastien Bourdais.

It will come from a man who wants to get closure with a track that nearly took his life in 2001.

Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a gruesome, grinding accident at Germany's EuroSpeedway just a few laps from the finish, is returning to the scene of his fateful September afternoon.

The two-time CART champion will complete the last 13 laps of what, obviously, turned out to be his final race.

Driving a specially-prepared Champ Car with a hand clutch and throttle mechanism, Zanardi will be able to run at speed in a car painted up like the No. 66 he was driving in 2001.

"It should be fun. I'm excited about the whole weekend but, naturally, being able to finish out my career with a symbolic goodbye is what excites me the most," said the 35-year-old Italian whose engaging personality and aggressive driving style won over the American open wheel fans.

"You know, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to drive again."

He acknowledged a lot of emotions will also be running.

"Obviously, there will be something going through my mind. I wouldn't be human otherwise, I guess," said Zanardi, whose life was saved by the responsive efforts of Dr. Terry Trammell, Dr. Steve Olvey and CART's medical team. "But, quite frankly, I feel that psychologically, the accident is definitely behind me.

"When I came home from the hospital, I found myself playing with the remote control of the television on the wheelchair, I felt kind of miserable sometimes. I also thought about the days where I could just go out, fool around or for a ride with my bicycle and things like that, but I stayed very little on that attitude. Fortunately, I've met people along the way that helped me a lot, technically speaking, as well, to put my life back together, and it didn't take long for me to be completely over that.

"Now I wake up in the morning and the way I see life is simply as it is. Sure, there are things I can't do anymore, but there are others that I do thanks to what happened to me. I don't think the feelings that I will have driving into Lausitzring with my rental car will be feelings of fear. It will probably be more feelings of pride to say, 'You didn't do me this time.'

Alex Zanardi
Zanardi won two CART championships.

"I'm still going to be very proud to go back to that place and probably this time leave with a smile on my face."

The man who scored 15 wins in three seasons for Target/Ganassi made a happy discovery last winter. He can still snow ski.

"I skied with a solution called the mono ski. It is sort of tiny wheelchair with a mono shock, with a shock absorber mounted on a single ski and you also have two stabilizers, which are like two little canes with a ski on each end," he said. "This is a solution that is being invented for people that cannot use their legs, paraplegic or in any case, paralyzed people. I had to do a lot of adaptation because originally when I visited the guy that is building the thing, he told me that I had to take my legs off; I told him no way. For me, skiing is fun and it's not going to be very funny if I can't even jump off the thing and go buy myself a cappuccino.

"I went home to the workshop of a friend of mine and we started to cut, we had the glue, weld and finally something which allowed me to go ski. I really enjoyed it because originally I thought that would be a way for me to be able to ski with my wife and son but was not going to be really challenging. In fact, I was absolutely wrong.

"This was fantastic and it gave me a lot of the emotion which I felt when I used to ski with my own legs, and it's very challenging, as a matter of fact."

As for racing, Zanardi recently ran a go-kart and found he could still be plenty competitive -- and that's led him on a new crusade.

"Very shortly a chassis called Zanardi is going to come out and it's going to be sold also in the United States," he said. "And so I'm making this together with some friends that are in the business already from many years and I race with which is a company which is called CRG, an Italian company.

"I haven't come up with names yet. Maybe I'll call it the Doughnut," he chuckled, referring to his much-copied trademark of saluting the fans following a victory. "The good thing is that from now on the next race I'll do with go-karts, it will be with my own chassis."

On the CART front, Bourdais finally put everything together on race day and earned his first CART win last weekend at Brands Hatch, England -- ending Tracy's winning streak at three.

Tracy still owns an 11-point lead over Junqueira as the Champ Cars make their initial oval-track appearance of 2003 on the beautiful, racy 1.5-mile oval.

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