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Champ Car World Series: German 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  German 500

Champ Car World Series: German 500

Alex Zanardi
May 11, 2003


LAUSITZ, GERMANY

ADAM SAAL: It is my great privilege and honor to bring to the stand driver of the # 66 Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone that you saw turn 13 inspirational laps this morning before we got started with the German 500, Mr. Alex Zanardi. Congratulations, Alex. Personal accomplishment today, as well as a professional accomplishment. Give us a thought on what was going through your head. Did you have time to really savor the run?

ALEX ZANARDI: Yeah, it was just fantastic. Obviously, this is something that I've been doing all my racing career. In the past year and a half, I never got even close to drive a proper racing car. So just for this reason it was great again to feel the speed, to feel the down force. Most of all what made it particularly enjoyable was the love of all the people in the Champ Car community, in particular the drivers, and certainly the fans. It was just awesome.

ADAM SAAL: Alex, you got increasingly faster. Your fastest lap was your last lap. It couldn't have been better. Would you call today perfect?

ALEX ZANARDI: It was a very good day. I think actually the car, the other night when we did the first few laps, was slightly faster. There is a problem with the electronic throttle which we have installed, which tends to make a lot of spikes in the boost because it operates directly the (ninth butterfly?). The other night I was getting a little more boost than I was allowed. So initially they say, "Yeah, that's okay, we'll leave it like that. For Alex, we'll do it." Then when they saw I could go pretty well, they said, "No, we don't want him to go too fast," so they readjusted. Nevertheless, it was great. I felt I was in total control of what I was doing, and for that I have to thank Adam Scheckter and all the people from CART, from Derrick Walker, and from the team that Eric runs for putting this thing together, for making it happen, obviously for CART to sponsor the whole deal. I only did the last bit. You know, I took the thing around the place, and it was marvelous.

ADAM SAAL: If would could now ask you to speak as a statesman, I will not say elder statesman, of the sport. You watched some of the racing today. You saw some of the thrills and some of the moves. Obviously, there were some heated emotions at the end. Did you see anything blocking-wise? What impressed you the most? What also caught your attention the most about today's race?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, first of all, I want to say that because of these guys, I missed the best laps, the last 20 laps. They kept me going from TV, to that interview, to this photo shoot, ceremonial works. I didn't see the end of the race, and I heard it was pretty exciting. But I was definitely expecting this because when I knew which kind of aerodynamic configuration they were going to use on this course, this is really the first time that some drag has been added to the car, but together with a lot of downforce. Now, we have seen a lot of wild racing today, and I think some of that was a little over the line. But, nevertheless, today I know that the drivers had something in their hands that they could play with, that they could really have fun and race in a much more safer way because the car not only had a lot of drag, but a lot of downforce. When I say this, it's because right when the wing was first introduced, I remember back in '98.

ADAM SAAL: Good job.

ALEX ZANARDI: I remember the first podium, was me Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser. We were asked about it because apparently, at least according to the people watching, that was the best race they'd ever seen in many years. And we were very critical with that because we said, "This is insane. This is not racing. This is just a show. You can't just draft each other with a car that is so light. Sooner or later you're going to have a big moment." Now, what we saw today, it's a completely different deal. It's true, there were people drafting each other. But at the end of the day, the bravest man won the race, which I think the way it's supposed to be. You know, Sebastien today really wanted this race win, and he was able to build it towards the end of the race and to finally hold everybody off for the win. And I think that he had the car to do the job. Had this been what we've seen in the past with just a big block, so a lot of drag, but no downforce, probably today we could have potentially seen accidents, and certainly we could have potentially seen somebody winning that did not properly deserve the race win. So I think today was just a very good race.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you for those comments, Alex. We do try to get the mix right. We don't want to have a stock car style where everybody is side by side, yet we don't want to have a Hanford approach either where it's kind of a boat anchor back there. We'll continue to strive. And all credit to our technical staff for getting it right. We're making you a tape of the race and hopefully you can take that with you tonight. We're doing that in the television compound right now. Before we ask our friends in the media to ask questions, you now have some completion with your final race, perhaps your racing career, I'm not going to talk about that. Let's talk about your charity and what you will now focus on going forward. You have established a charity and also have done some pioneering work in actually legs, prosthetic legs. Talk a little bit about that and what will be Alex Zanardi's passion going forward.

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, thanks, Adam. What I'm doing these days is not really much. I don't want to take too much credit for what I'm doing in terms of charity activities. I have opened a foundation, which is called Alex Zanardi Foundation. It's an American one. It's based in Michigan, Detroit, Michigan State in Detroit. It was open just because a lot of Americans, nice American people, start to send offer in the post with checks, and I start to put together a lot of money. I had to decide what to do with it. So I accumulate everything into a bank account, and I opened this foundation. And then I soon realized that my story was really attracting a lot of interest, and there was a lot of people that wanted to know. I had a lot of requests for interviews. I had a lot of requests to do public appearance, a lot of request to take part in other charity events. Most of the time the people that had the requests were prepared to pay me money. Now, I didn't want to make any money over this, and also I wanted to find a way to really understand how badly these people would want me to go there. So I start to ask money for my foundation, and this is the way I finance the foundation. Therefore, you know, I'm simply doing things that I would probably do anyway, but at least I raise funds, I raise money for people that may need it. And today, you know, you guys were nice enough to make a substantial donation to my foundation, Pioneer as well, some other sponsors. I really appreciate that. That was also one of the motivating factors for me to say, "Yeah, okay, I'm really determined that I want to do this 13 laps. I want to finish this race." God knows what's next. But for sure this is my answer also to the fans that wanted to know why I haven't come back to racing. Is it because it's impossible or is it because I don't want to come back or is it probably simply because I'm really scared about what happened in my accident? Well, the answer is it's simply because life goes on and I'm just in the process of moving on to other things. But at least I think now they know that if I really want it, I could do it again, maybe not at this level, but at other levels. I think eventually I will be driving again, maybe in a race, but always be for my own, just for fun, never just a profession anymore.

ADAM SAAL: Could we have questions for Alex Zanardi, please.

Q. Can you talk about the experience of driving again, not having driven for a year and a half, after all you've been through, able to run though incredibly consistently?

ALEX ZANARDI: It was just flat out, wide open. I can't say pedal to metal, because I didn't have a pedal, I just had a little knob, but that was all I had in the car. Ironically, this whole deal seems to have arrange especially for me to make my life easier. Because, quite frankly, the decision that CART has made to bring the same wing configuration to this circuit that they raced in Brands Hatch has made a driver's life more difficult in the race, but certainly easier mine because it's pretty easy flat out all the way around now. The question could be, "Well, but were you impressed with the speed?" I didn't have an answer before I jumped in the car. And that's actually why I asked to do a few laps on Friday night. But I went out with quite a lot of fuel just because I was thinking that I would need at least 30, 40 laps before I could get close to the limit. I knew today I was going to have 13 laps, and I didn't want to just have sort of driving school around. I didn't want to pick up my pace and then end the 13 laps at the level that was not as good as I wanted it to be, you know, for the fans. That's why I asked for some more laps on Friday night. But I was really surprised how rapidly it came back to me. I mean, by lap four I was able to basically drive all the way around flat. I was very surprised. You know, I can only say that. It felt like I was doing the same thing the day before and the day before. I didn't feel like I was out of the car for one and a half years. Especially if you consider that in this one and a half years, all I've been doing, I've been adjusting prosthetical legs, spending time with my son, and the fastest thing I've driven is my road car. So it was nice. It was a very pleasant surprise for me, too. Yeah, that was pretty consistent.

Q. Out of the special consideration for you, your car was inside CART rules, technical rules? You were disappointed after the 13 laps when that was over?

ALEX ZANARDI: First question, I don't think what kind of an answer I can give you because even if I say yes, it was, you still have your opinion (laughter). My car did not go through technical inspection, so we could have done everything we wanted. I'm very proud of the job I did. Let's put it that way. Then is up to you to think what you want. The second question, yeah, I was kind of disappointed that that was over. But nevertheless, you know, I mean, I have great memories from racing. I've enjoyed beautiful satisfactions. And certainly from a sporting point of view, this was not the highlight of my life. I had races that for me personally were by far more important than these 13 laps. This was something that was very symbolic, if you like, very emotional for the people that saw me taken away from the helicopter, leaving a big place of blood, and then I come back here and I drive the same speed I was driving last time I was here. So certainly this is surprising. It looks like a miracle. But for me, that I've lived through day to day, it's obviously not a miracle. And also to add something more. You know, one and a half years ago I was leading this race. So, one, I had a pretty good setup for this course. Two, I knew my way around. Once the memory came back, I knew what to do. So I'm not surprised that I was going relatively fast compared to the times other drivers did. But I'm obviously happy with the final result of it.

Q. Alex, what was the most difficult aspect of fitting yourself into the car and operating the controls?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, certainly to fit in the car, just that, because my prosthetical legs, they tend to increase. I mean, it's difficult to get in because they're pretty invasive, you know, and certainly they're not as flexible as human meat. As a result of the tightness typical of a Champ Car cockpit, if I would have sat with the legs as they were right now, I would seriously damage an area that is typical of a man, which I may need again (laughter). We have to work a little on that back in Bologna, at the center where I did my rehabilitation, and where I'm still going. To do things like this one, I had a special pair of legs which were realized and designed purposely to do this drive, to sit in the car. Nevertheless, the test we did in England was mainly for me to be able to get to this point. It was not so much to get my hand on the car, it was much, much more to make sure we could do this, you know, that we could drive the car, that I could drive the car. In fact, we had to do a lot of trimming when we were there. So lucky that we had the idea to put the wheels down on the ground prior to the event, because otherwise it could have been a drama over here. That was the most difficult problem to overcome. In fact, when I was able to go out, I really did two times up and down, down the straight. I said, "Listen, guys, that's it. Everything is good. Everything is great. I can accelerate. I can brake. I can operate the clutch. That's it, let's go to Lausitz Ring."

ADAM SAAL: Alex, thank you very much. On behalf of everyone at CART, we want to thank you for your efforts. Outstanding. We'll send Alex off in fine style and we'll pick up your tape so you can get it out of here with you. Thank you.

ALEX ZANARDI: Thank you.



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