“It feels like a gold medal.”
When Alex Zanardi was told he crossed the finish line in fifth place in the second of two DTM guest drives this weekend at Misano, he swore it was a joke.
“This the best joke of the weekend… Come on, you’re kidding me. I am an old man, you cannot tease me this way!” he radioed back to his crew.
“At first I thought it was a joke when my engineer told me my position over the radio,” he admitted after getting out of the car.
“I did not expect that. And it is also too much when you look at my performance from a neutral point of view. I was very optimistic after my tests, but after the first session, in which I was a distant last, I feared that my fate this weekend may be to drive around well off the back of the field.
“The problem was that the ever-changing conditions did not allow me to continuously build on my experience from session to session. Every time I took to the track, everything was different to the previous time. With that in mind, fifth place, together with good, competitive lap times, is obviously fantastic. It feels like a gold medal.”
The 51-year-old qualified his specially adapted BMW M4 19th for Sunday’s race after finishing 13th Saturday in DTM’s first-ever night race. For the first time since he began racing BMW cars in 2003, he raced without his prosthetic legs.
“[Doing so much with my hands in the car] was quite acrobatic really,” he said. “However, I don’t have any alternative these days, so I adapted to it quickly. Once you have accepted the task, some things are not actually as difficult as you initially imagined they may be.
“I worked meticulously with the engineers in Munich to find the best possible solution for me, and I think we came up with an outstanding system.”
BMW Motorsport engineers developed several technical innovations for Zanardi, who is set to race in the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona, including a hand-operated braking system for the first time.
“We have taken a huge step forward and established an excellent basis for my planned start at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2019,” he said.
“I believe that if I was to face the challenge of driving 24 hours in a row, I could do it with this system – from a purely physical perspective. I am sure I would not exactly be as fresh as a daisy afterwards, but it would be possible. Thank you to everyone involved for their interest and ambition to make me an even better racing driver. I can’t wait to continue preparations for Daytona.”
Perhaps best of all was being able to achieve the result in front of a welcoming Italian crowd.
“Let’s put it this way,” he began. “I believe I have been involved in a fair few romantic stories in my life, which ultimately had the happy ending that people hoped for. I have managed a few things that people perhaps did not believe I was capable of physically. On a day like this, you stand in front of the mirror in the evening and remember everything you have experienced over the many years.
“It is magic to know that so many people identify to such a degree with what I do. It makes me incredibly proud.”
Listen as Zanardi’s BMW crew gives him his result (audio begins at 1:06:53):