It’s been a full year in the planning stages, and so Alex Zanardi is happy to be back at Daytona for the Roar Before the Rolex 24. Friday, the Italian legend begins his newest challenge when he shares the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE with John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Mozzie Mostert in preparation for the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 26-27.
“We’ve been talking about doing this for one year, because my participation was announced even before the 2018 event,” Zanardi said. “So here we are – talking about honoring that word.”
Zanardi’s lone race at Daytona was in the 1997 IROC XXI opener, when he finished 10th in the field of 12 drivers from disciplines competing in identically prepared Pontiac Firebird Trans-Ams. That was four years before an accident in a CART IndyCar race at Germany’s EuroSpeedway resulted in the loss of both of his legs.
“This is a completely different event from IROC, which was not a real happy one,” Zanardi recalled. “We raced the big ring — the oval — and ended up in the fence. After the race, Dale Earnhardt came over and patted my back and said, ‘I don’t see any mark on your bumper.’ He was proud of the fact that he basically had me touching the fence without even leaving a trace on my rear bumper. He was a real master from that point of view.
“Now, here I am for a completely different exercise, from many points. This is going to be a race where I think we have a very strong possibility to do well, and I plan to honor my role on the team in the best way I can.”
Zanardi did one day of testing at Daytona two weeks ago, burning up six tanks of gas while successful completing six stints.
For the Rolex 24, Zanardi will use a different steering wheel than his teammates, which will be swapped out during driver changes. The only other modification is a special lever which the Italian will use to brake the car. He will race without the use of his prosthetic legs — which proved to be a hindrance in his lone previous endurance race outing, at Spa in 2015.
“All my stuff does not interfere one bit with what they (teammates) have, apart from them having to ignore the lever that I use to brake the car,” he said. “Otherwise, the car is identical to how it would be if I was not involved. I’m actually faster than able-bodied drivers in getting in and out of the car, which compensates a little bit for the extra time we waste changing the steering wheel.”
Zanardi said he’s going into the event with minimal expectations — with a big caveat.
“My goal is to leave the circuit with a smile on my face,” he said. “Quite frankly, I’m so ignorant of what I’m about to do. All I care about is steering the wheel the way they want me to, and being as fast and as consistent as my teammates. I know that BMW RLL is a very strong team. So even if we win, I will not be that surprised — but I will be very, very pleased.”
“To be in the same field with a lot of friends is a special feeling. It’s another fantastic chapter in a very fortunate life. I’m very grateful to BMW for having organized this.”