Alessandro Zanardi – Starting A Full Season
dailysportscar.comGabriele Tosi's hero is this man Alessando Zanardi. Tosi met Zanardi on the Friday of the Super Racing Weekend at Monza, and of course ‘Alex’ was great company….

I found Alex in his BMW 320, checking his driving position. First of all I asked him about this new season.

“This year I’m a full-time driver: the last race last year was effectively a “one-off”, just for fun, and thanks to BMW, to Roberto Ravaglia, to Umberto Grano and all the team I was able to run a decent race, at least the second one!”

“It should be - I’d very much like it to be - a good year. I am very ‘at home’ in the car and also comfortable with all my special aids.”

The races at Monza turned out to be not as successful as Alex had hoped (ninth and tenth place finishes) but this is the ETCC: welcome to the ‘rude world of touring car races’.

I asked him about the GT races he drove with the black Lotus Esprit in ’95, and much more…

“The opportunity to drive the Lotus came about because at that time George Howard-Chappell (he was the chief engineer on Johnny Herbert’s Lotus F1 car) asked me to help out, to show what the car could do - in the British BPR rounds at Silverstone and Donington. I took the opportunity because in that period I was more or less without anything to drive. The car was not the best I’ve driven, but it was fun to drive, with its turbo.

“The Silverstone race was very good fun: the track was wet and I told the team I wanted slicks, because it should have dried out quickly, but they told me it was too risky and so we went out with rain tyres. After 10 minutes or so the track was dry, so it could have been a huge result for us, but I enjoyed that race a lot. We retired I think about three laps from the end, when we were leading by some margin…

“The Donington round was less good and we retired. It was a good moment to have tried something different from the formula cars I’ve driven since. It’s a shame the Championship ‘fell down’ in the following years, and this year it seems not very good to me.”

dailysportscar.comThen I asked about his racing future, or what he’d like to do and he told me something very interesting…

“Right now I’m a BMW driver, so nothing is planned for my future, but I have to tell you, I always wanted to do the 24 hours of Daytona: not Le Mans, because there you need a winning car, nothing less, and the track is too simple for me! But Daytona should be a challenge for me, the track, the traffic, day and night, hot and cold… Chip Ganassi phoned me at the end of last year and asked if I’d like to do the race and all the Championship with his car, but I had to decline the request, but I can’t rule out a future in a Grand Am car…”

After this shocking news, I asked about the Ganassi legend of his name on the CART list. Not everyone knows that Alex simply doesn’t like the name ‘Alex’: he always likes to be called Alessandro.

“Chip asked me how I should be listed in the CART team, and he told me ‘Alessandro is too long, people don’t remember your name we have to change it.’

“Well I say no problem, write anything you like, but not Alex…The following ay he organised a press conference, where he presented his new racing driver, Alex Zanardi….

The last part of our conversation was about his past, his style of driving and the legendary overtaking moves. I pointed out that his style is not dissimilar to that of ‘the Lion” Nigel Mansell, and Alessando responded….

“Well to be compared to a Champion like Nigel is a huge compliment for me, which I don’t mind at all: I like Nigel’s style, and he was one of my role models, in terms of the way he drove.

“My style of driving in the CART era and previously in F3 and F3000 is maybe one where I appear to overdrive the car - but I have to tell you about some of the passing moves I made. Some of them seemed quite impossible maybe, real do or die moves, but believe it or not I thought them out lap by lap.

“The ones I made on Herta at Long Beach and at Surfers Paradise, or the one I made on Michael Andretti at Toronto, began some laps before the real pass: I studied where and when they braked, which trajectory they have used before. I studied them and showed my intentions, but then of course they blocked me, but I already had an advantage for the next corner, so the pass is easy for me then.

“I know people think it is a do or die move and a good pass, but the pass began a few laps before and the pass itself is a logical consequence of my move before.”

When Alessando is speaking I always enjoy the expressions in his eyes: they seem to emit some kind of light, they seem to smile with his face… it’s difficult to explain, but Alex is a very special person, not for what happened to him, not for his bravery but for his approach to life, or racing, the way he never refuses a chat, a handshake or the offering of a smile.

I concluded by telling Alessandro that it is always a privilege and a special moment to speak with him and I wished him the best possible luck for this season. It’s a special honour to speak with this special man.
Gabriele Tosi

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