Zanardi returns to racing two years after losing legs

Monday, October 20, 2003

MONZA, Italy - Alex Zanardi still knows how to drive fast.

In his first competitive race since losing both legs in a crash in a CART race in Germany two years ago, Zanardi was involved in a six-car pileup Sunday in the first race of the closing event of the FIA European Touring Car Championship.

Then he finished seventh in the second race at the Monza circuit, coming back from an eighth-row start.

Riding a specially modified BMW, the former Formula One driver said he wanted to show he could race competitively again. More than 30,000 fans crowded the track and hundreds mobbed him for autographs before the race.

"I still remember how to drive and I will see next year whether to repeat this experience," he said. "I enjoyed it. I'm not enthusiastic about the result, but I enjoyed racing."

Zanardi last raced in Monza with the Williams Formula One team in the 1999 Italian Grand Prix. The 36-year-old Italian hand operated the car's accelerator and clutch, which are attached to the steering wheel, and used his thigh to apply special brakes.

In Race One, Zanardi started from the sixth row following his 11th place in qualifying. He was caught in a pileup of six cars at the first curve, ending the race after about a half-mile.

Starting from behind in Race Two, Zanardi climbed to seventh place by the end of the nine-lap event, 15.3 seconds behind BMW German teammate Jorg Muller, who won.

"My car was going fast in Race Two and I overtook several opponents," Zanardi said. "I battled some drivers who were in the run for the championship. Thus I'm satisfied after all."

U.S. drivers Jimmy Vasser and Tony Kanaan flew to Monza to support Zanardi.

"He may have lost his legs but he did not lose his spirit and his love for motor racing," said Vasser, who was Zanardi's teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing.

"I found him in fantastic shape," Kanaan said.

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