Alessandro Zanardi was THE driver in Indy cars in the latter part of the '90s. He thrilled fans with his on-track style, and off track character whose good nature sealed the deal. Zanardi was and is still the real thing. He practically hit the ground driving, as a promising start in karting and Formula 3, then Formula 3000, then a mixed bag of under-funded teams in F1. He finally found a home in the CART series, where he dominated. A return to F1 driving for Williams was met with more problems, thus his return to CART. Then, while leading a race at the Eurospeedway in Germany, Zanardi suffered a horrific accident that many thought claimed his life. It didn't; however, he did lose both legs. He would find a way around this inconvenience. And after five years of being a factory BMW driver hustling around the world as part of the World Touring Car Championship, he remains, as always, a positive force.
ec: How are things at home in Padova?
AZ: Things are good, thank you for asking. But I wished I had a better result at the last race in Imola. (laughs)
ec: It's a shame that the FIA WTCC doesn't make an appearance in the U.S. because to me that's what NASCAR really should be. Real production cars modified with trick parts and not fiberglass, tube-frame, nine-inch-rear-end specials.
AZ: Yes, but from the driver's point of view I would want to drive something more powerful, although you couldn't then directly buy that from your dealer.
ec: That probably stems from your roots of being mostly a single-seater racer, and you certainly couldn't go down to the local Fiat dealer and buy that.
AZ: (laughs) You know, that's what I've been doing all my life. Certainly what I'm doing right now is dramatically different. Not less enjoyable, just different. Different game with different rules, and if you believe you're good enough to win races you're going to be good enough to do it on every level, not just where you like it the most. Nevertheless, to this day I have to torture myself a little bit because the driving style you need for these type of cars is quite different from the ones I developed and drove. The days where I had 1,000 hp behind my back.
ec: After you had the operation and were contemplating on what you had accomplished and what you were going to do next. How much of a transition was it going from single-seaters to a sedan? A modified one, granted, but a racecar in a production shell.
AZ: After my accident it was less than one year where my thoughts were not solely on racing. Mentally I knew I could do it, but technically I didn't know if I was going to be able to operate the pedals, to do things the way you're supposed to. I knew there would come a day I'd be curious to find out. But that was not my priority, because my priority was actually to regain my normal life, to do things on my own, to once more be the owner of my life and not just a passenger. It was pure coincidence that an old friend of mine-a technical director for the team I'm driving for-was kind of kidding and he said, "We've got a spare car, would you be interested in driving it? My answer was immediately "OK, of course I would." And that was it. He went back to Podova and said that Alex would be interested in testing our car. That's the way it happened. After the first test, BMW Italy got excited as well, took it a little further and gave me the opportunity to drive the last race in Monza, the last race of the championship. One thing came to another, and they offered me the entire championship. So I wasn't really looking at this series as the ideal platform for me to restart my racing career. It just happened. I'm here, I'm enjoying what I'm doing and have discovered some very enjoyable and very intense racing, just a different way. It would be like asking, "Do you prefer lasagna, or do you prefer ice cream?" I like both.