ec: I'm more of a tortellini man.
AZ: (laughs) OK, tortellini and ice cream. You would like to have both. I enjoy what I'm doing: touring cars. Yes, I miss the days when I was driving single-seaters. I believe overall that this is more difficult to develop the correct driving style. But eventually, if this is what you've been doing all your life, it is what you would call instinctive. For me to drive a touring car sometimes I have to sort of torture myself because my driving style is very smooth, and to let the car lean into the corner carrying a lot of speed, which is the typical way to take advantage of downforce. You kind of cuddle the car into the corner, take the tires to the limit; if you take the car into the corner a little bit faster you generate more downforce, therefore you manage to go around the turn. At certain times I'm still trying to use that technique. In touring cars, of course, we have no downforce at all with the result of me losing my line and having to slow down in order to not end up in the grass. Still, for me it's quite harder to drive the car the way it needs to be driven. On top of everything, I had to build and generate everything because there was no experience, no previous feedback we could rely on. Build my own controls, and that was quite difficult, because when you jump in the car you take for granted everything being in the right place and you can operate the car very naturally. They didn't know where to put the gear stick, the throttle pedal, or the brake, so the car felt a little funny. So I helped.
ec: When you were originally working on the development of the hand controls, all that work was done in the workshop in Italy?
AZ: It had to be. It was consistent development. One day I would show up to the shop and they would say, "What do you need?" And I would say, "Of course I need to do everything with my hands." I had to pull the brake lever with my finger, hit the throttle with my thumb, use the right hand to downshift and to operate the clutch, and with my palm control the steering. That was definitely too much. That's when I suggested they let me use my prosthetic leg to press the brake pedal, and they said, "No, impossible." But, I'm a pretty unstoppable guy so, I went to the local grocery store and bought a scale to use, and I brought that back to the shop and put it against the wall and took my engineer and said, "Look, try to push on that thing." And it was more or less 180 pounds. And it was my turn and once I got into position, I was able to press over 200 pounds. Actually, it went up to 220. That's normal, you know? It's not because you have three joints like, heel, knee, and hip, you divide the force you generate by three. You've got that force in every single section of your leg. I know for sure that I cannot react the same as I normally could with all the right equipment that Mother Nature gave me in the first place, but I believed I could generate enough pressure to push the brake pedal. We went from there to designing a special pedal that would fit my foot, and basically this is the way I've been using the car since. I keep my prosthetic leg at a certain angle and when it's time to brake I just push down with my hip. The difficult thing was picking up the sensitivity it takes to correctly modulate the brake pedal, because that's the real part of being a driver that you have to master. I am specially needed in the sense of being handicapped, and I have developed hidden talents that we all have, but we normally don't need to use. This is why I can do things that a normal individual couldn't. If one were to jump in my car, they'd come out screaming that it's impossible and nobody can do it.