DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Alex Zanardi's motorized wheelchair is fast. Really Quick.
After approaching the podium at the media center on Thursday morning at Daytona International Speedway, Zanardi suddenly stopped as he made the sounds of screeching tires.
"I have a schedule to meet," he joked, smiling widely.
It also has a story to tell. The presence of Zanardi in the 57th Rolex 24 this weekend goes beyond the usual news about an annual endurance race that brings together some of the best riders in the sector. He is the history of the race, and happy to talk about it.
"As for talking, I'm a pretty competitive guy," he said. "It remains to be seen if I can be competitive at the wheel, but I think I am, I would not be here any other way."
Zanardi was 34 years old when he lost both legs in an accident in a Champ Car race in 2001. Now 52 years old, he has won multiple gold medals for hand cycling in the Paralympic Games, he has returned to competitive races with a car especially equipped and has written books. detailing your trip.
When the race starts on Saturday afternoon, Zanardi will make his most important motorsport statement since the accident. That partly explains why it's the weekend's most popular narrative: bigger than two Formula One stars with connections to INDYCAR, Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello.
Zanardi is aware of the importance, mainly through the reactions of others.
"I really felt a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of sincere participation from the people in this adventure of mine," said Zanardi. "But I was not close to Fernando, Rubens or other big stars of this race all the time, so I do not know how much anticipation the fans were coming." "I can only thank the fans for being so kind and they supported me a lot and for showing me how happy they are to have me around."
The Zanardi car, a BMW M8 GTE prepared and deployed by BMW Team RLL, the same Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team that drives two cars in the NTT IndyCar series, has custom controls for acceleration, brake and gearshift that allow Zanardi driving alone with his hands. He will share the car with Jesse Krohn, John Edwards and Chaz Mostert in the GT Le Mans clbad.
The throttle is a ring lever on the steering column, the brakes are controlled by a lever to the right of Zanardi. Up and down changes can be made to the steering wheel and brake lever. The movements are difficult to master, but Zanardi has been competing in similar cars for more than 15 years.
In 2003, he returned to Lausitzring in Schipkau, Germany, the location of his accident, to drive a specially equipped Indy car and complete the 13 laps that he did not complete two years before. In 2004, Zanardi ran a full season in the World Touring Car Championship. He tested an F1 car for BMW Sauber in 2006 and competes for BMW in sports car racing since 2014.
After the Rolex 24, Zanardi is not sure where his sporting career will lead.
"I do not really want to finish this great adventure," he said. "In fact, I am eager to live this great adventure, and then we will see, my life has been surprising me with many things happening … I am not eager to prepare myself for a new adventure, in fact, I am very happy to do what I I'm doing ".
His lifelong friends are also happy. A photograph of an emotional meeting with Barrichello and Alonso (above) went viral on Wednesday night, as did a video in Zanardi's car showing how the car operates. (The video below is courtesy of RACER.com.)
If nothing else, Zanardi is forced to compete. He took a gold and silver medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, and then he did it again in 2016 at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. His immediate goal after the Rolex 24 is to start training for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
When asked about his chances of winning gold again, Zanardi resorted to more humor.
"It's like buying a lottery ticket and saying," I plan to buy a house in Hawaii because I'm going to make $ 10 million, "Zanardi said. "I'm planning to go to Tokyo, but I'm going to turn 53 this year, some of my opponents are half my age."
The field of Rolex 24 includes five current drivers of the NTT IndyCar series (Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Colton Herta, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi) plus three others scheduled to run this year (Fernando Alonso, Helio Castroneves and Ben Hanley). Including Zanardi and Barrichello, there are 18 other drivers with Indy car races on their résumé this weekend.
The record falls in the Rolex clbadification 24
Records were expected in Thursday afternoon's clbadification for Saturday's race, and it was played in the script. Oliver Jarvis captured the pole position in the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest DPi with a lap of 1 minute, 33.685 seconds. He broke the record of 26 years of PJ Jones, the former Indy driver, son of Parnelli Jones, winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1963.
The Penske Acuras team ranked second and third. Ricky Taylor ran second and will join Castroneves and Rossi in the race. Juan Pablo Montoya, the two-time Indy 500 winner and CART champion in 1999, qualified third and counts Pagenaud among his teammates.
The new INDYCAR team, DragonSpeed, was the fastest in the LMP2 clbad and 10th overall. Hanley, scheduled to drive five NTT IndyCar Series races this season, is among the team's four drivers at Daytona.
GT Daytona's clbadification was led by Via Italia Racing driver Marcos Gómez on a Ferrari 488 GT3. His teammates include Victor Franzoni, who finished fifth in the Indy Lights 2018 presented by the Cooper Tires championship.
In total, eight teams with connections to the NTT IndyCar series are registered in the Rolex 24. This year the race starts at 2:35 p.m. ET on Saturday and will air on a combination of NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app until its conclusion on Sunday.