Tuesday, September 04 2012
It's fitting that Alex Zanardi will make his Paralympic bid for Gold Medals at Brands Hatch on September 5, 7 and 8. However the racer-turned handcyclist will be chasing his first win at the circuit, 21 years since he finished second there in the International Formula 3000 Championship.
Soon after that event, when he broke the category's track record in practice for the F1 feeder series, Zanardi's career took off in a big way. Embroiled in the fight between Jordan and Benetton for Schumacher's services, he made his F1 debut for the former team before racing for Minardi and Lotus. A move to the States in the late 1990s established an astonishing Champ Car career before an ill-fated move back to F1 with Williams in 1999.
It was Zanardi's return to Champ Car that led to his life-changing accident in September 2001. His subsequent racing comeback in the World Touring Car Championship saw him return to Brands Hatch four times. However in eight races he only reached the podium once, with a third place in 2008 completing a successful weekend.
Following a fourth place finish in the handcycle division of the New York Marathon in 2007, the Italian finished his touring car commitments in 2009 and made a full-time swtich to his new discipline. Success in the Rome and Venice Marathons was followed by eventual victory in the handcycling class of the New York Marathon in 2011. A Silver Medal finish followed in the H4 time trial at the World Para-Cycling Championships at Roskilde last year, giving the 45-year-old a great chance of claiming his first Brands Hatch win during London 2012.
Earlier this year Zanardi got a taste of the circuit under pedal power and enthused: "The course couldn't be better, it's fantastic. Technically speaking I think it really suits my best talents but you've got to be powerful, you've got to be able to resist the distance of the time trial mainly but you also have to be smart because there are some areas where if you just keep pushing you're not going to reach the line in the best way."
Whether he gets Gold or not this may not be the last time that British fans will see the popular Italian compete at Brands Hatch. Back in June he said: "I have been pushing my cranks for three years now basically without grabbing a steering wheel and I get the sensation that I would enjoy grabbing a steering wheel once more, and if the right opportunity arises that could be the next horizon for me."
Since then he has told the Italian magazine Autosprint that he is keen to return to a touring car: "To be honest at the moment I'm totally focused on the handbike. Obviously, should I be offered a drive, perhaps in DTM, that would be super cool.
"A medal in London would be a nice way to end a period of my life, but I've enjoyed every minute of what I've already done to get there."
Click here to check availability for tickets to the Paralympic Road Cycling events at Brands Hatch.
Please note: this event is organised by LOCOG and only official London 2012 tickets are valid for admission. Any MSV-issued passes, for example media, residents' and season passes, are NOT valid for admission.