Thursday, July 22, 2010
Alex Zanardi Unstoppable
Alessandro "Alex" Zanardi, (born October 23, 1966), is an Italian ex-Formula One driver who is better known for his dominance of CART series during the late 1990s. More recently he has attracted widespread praise for his racing comeback in the aftermath of a crash which resulted in him losing both legs.
Alex Zanardi was born in Bologna. His sister was a promising swimmer until her death in an automobile collision.
Zanardi began racing karts aged 13. In 1988, he joined the Italian Formula 3 series, becoming a championship contender by 1990. In 1991, he moved up to the Formula 3000 series with the Il Barone Rampante team, who were themselves newcomers to the series. Winning on his F3000 debut, he went on to score two more wins that season, en route to second in the championship.
Formula One part one
By the end of 1991 he had also been blooded in Formula One: two starts for Jordan his reward for a strong F3000 campaign.
For 1992 Zanardi had to be content with guest drives for Minardi, replacing the injured Christian Fittipaldi. In the off-season, he tested for Benetton, but contracted with Lotus for 1993. Zanardi compared reasonably to teammate Johnny Herbert and was important in fine-tuning the team's active suspension system, scoring his first ever F1 point at the Brazilian Grand Prix. However, his season ended prematurely after he suffered a terrible crash during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix.
Still injured, Zanardi missed the beginning of the 1994 season, but he returned in the Spanish Grand Prix, replacing Pedro Lamy, who had been hurt in a testing crash. However, that year's Lotus was highly unreliable, and Zanardi failed to score a single point or qualify higher than 13th. When Lotus' F1 effort collapsed at the end of the year, Zanardi spent a brief time in sports cars in 1995, his Formula One career seemingly over.
In 1996, Zanardi made the switch to CART, having won a seat at Chip Ganassi Racing. The team's race engineer Mo Nunn advised Chip against signing him, as he believed Italian drivers were too prone to mistakes. Tellingly, Mo later signed Alex for his own team.
He rapidly became one of the series' most popular drivers. He took pole for his second race, although his first win didn't come until mid-season. In total he won three races in his rookie season, finishing second in the championship behind team-mate Jimmy Vasser (who did not win after round 5 of the season) and being named Champcar rookie of the year. He would win the championship for Ganassi in both 1997 and 1998, bringing home twelve victories.
A win came at Laguna Seca for the final race of the 1996 season, where he conducted a highly risky overtaking move at the Corkscrew corner (known to many racing fans as 'The Pass', on race leader Bryan Herta, having fought his way through the field. After winning a race, Zanardi was fond of spinning his car around in tight circles, leaving circular donut-shaped patterns of tyre rubber on the track; this would eventually become a popular means of celebrating race wins all across America.
Formula One part 2
Zanardi's CART success caught the eye of Sir Frank Williams, who inked him to a three-year contract in 1999. In pre-season testing, he was fast; however, everything went downhill from there. Plagued by numerous reliability issues, Zanardi also made a series of crucial errors, his F1 return in Australia a prime example. He was consistently outpaced by team-mate Ralf Schumacher and rumours spread that he would not last long at Williams. A late season up-turn in speed seemed to signal a breakthrough. At both Spa and Monza he looked competitive, but problems cost him a good result. At Monza he had qualified an impressive fourth and briefly held second, but brake difficulties curtailed his pace and he dropped to seventh. The season ended with Zanardi failing to maintain his Monza form; he was dropped for 2000. Jenson Button replaced him.