Zanardi: Standing tall and going the distance | india | Hindustan Times
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Zanardi: Standing tall and going the distance

india Updated: Nov 18, 2011 19:15 IST
Vinayak Pande
Vinayak Pande
Hindustan Times
Vinayak Pande

When 45-year-old former Italian racing driver Alessandro "Alex" Zanardi won the handcycle division of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, people may have wondered why it made the news in major motorsports websites and publications.

Those who would have some recollection of his career in motorsports - primarily Formula One fans with a good memory - would know of him as the driver who scored just one championship point in his 41 career starts, which included getting outscored 35 points to zero by Ralf Schumacher when the two were teammates at Williams in 1999.

Outside F1, however, Zanardi is given his due as a bonafide star of open wheel racing whose impressive CV includes the 1997 and 1998 Indycar titles (CART, as it was known then). And for the YouTube generation, he is most famous for what is known as "The Pass" - an audacious and successful overtaking maneuver for the lead on the final lap of the 1996 Indycar season finale at America's storied Laguna Seca Raceway in California.

Following his unsuccessful return to F1 in 1999, Zanardi returned to the Indycar series, where his career was cut short by a horrific accident at Germany's Lausitzring speedway in 2001, which led to the loss of both his legs.

Zanardi, however, refused to let a cruel twist of fate keep him down. He 'returned' to the cockpit of an Indycar fitted with hand operated accelerator and brake controls in 2003 at Lausitzring following a rehabilitation programme that included the fitting of artificial legs specially designed to allow him to race.

The return was Indycar's way of paying tribute to the Italian as they allowed him to take to the track before the start of the race and complete the 13 laps he was unable to see out before his near-fatal crash in 2001. Managing to reach speeds of 310 kmh on that tribute run convinced Zanardi to return to top line competitive racing.

He raced in the FIA World Touring Car Championship from 2005 to 2009, where he won four races for BMW. Having hung up his racing overalls for good in favour of para-cycling, Zanardi's competitive fire seems a long way from being extinguished.

Even before his triumph at the New York City Marathon, Zanardi had revealed his desire to qualify for Italy's Paralympic team for the 2012 Games in an interview with the BBC.

The Italian's against-the-odds success is proof positive that when life hands you lemons, it never hurts to squeeze with all your might.