Zanardi Loses His Legs in Crash
Two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi lost both legs Saturday when his car was hit by another traveling about 200 mph in a race that was renamed the “American Memorial 500" after last week’s terrorist attacks.
The 34-year-old Italian was leading with 12 laps left in CART’s first race in Europe. As he exited the pit area after a stop, Zanardi seemed to accelerate too early, lost control and swerved sideways across a grassy area and into the path of Alex Tagliani’s car.
Zanardi’s car was shattered as Tagliani struck it broadside, the chassis cut in two with debris spraying across the track.
Zanardi’s condition was “stable but critical” after three hours of surgery at a Berlin hospital to amputate both legs above the knee, CART physician Dr. Steve Olvey said.
The driver also broke his pelvis and had a “moderately severe concussion,” Olvey said.
Morris Nunn, Zanardi’s car owner, said Zanardi was “breathing on his own and has no other apparent internal injuries.”
Tagliani, a 28-year-old Canadian airlifted to the same hospital, was awake and alert with no serious injuries, CART said. He was expected to be hospitalized up to 48 hours.
Patrick Carpentier managed to avoid Zanardi as the Italian’s car skidded on the track. The next car to zoom by was Tagliani’s, and it plowed directly into Zanardi.
“I almost hit Zanardi,” Carpentier said. “He came up the track and I went sideways and almost hit the wall to avoid him. I didn’t know that Tag had hit him. I knew somebody was going to hit him because he was going up the track and we were at full speed.”
Carpentier finished third, behind Team Rahal drivers Kenny Brack and Max Papis as the race ended under a yellow flag before 87,600 fans at the EuroSpeedway.
“We are devastated by the extent of Alex’s injuries,” Nunn said. “But we are also so very thankful that he is on his way to surviving a tremendous impact. All of our thoughts and prayers are with Alex and his family.”
The race originally was called the German 500, but on Friday the name was changed to the American Memorial to honor victims of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Alex and his family,” driver Adrian Fernandez said. “It was a terrible accident and all we can do at the moment is pray. It just breaks my heart. We are thankful that Alex Tagliani seems to be OK.
“In light of all that has happened, our day seems trivial.”
Brack won his fourth race of the season and moved into the series lead.
“It’s been a difficult week all week because of the events that have happened and what happened there at the end,” he said.
Papis said: “I pray for all the people in the United States and I pray for my friend Alessandro that he is going to be OK. It’s very hard to say anything more.”
Zanardi, seeking his first victory this season, is one of CART’s most high-profile and popular drivers.
He failed in his first try at Formula One in the early 1990s, and was a surprise pick to drive for team owner Chip Ganassi in 1996 in CART. He was an immediate star in that series, winning rookie-of-the-year honors, and then winning consecutive championships in 1997-98--one of only three back-to-back CART champions.
He then left CART for another try at Formula One but did not fare well with the Williams team and retired.
After sitting out the 2000 season, he was lured back to CART by Nunn, his former engineer at Ganassi. Nunn started his own team last season.
Zanardi had a lifelong goal of reaching stardom in Formula One but never quite made it.
His first three races in Formula One were in 1991, filling in for Michael Schumacher with the Jordan team at the end of the season, and he was a test driver for Benetton in 1992.
In 1993, Zanardi was hired to drive for Lotus in Formula One and earned his first championship point with a sixth-place finish in Brazil.
But his season was cut short by a crash in Belgium in which his legs and back were injured.
Nobody in Formula One came calling and Zanardi’s only racing in 1995 was in the British Racing Production championship, a sports car series.
It seemed his career might be over, but recommendations from several people in Formula One prompted Ganassi to ask Zanardi to try out. That was all it took.
“Alessandro” became “Alex"--a name Zanardi wasn’t comfortable with at first--and began adapting to the United States and American open-wheel racing.
Meanwhile, his sense of humor, crinkly smile and intelligence won him fans and made him a regular guest on talk shows and a familiar face on national commercials.
It was a huge disappointment to everyone in CART when Zanardi decided to take another shot at his first love, Formula One, accepting an offer from team owner Frank Williams in 1999.
Zanardi was unable to adjust to the new treaded tires and handling of the Formula One cars. He didn’t score any points, while teammate Ralf Schumacher finished sixth in the standings.
Zanardi sat out the 2000 season and appeared ready to retire before several CART team owners called.
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Alex Zanardi / Career Highlights
* CART’s rookie of the year in 1996.
* Only third back-to-back CART champion with titles in 1997-98.
* Owns CART single-season scoring record: 285 points in 1998.
* CART record for top-three finishes in a season: 15 in 1998.
* Going into 2001 season, held CART’s best career winning percentage of .294 (15 victories in 51 starts).
* Drove in Formula One in 1999, sat out 2000 season.
* Best finish in 41 Formula One races from 1991-99 was sixth in 1993.