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Emotional Zanardi test drives F-1 car
The Italian lost both legs in a crash more than five years ago and became the first double amputee to test drive an F1 car on Saturday. But he ended his morning drive after three laps when the car went into recovery, cutting off the engine after the throttle failed.
"Of course you always want something more and it's tough to take when you go out and the car quits on you," Zanardi said. "But, for sure, this weekend was a fantastic experience."
Although Zanardi had an unspectacular F1 career, his drive was about much more than racing. He lost his legs in a horrific crash on Sept. 15, 2001, at the American Memorial 500 in Klettwitz, Germany.
Dr. Claudio Costa oversaw Zanardi's rehabilitation after the accident.
"It's something I believed he would do from the day of his accident. He's a very strong man," Costa said from pit lane. "To see him racing in here today is what gives meaning to my work. It's a great day."
The afternoon session never got started, as the former Williams, Lotus, Minardi and Jordan driver stalled at the end of the pit lane because of engine failure.
"Half of the stuff on here, I don't even know how it works," Zanardi joked after bringing the car around for one last lap at speeds much slower than the 177 mph he reached Saturday.
"It's unfortunate, but now I have unfinished business," he said. "It was really fun and I was getting faster with every session. If another opportunity presents itself, I would definitely not step back from taking it. We have a seat, controls, and a car, so why not?"
Zanardi lowered his time from 1 minute, 27.20 seconds to 1:19.70 over the 17 laps he raced at the 2.5-mile Cheste circuit.
BMW-Sauber's third driver, Sebastien Vettel, timed 1:18.60 in the same car on Saturday.
"I was surprised by how fast (Zanardi) went," BMW-Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld said. "Actually, I shouldn't really say I'm all that surprised because I know how fast he was before."
The 40-year-old Zanardi holds the modern CART record for points in a season, with 285 in 1998. He also holds the CART record for most consecutive poles (six), front row starts (11) and top-three finishes in a season (15).
Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen joined former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete and Donda West - mother of musician Kanye West - to watch Peete's Gelles Racing team compete at the separate BMW World Final on the same circuit.
"Today speaks more about his spirit than anything else," Allen said of Zanardi. "His will, determination, the entire setback he's had, he didn't let any of it keep him down. He's an incredible man."
BMW-Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder didn't rule out holding another trial in the future but it seems unlikely.
"I don't really want to do this again. I prefer to think of this
as a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Zehnder said.