Zanardi makes triumphant return

Alex Zanardi triumphantly returned to the cockpit of a Champ Car on Sunday at the Eurospeedway Lausitz some 20 months after losing his legs in horrific accident at the same venue in Germany

Zanardi makes triumphant return

The Italian Champ Car legend ran the 13 laps that he failed to complete in the 2001 race, immediately before the start of this year's event. Zanardi, using a modified Reynard-Ford with a hand-operated clutch and throttle, didn't hang around either. His best, and last lap, was a 37.487s time, good enough for fifth on the grid in this year's race.

Zanardi received a standing ovation from the entire stadium as he climbed from his car, that after a Mexican wave that followed him around the track for his entire run. "It was just fantastic," he said. "Obviously this is something I've been doing all my racing career. In the past year and a half, I never even got close to drive a proper racing car. So just for this reason it was great again to feel the speed, to feel the downforce. Most of all, what made it particularly enjoyable was the love of all the people in the Champ Car community, in particular the drivers, and certainly the fans. It was just awesome.

I'm very proud of the job I did. It was flat out," he said. "Wide open. I can't say pedal to the metal, because I didn't have a pedal. I just had a little knob, but that was all I had in the car.

Zanradi's laps were not only competitive but also very consistent, it almost looked as if he had never been away. "I was really surprised how rapidly it came back to me," he said. "I was really surprised.

"It felt like I was doing the same thing the day before and the day before. I didn't feel like I was out of the car for one and a half years. Especially if you consider that in this one and a half years, all I've been doing, I've been adjusting prosthetic legs, spending time with my son and the fastest thing I've driven is my road car. So it was nice. It was a very pleasant surprise for me too. Yeah, that was pretty consistent.

"This was something that was very symbolic, if you like, very emotional for the people that saw me taken away (from EuroSpeedway in 2001) from the helicopter, leaving a big trace of blood, and then when I come back here and I drive the same speed I was driving last time I was here. So certainly this is surprising. It looks like a miracle. But for me, that I've lived through day to day, it's not a miracle."

Zanardi is not likely to make a fulltime return to racing despite his competitive performance although he did indicate at the weekend that he had talked to Mario Andretti about competing in the Daytona 24 Hours.

"Life goes on," said Zanardi, "and I'm just in the process of moving on to other things. But at least I think now they (the fans) know that if I really want it, I could do it again. Maybe not at this level, but at other levels. I think eventually I will be driving again, maybe in a race, but always for fun, never just a profession any more."

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