Alex Zanardi has completed three days of testing on the Miramas circuit in France in a specially-equipped M8 GTE in preparation for his participation in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.
Zanardi, who lost both legs in an incident in a CART race in 2001 and returned to racing less than two years later, has had a long-term relationship with BMW, and has run BMWs in a number of series, most recently finishing fifth in an M4 DTM in the Sunday DTM race on the Misano circuit in Italy in August.
The M8 GTE is equipped with the same system that Zanardi used in the DTM car. BMW Motorsport explains, “Braking is performed using a lever, which he operates with his right arm. The special steering wheel allows Zanardi to accelerate using a gas ring and to change gears using shift paddles. The gas mechanism at the steering wheel, proven in DTM, has been adapted to the much more complex steering wheel in the BMW M8 GTE. The brake lever also has a button, with which Zanardi can shift down through the gears when braking into corners. Based on the knowledge gained at Misano, the system has been optimized for the BMW M8 GTE.
Zanardi considered the Miramas test productive. He said. “My feel for the car improved all the time and I soon found out what I need to be doing with my hands and how I can control the car’s various electronic functions. We are now very well prepared for the next test at Daytona. I have to say, the BMW M8 GTE is a real beauty. It was a privilege for me to take it out onto the track and drive it for so many laps.”
Unlike DTM, where the drivers run solo, there are driver changes at Daytona. At Miramas Zanardi practiced driver changes with BMW factory racer Jesse Krohn. Zanardi said, “It is impressive what we achieved. You have to bear in mind that, as well as the usual driver changeover, we must also swap the steering wheel. We consistently achieved that in under 20 seconds, and a few times we even managed the changeover in about 15 seconds. When you observe how quickly a ‘normal’ driver like Jesse jumps out of the car, it is a bit different when you then see somebody like me getting out. Undo the harness, remove the steering wheel, pass it to somebody and jump out of the car – all in less than three seconds. Then turn around, wait until Jesse is in, climb back into the car, hook my leg into the frame, help Jesse with the radio and harness, pass him the other steering wheel, close the net and get away from the car… It is really impressive and looks a bit like a dance. We will now continue to work on perfecting the driver changeover.”
The driver change is indeed impressive, like all aspects of preparing the car for Zanardi’s participation in the Rolex 24, and like Zanardi’s racing career itself. —Brian Morgan