MUNICH — BMW announced Friday that they plan to have ex-Formula 1 and CART racer-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi compete in the 2019 running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, using a specially-modified BMW M8 GTE.
Zanardi’s news came as part of the BMW Motorsports Season Review, held Friday night in Munich, Germany.
The 24-hour endurance classic, currently sanctioned by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, is one of the crown jewels of motorsport and will mark Zanardi’s return to the North American racing scene.
The now 51-year-old Italian was a force on the American open wheel ranks for years, winning back-to-back CART championships in 1997 and 1998 before a horrific crash in Lausitz, Germany in 2001 nearly cost him his life and forced the amputation of both his legs.
Zanardi will work with BMW to develop a special braking system for the BMW M8 GTE that will allow him to use his prosthetics in the race car and compete at the 3.564-mile Daytona Int’l Speedway road course, which utilizes portions of the NASCAR tri-oval in addition to the infield circuit.
If development on the braking system is successful, Zanardi will join BMW as the team charges into battle at the 57th Rolex 24 in 2019.
“I’m thrilled that we can work together with Alessandro Zanardi on this new project in 2018,” BMW motorsport director Jens Marquardt told Autosport. “It was his great wish to return to North America for a big race and we want to make that possible, so the fans in Daytona can look forward to an absolute highlight in 2019 with Alex and the BMW M8 GTE.”
Zanardi has competed in the World Touring Car Championship, the Blancpain Sprint Series and the Italian GT Series with BMW since recovering from his crash at Lausitz, but is most noteworthy for having won six medals, including four golds, between the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games in London and Rio de Janeiro, respectively.
An eight-time world hand-cycling champion, Zanardi’s career record in motorsport counts 15 Indy car and four WTCC victories.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews