This weekend, Alex Zanardi returns to the track where he took two Gold and one Silver medal during the 2012 Paralympic Games. Reason enough to catch up with the ROAL Motorsport driver.
What does the Brands Hatch track mean to you?
(laughs) ‘Where do I start? This is a very special place to me. And not only because of the Paralympic Games. In 1991 I raced in F3000, which was a dream come true for me. I immediately won the first round at Vallelunga, but since it was an Italian track the insiders still wanted to see me do well on a track where the ‘real’ drivers would do well, as they put it. Brands Hatch was one of those tracks. And when we came here, I took pole position, well ahead of all the others. I am pretty sure that left an impression with the F1 managers looking for new drivers. I have a lot of sweet memories of this place, and when it was announced that Brands Hatch would be the venue for the Paralympic handcycle race, it felt like some kind of holy sign. Like it would give me an advantage of some kind, but of course it didn’t.’
How hard was it to race around here with your handbike?
‘Much harder than with a race car! I never realised there were so many hills around here. But when you’re cranking your handcycle you really feel the road going uphill. It was really tough. Especially during the road race of the Paralympics. I had won the time trial with a good advantage, even though I had a technical problem when my chain fell off. So when the road race came, I was convinced I could make the difference in the uphill sections. But although I made several attempts to get away from the group, I never succeeded. That was very hard to swallow. But I managed to refocus just in time, and when we came out of the last corner I knew I could do well in the deciding sprint, but I never imagined that I could do that well. It was fantastic to race around here with my handcycle.’
And what do you think is possible this weekend?
‘That’s a tough one. I am not sure how our BMW will perform here. I am convinced that the Brands Hatch track should suit our car better than Nogaro, but fingers crossed. After the free practice we should know more on how our BMW Z4 performs in relation to the other cars.’